SCRIPT FORMAT GUIDE
Be creative with your storytelling! Don’t be creative with you script format. First impressions are important. While there is no exact format for scripts written by professional screenwriters working within the U.S. motion picture industry, there are definite industry standards that you should follow. If you don’t follow these general standards, you’ll surely get your script tossed in the rejection pile. Any professional in the film industry will be able to instantly recognize if a script falls within an acceptable range of formatting conventions. If you follow the format described in any number of well-written screenwriting guides, you should be fine. Also, any well-known screenwriting software will automatically do portions of the standard format for you, such as correct margins, headers, and indentations.
Basics - Use spec format. “Spec” stands for speculation script, which is a script that is written without any guarantee of sale. Many scripts you buy at bookstores are in shooting format. If the script includes scene numbers, it is in shooting format. However, you will want to write your script in spec format. With slight variation, you can use the basic movie spec format for one-hour and single-camera half-hour TV teleplays (but not multi-cam sitcoms).
Font - Do not use fancy typeface or stylized fonts. Courier 12-point is the industry standard font. Using italics or boldface type within the script is not considered standard. Using capital letters for emphasis is also not considered standard (There are places were capital letters should be used, such as scene headers, character introductions, certain sounds within the narrative). However, as you read scripts, you will notice that many working screenwriters do use the following sparingly in order to create a certain emphasis or effect: underlining, capital letters, boldface, and italics. The trick is to know when it is appropriate and effective to use these things. You must also be consistent throughout the script in your use of these devices. We recommend that you only use these things if you’ve read enough produced or sold screenplays to understand how working writers use them.
Paper - Print your script on standard 8.5”x11” white three-hole punched paper. Be sure that your pages are properly numbered and that they printed in the correct order. Print on only one side of the pages and secure with two No. 5 or No. 6 brass brads in the top and bottom holes only.
Page numbers – These are in the upper-right corner. The title page is not numbered.
Margins – One inch at the top, bottom, and right-hand sides of the page is the norm. The left margin is bigger (1 ½ inch). You can cheat the right-hand margin a tiny, tiny bit (perhaps down to ¾ inch but no more). But seriously, if your script is too long, don’t mess with the margins to trick people. To a trained eye, “cheated’ margins will look wrong. Instead, revise & cut down your script!
Scene Headers – These are the captions that identify where and when a scene takes place. The header begins with INT. (interior) or EXT (exterior). Next comes the location, followed by a dash ( – ) and the time of day.
Example: INT. MURPHY’S OFFICE – DAY
Dialogue – Character names appear on the line immediately preceding the dialogue. If you have a parenthetical, that comes next. Dialogue is approximately three inches from the left edge of the page and two inches from the right. View Sample Page. Screenwriting software will automatically take care of this for you. Visit the Writing Tools &
Resources page for some screenwriting software recommendations.
Length – Script length can vary. Writers that use more detailed descriptions will write longer scripts than writers that use very minimal descriptions. As a general rule of thumb, one page equals one minute of screen time for movies. Thus, your average movie screenplay is 90 – 130 pages, with 110 pages a more common standard for dramas and 85-105 pages a more common standard for comedies or horror movies.
With television, one page generally clocks in at less than a minute (due to various factors specific to television, such as shooting style, pacing, etc). Thus, a one-hour TV drama (approximately 42 - 44 minutes after ads) will usually be 60 to 70 pages rather than 42-44 pages.
Cover & Title Page – The title only appears on the title page. Don't put it on the cover. Don't put it on the first page, which will begin with FADE IN: or FADE UP:
Don’t do anything fancy with the Title Page. You may have seen screenplays with fancy, graphic covers or title pages, but this is not standard. Production companies might create fancy covers for investors or for shooting scripts once the script is already in production. But for you, the writer, it is best to follow standard format. Do a basic title page with an ALL CAPS centered title and a byline underneath the title. In the bottom right (align right), you will put your contact information, which may be your direct contact info or the contact info of your agent or rep. Many writers choose to put their contact information in the bottom left. See Sample Title Page here.
A card-stock cover is optional. Don’t do bright or dark colors. Use white, off-white, cream, or any light, muted tone. The cover is completely blank. Don't type or write on it at all. The title is not printed on the cover.
Binding – Print your script on 3-hole-punched paper. Or punch the pages after you print it. You need to bind your script using brass brads. Size No. 5 and No. 6 are both good sizes. Brads that are too small may not hold your script together. Brads that are too big are like weapons that some executive might stab him or herself in the hand with. The brads go in the top and bottom hole only. Leave the middle hole empty. There is actually a practical reason for this - many readers prefer to remove the bottom brad and flip your pages up. If you use a card-stock cover, put it on the top only (do not put on a back cover).
Proofreading - Watch out for typos as well as spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. Proofread, proofread, proofread! And then have others proofread your script! And then proofread it again.... did we mention you should proofread it?
Those are formatting basics to get you going! Trottier’s Screenwriting Bible is a great reference for even more details on formatting.
Happy writing, The IndieClub.com Team