On the previous post on the Screenwriting 101 I covered the basic definitions of what a screenplay is, macro descriptions of the starting stages of screenplay development some little advice. Then I posted an entry on the origins of screenplay formatting. If you haven't read any of those two articles, I strongly recommend you do before reading this one. Here are the links:
The Origins of Screenplay Formatting
Now, in this post I'll be talking about the basic elements of screenplay formatting.
If you're planning to write a screenplay right now it is necessary to write it according to the Master Scene Script format, which has six elements that we will touch on ahead.
- Scene Heading
- Character Name
This is the first element, oftentimes known as slug line. All screenplays written in the Master Scene format are broken into individual scenes. Each scene heading is written in all caps and begins with either INT or EXT for interior or exterior locations. It is followed by the name of the location and the designation of day or night.
This is the second element. Written in present tense language and should only include what can be heard and seen. In other words, no writing about what people think or feel. It's a film, not a novel. Sound effects that are key to the story but heard off screen are to be put in all caps, as well as the name of a character when they are first introduced.
This is the third element. It is written in all caps. If the character is off screen or delivering a voice over it can be designated with an O.S or V.O. next to their names.
These go right below the character name, they show the meaning of the dialogue delivery. Only include parentheticals that are absolutely necessary, since the key of the Master Scene Script is readability.
They are written in their section off set form everything else. Of course, it is what the characters are saying.
The final element are transitions. This have been kept from the Continuity Script. These go on the far end of the page and explain the transition between scenes. Again, the purpose of the script is readability, so only include transitions when they are absolutely important to the story.
The role of a screenplay is a document to sell to potential collaborators. One of whom might be the director and although you may have a great idea on how to shoot your script your job is not to tell the director how to do theirs. You can hint at what's important by drawing attention to things in the writing, but leave out camera direction.
Now the precise formatting of all these elements is crucial. The page must have a 1.5 inch left margin with a 1 inch top and bottom margin and the dialogue blocks 3.7 inches from the left side of the page. Each element has its own specific rule for spacing, you could try to set up all the margins yourself, but it can be really painful. There are standard softwares like Final Draft and free version like Celtx and Trelby that handle all the formatting for you. So it should look like this:
There are reasons for these type of formatting, the main one is that, on average, one page equals one minute of film. So a 120 page script would land a two hour movie. Also, during pre-production, a properly formatted script can be broken down and scheduled for shooting, and it leaves a lot of white space for actors and directors to make notes.
But, the most important aspect is that the format is the first clue for the script reader to tell if the screenwriter is serious or just an amateur dreamer.