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Screenplay format, part 1

Do it right

Using accepted screenplay format when your write your scripts is important even if you are writing a screenplay which you are going to direct.

  • People who might finance your film often know what a proper screenplay should look like.
  • Experience crew members know what accepted screenplay format is.
  • Actors know exactly what a screenplay should look like.
  • A properly formatted screenplay will be helpful when it comes time to make a schedule.

Having correct screenplay format gives you more credibility and makes your life easier. Fortunately software will handle most of the effort of getting the screenplay format right but you still need to understand what are the elements of a screenplay and a few rules concerning how to format them.

Screenplay format - General guidelines

A screenplay consists of a front and back cover of heavy beige index stock. The pages of the screenplay are printed on white 8 1/2" x 11" bond paper. They are only printed on the front side.

The script is three-hole punched on the left and bound together with Acco No. 5 round-head brass fasteners. These are the ones with two flat legs coming out of the head, 1 1/4" long, that you bend out to fasten the script together. Some people use the longer No. 6 or No. 7 fasteners. Only use two fasteners in the first and third of the three-hole punches.

Producers, financiers and agents like to be able to copy scripts and pass them around. Using this type of binding makes it easy. You want to be so lucky as to have agents copying your screenplay and passing it around to their associates.

Here are some specific screenplay format guidelines to be sure your script looks professional.

  • Don't include any artwork, illustrations or designs.
  • Don't number the scenes until you get to the preproduction step.
  • Only use 12-point Courier font.
  • Never justify the right margin.
  • Never use bold or italics.
  • Print using a laser printer or quality ink-jet for legibility.
  • Don't put any dates on your script or designations such as "First Draft" if you are sending this to professionals.
  • Don't include a character list, scene list, synopsis or budget.
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If you follow all the guidelines of accepted screenplay format each page of your screenplay will become one minute of film time, on average. It's not always true but it's close enough and has become a rule of the film industry.

A movie should be 90 to 120 minutes in length. Shorter than 90 minutes and people don't feel they got their money's worth. Longer than 120 minutes and people have to go to the bathroom. (If you want to make a three hour epic wait until you're Peter Jackson.)

By the rule of one page equals one minute of screen time you should end up with a script that is 90 to 120 page in length. Comedies tend to be toward the short end of the range, people can only laugh for so long, and dramas tend to be longer.

Professionals who have read thousands of scripts tend to instantly reject any script that isn't in the standard screenplay format without even reading it. They assume that if the author doesn't even know how to format a screenplay they probably don't know how to write interesting stories either. My experience confirms that belief.

It's not hard to learn and follow the rules, so just do it and don't look like an amateur.

The title page

There should be one screenplay title page just after the index stock cover sheet. The only things on the title page are the title, author(s) and contact information.

The title of your screenplay should be centered on the first page about 1/3 of the way down from the top. It can optionally be in all upper-case and/or in quotes and/or underlined. The word "by" is centered under the title then your name is centered under that. It should look like this:

"The Great Script"

by

Sam Filmmaker

If there is more than one author working together put the ampersand "&" character between the names:

"The Great Script"

by

Sam Filmmaker & Susie Filmmaker

If more than one writers have worked on the script, not working together or at the same time, then the names are separated by the work "and":

"The Great Script"

by

Sam Filmmaker and Susie Filmmaker

Now put your name, address, phone number and e-mail address in the lower right corner of the page:

   100 Main Street
Hollywood, CA 90028
213 555-1234
thegreatone@farout.com

Don't put a company name here even if you have a company. It looks pretentious and gives the impression that the script has been purchased by a production company.

Screenplay Format CONTINUED

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