Proper formatting of the screenplay is an absolute necessity. Using script-writing software has become a common practice, but great screenwriting requires a thorough understanding of how to format the work. Familiarity with screenplay formatting helps in scriptwriting and also creates a professional impression. The biggest advantage of formatting a screenplay is that it enables the writer to precisely communicate what needs to be heard and seen onscreen or on the stage.
There is a set industry standard that needs to be followed when formatting a screenplay. This standard also enables all those involved in the project (actors, directors, producers, and make-up artists) to understand what will happen in the scene and prepare accordingly.
The basic steps of formatting a screenplay are as follows:
- Font Chosen
The industry standard font is 12 Courier and is followed when formatting a screenplay.
The margin set on the left side of the page is 1.5 inches while the margin at the right, top, and bottom is 1 inch.
- Page Number
It is mandatory to number the pages when formatting a screenplay. As per industry standards, the right corner at the top of the page must feature the page number.
- Lines Per Page
There must be a total of 55 lines per page irrespective of the size of the page. One page is equal to one minute of screen time.
- Scene Heading/ Slug Line
Scene heading, also called slug line, is an essential part of the screenplay. When formatting a screenplay, special attention must be paid to the scene heading as it creates clarity and understanding of the script. The use of uppercase letters is necessary for scene headings. Also, EXT or INT for Exterior or Interior must be used when mentioning the location. The time of the day and setting when describing location must also be mentioned. All scene details, including the time of the day and setting, must be separated using hyphens.
- Action Lines
Action lines describe the audio and visual actions the audience will see on the screen. Action lines are written in the third person present tense and capital letters are used to highlight the importance of objects or events in the scene.
- Character Names
When formatting a screenplay, character names are written in Uppercase letters in the middle of the page and the left-hand side of the page is indented 3.7 inches. Dialogue for the character is written beneath the name. Whenever a new character is introduced, his/her name is entered along with the description such as age, physical appearance, and other personality traits that would help visualize the character.
Dialogue writing may be the toughest part of screenwriting but is one of the easiest steps when formatting a screenplay. The name of the character delivering the dialogue is written in the center of the page with a 3.7-inch indentation from the left side of the page. The dialogue is written under the character name with each dialogue block indented 2.5 inches from the left side. The dialogues are double-spaced with words that need to be emphasized and underlined. Special instructions like voice-over and on-screen must be mentioned as V.O. and O.S. along with the name of the character in brackets.
- Camera Angles and Camera Shots
Camera angles are optional when formatting a screenplay. It must only be mentioned in the script if it is necessary to disclose the way the scene should unfold. Camera shots determine the movements and angles of the camera. Camera shots like PAN DOWN or CLOSE UP are only included if necessary for the scene.
Through transitions, the scriptwriter shows the various timeframes and situations and how the story moves from one scene to another. Transitions are right justified, written in uppercase, and appear between two successive scenes. Common examples of transitions are “CUT TO”, “DISSOLVE TO” and “FADE OUT”.
The above-mentioned steps make formatting a screenplay simple although it seems like a daunting task.