The Essential Guide to Proper Screenplay Formatting
Effective screenplay formatting is critical for writers looking to have their scripts read, understood, and potentially sold. While creative storytelling is the heart of screenwriting, honoring formatting conventions shows an understanding of the medium and respect for the reader. This article will break down the key elements writers should include to professionally format their screenplays.
Meeting Screenplay Standards
The screenplay formatting standards below allow for clean, consistent layouts that are universally understood in the film industry:
|Page Margins||1 inch on all sides|
|Font||12-point Courier or Courier New|
|Spacing||Double space between sluglines and action lines|
|Page Numbers||Top right of each page|
Adhering to these industry standards demonstrates a writer’s commitment to clarity and allows readers to focus on the story itself. Deviating from them without cause can look amateurish.
Introducing Characters and Settings
Properly introducing story elements in a screenplay avoids confusion and keeps the reader oriented:
- Characters – Include a character’s name in all caps the first time they appear in a scene’s action or dialogue.
- Locations – Sluglines describing location and time of day should be in all caps before every new scene.
- Time of Day – Establish time of day in parenthesis in sluglines, such as (DAY) or (NIGHT).
INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY
JAMES, 25, sits drinking coffee.
Transitions are formatted in all caps and convey the passage of time or changes in location:
- Fade In/Fade Out – Signify the start and end of a screenplay or scene.
- Dissolve To – Smoothly transition between two scenes or times.
- Cut To – Abruptly jump to a new scene or location.
EXT. PARK - LATER THAT NIGHT
Parenthetical expressions guide performance or provide the context in dialogue:
- Use sparingly, 1-2 per page at most
- Place in parentheses after a character’s name
- Describe how a line should be delivered or relevant actions
Enough is enough!
Crafting Descriptive Sluglines
Efficient sluglines orient the reader and identify scene changes:
- Place scene heading in all caps at start of new location or time
- Formatted as INT/EXT, location, – time of day
- Use brief but descriptive names, such as COFFEE SHOP or CITY PARK
Well-written sluglines are informative yet succinct.
Proper screenplay formatting demonstrates a writer’s skill with the medium itself. While mastering the art of visual storytelling takes time and practice, adhering to industry standards right from the start ensures that a writer’s creative vision comes through clearly. Formatting may seem rigid, but in truth it frees the reader to fully engage with the worlds, people, and events brought to life on the page.