SCREENPLAY.today How to Write a Screenplay
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Writing screenplays isn’t like writing novels or anything like that. There is a very distinct structure you have to follow. You can’t just go writing whatever you want all willy-nilly.

And, actually, there are two different formats Hollywood wants you to strictly-adhere to: one technical, and one story-wise.

We’ll get into the story-structure they want later.

But, first of all, we’ll need to talk about the technical structure they want.

  1. Your screenplay must be in Courier (or Courier New). 12pt (with a pitch of 10).
  2. Your screenplay should be written entirely in the present-tense (dialogue excepted).
  3. Single-sided.
  4. 8.5” by 11” paper (standard North American letter size).
  5. Each scene must start with a slug-line.  For example:  INT.  FARM HOUSE - MORNING
  6. The slug-line should be in ALL-CAPS and can be bolded if you like. Although, bolding or not is really a personal preference of the writer.
  7. DO NOT NUMBER YOUR SCENES! You do not number scenes until the script is locked. And, you are so far from a locked screenplay right now it isn’t even funny!
  8. Each scene can contain action, dialogue, or action & dialogue.
  9. Left-justification.
  10. Action should only contain things that are visible on-screen. Young screenwriters love to add lines like (‘Adam sits there and thinks about the time he slapped Christine.’) Well, how do you shoot that? All you can shoot is Adam sitting there. We can’t see what’s going on inside his head unless he either tells us - or we see a flashback. If he tells us, there’s a line of dialogue missing. And, if we see a flashback, there’s a whole scene missing.
  11. Action should be indented 1.5” from the left edge of the page.
“Hollywood is where they shoot too many movies and not enough actors!” - Walter Winchell

STUDIO FORMAT

Hollywood has been making movies for over 120 years now - they know what they are doing! Script-writing hasn’t changed much in a century for a reason. So, you’ll need to know studio format. Period.

02

NEXT UP…  THE PROTAGONIST!

The most important character you’ll create is your protagonist, or main-character. They are the one the audience relates to. They are the one every scene hinges around. Don’t neglect him (or her)!

BACK FORWARD

Courier 12pt (10 pitch) font (with the formatting and indenting mentioned above) will produce a screenplay that is roughly one minute per page (a little more for dialogue, a little less for action-heavy scenes).

Here’s a couple example-pages from a screenplay, to give you an idea of what your script is supposed to look like:

12.  Dialogue starts with the character’s name, in ALL-CAPS, indented roughly 4” from the left edge. Beneath the Character’s name is the dialogue itself, indented roughly 2.9” from the edge of the page.

13.  Parentheticals, if required in your screenplay, go underneath the Character’s Name, and above the dialogue, indented roughly three and a half inches from the paper’s edge.

14.  Top, bottom and right margins are one inch.

15.  Except for stuff like Parentheticals, dialogue and character names, which have margins between 2 and 3 inches.

16.  If you need a character to pause during their speech, put a parenthetical ‘beat’ on the line below the last bit of dialogue before the pause, then continue the dialogue on the next line. Same with directions that don’t really require their own separate paragraph of action, such as:

17.  Parentheticals are basically notes to the actors.

18.  Page numbers go at the top-right. Title page is page zero and is not numbered. Page 1 isn’t numbered either.

19.  If dialogue is happening off-screen, put (O.S.) after the character’s name.

20.  Script should be 3-hole punched with brads fastening the top and bottom holes. You can add a light-card-stock front and back cover, if you wish.

21.  Title page should have the title and underneath that, the author’s name - approximately one-third the way down the page, centered. At the bottom of the page, approx. 1/5th the way up the page, you can add company or author information, left justified, but on the right side (with copyright info on the left side).

22.  If a bit of dialogue is split between two pages, add (MORE) at the bottom of the first page. Then, on the next page, start with CHARACTER’S NAME (cont’d) (indented as you would a normal character’s name/dialogue heading).

23.  Screen directions or transitions (fade out, fade to black, fade to white, etc...) go in ALL-CAPS way over on the right, indented roughly 6 inches from the left edge of the page (or, if you prefer, that would be 2.5 inches from the right edge).

24.  DO NOT include anything other than the most basic screen directions. That’s the director’s job, not the writers! So, you should almost never include things like ‘tracking shot of the main-character walking through the lobby.’ Or anything like that. The only time it would be OK is when the specific shot is paramount to telling the story and would therefore need to be in the screenplay. You are the writer, not the director. You don’t get to design shots.

25.  If you want to include where the titles go in your script, you can include a line in the action of that scene that goes something like:  BEGIN TITLES or SUPERIMPOSE: Los Angeles 2172AD or TITLE OVER:  10 Minutes Ago. You can use bold or not. Either works.


If you use screenwriting software, you probably won’t have to worry too much about the above, as the program will format all your work for you as you go. But, it’s good to know, as most Hollywood executives will immediately throw your script in the garbage-can if it’s not in the right format.


I tried to choose sample pages that had a lot of stuff going on in them (parentheticals, continueds, etc… That’s just so I could show you as many different possibilities as possible, all in one image. So don’t go looking at your own script and wondering why you don’t have way more parentheticals - or italics - or anything like that. It was just for illustration.

Now that you know what technical-format your screenplay needs to be written in, it’s time to move onto the other (far more complicated) format your screenplay also needs to conform to: the three act structure

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Proper Studio Format

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Screenwriting 101:

PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT

SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

SCREENPLAY TEMPLATE

SAMPLE SCREENPLAY PAGES

BEGINNER SCREENWRITERS

FILM SCHOOLS

SCREENWRITING DEGREES

SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE

HOW LONG SHOULD EACH ACT BE?

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

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STORY-STRUCTURE TEMPLATE

THE FIRST TURNING POINT

THE SECOND TURNING POINT

PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER-ARC

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