Welcome to the final part of the series of How to write a dynamic screenplay.
Writing a screenplay is a complex form of creative writing. Whether you are writing a screenplay for a film or a documentary, there are strict formatting guidelines that a screenwriter has to follow. There are three main types of screenplays or scripts.
The ‘spec’ script is a speculative screenplay that has been polished to industry standards and then pitched to a production company in the hopes that it can be made into a film.
A ‘shooting script’ is a screenplay that is used during filming and contains specific camera directions.
A post-production screenplay (narration script) is used for editing and other post-production purposes.
For the purpose of this blog, I am going to talk about the spec script. A spec script is designed to contain specific instructions for the producer, director, production crew, and actors, and to also provide the overall feel for a potential film, so it has to adhere to strict formatting guidelines according to film industry standards.
The general layout of a spec screenplay is as follows:
The page number appears in the top right-hand corner of each page except the first page.
Each page of a screenplay equates to one minute of screen time, and a screenplay should be up to approximately 120 minutes, which is the standard running time for a feature film.
Top and Bottom – 1”
Left – 1.5” (this allows room for binding)
Right – 1”
Single spacing is to be used throughout the screenplay. A blank space should be inserted between paragraphs or when switching from a scene heading to scene description or from description to dialogue.
A scene heading or ‘slugline’ indicates the location, place and time. Whenever the time or place changes, a new scene heading needs to be used.
The scene heading contains:
Location: Interior or Exterior INT, EXT.
Place: The place where the scene occurs
Time: The time is usually indicated as day or night or a specific time can be used if it is crucial to the event.
Scenes that occur shortly after the previous scene can be indicated as LATER or MOMENTS AFTER, or if the scene continues on with a character moving between scenes, then this can be indicated as CONTINUOUS.
For example INT. SITTING ROOM – CONTINUOUS.
Scene headings start at the left margin and are indicated in CAPS.
An example of a scene heading: EXT. A FOREST. DAY.
The scene description states what is happening in the scene. The action, character and setting description is contained here. The scene description starts at the left margin and ends at the right margin. Scene descriptions are always written in present tense.
Rose sits at the dining table. The table is set for two. There is a candelabra in the middle of the table. The room is dimly lit. The candles cast a warm glow over her face. Classical music is heard faintly in the background. Rose drinks a glass of red wine. She looks nervous.
Each line of dialogue begins with the character’s name or the ‘character cue’. The name is to be put in CAPS. When the character is mentioned for the first time in the Scene Description, their name is to appear in CAPS, such as ROSE. If the character is a minor character they can be given a designation such as YOUNG GIRL or NURSE.
Characters names start at 4” from the left-hand side of the page and dialogue starts at 2.5”. Dialogue is to run no more than 2.5” from the right of the page. Please note the tabulation of the following dialogue is not exact as web page formatting does not allow for tabulations. Screenplay examples can be found on Google.
Rose, why are you sitting in the dark?
When dialogue continues over the page, the speech is indicated as CONT’D beside the character’s name, or when the character’s speech is cut in half.
Rose, why are you sitting in the dark?
Rose pours him a glass of wine.
Pete sits down and his eyes shift from the candles to the bottle of wine.
What’s going on?
A parenthetical is a short description of how a line of dialogue is said, and which is placed in parentheses. It starts on a separate line and is indented 3” from the left side and runs no further than 3.5” from the right side of the page.
Show me, Lily?
The use of voice-over narration is indicated by placing V/O besides the name of the speaker. O.S is used to indicate that a speaker is speaking off-screen. The voice-over narration can be placed in parentheses.
(from the bedroom)
A montage is a series of shots or scenes in fast succession. A montage does not need a scene heading and can appear as follows:
- Two young girls play in an open field.
- The girls chase each other into a dark forest.
- The two girls laugh and play ‘hide n seek’ among the trees.
One of the easiest ways to format your screenplay so that it looks professional is to purchase screenwriting software. Software like Final Draft will make it super easy to organise the correct margins and specific tabulations, it also contains a lot of other really cool and helpful features for story development like index cards that will help you to “record a story’s events, plot points and other details, arrange and save them in various orders within a sequence, attach pictures and characters for more detail,” (Final Draft 9). Screenwriting software like Final Draft will also enable you to convert your screenplay into a PDF file so that it’s ready to be entered into a screenplay competition or to send to a film producer.
So here ends the series on How to write a dynamic screenplay. I hope the tips that I have provided have been useful for you. Of course, I have just skimmed the surface of what it takes to write a dynamic screenplay, but with a little bit of research and maybe some more in-depth training, your screenplay will be on its way to the silver screen.
Film clapperboard. IO.Images
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