Basics of Screenplay Formatting

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Here are the very beginner aspects of formatting a screenplay. These are MUST FOLLOW rules for technicalities behind a screenplay.

FONT

Always use Courier, Courier New, or Courier Final Draft

You should always use 12-point font.

MARGINS

Dialogue and names are indented. Everything else isn’t. See below:

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SHOT HEADINGS

Shot headings are put at the beginning of each scene to indicate the location of the scene and the time of day it occurs. Whenever the location changes or the time changes, that’s when you need a new shot heading.

Shot headings vary, but here are some variations:

EXT. DINER – NIGHT

INT. BRADY HOUSE – UPSTAIRS BATHROOM – DAY

INT. MEETING ROOM – TALKING HEAD

CAPITILIZATION

Capitalize when you introduce a character for the first time. After that, the name is spelled regularly. Take for instance this introduction from Eighth Grade:

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Capitalize sound effects and offscreen sounds. Take for instance this effect from Hereditary:

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Capitalize camera direction, especially if you’re looking to direct your own screenplay. Take for instance this direction from Red Sparrow:

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CHARACTER NAMES

A couple rules for Character Names. They should be consistent with the character names. Other characters can call the character nicknames or different titles, but the Character Names Over Dialogue should be the same. So if it’s:

KATE

Hello! This is dialogue just for examples sake.

Then our character of Kate should never appear as

KATHERINE

Then my Character name over dialogue should never appear like this!

WRITING ACTION

One of the best rules of thumb for writing action is to keep it short as possible. Cut when possible. Take for instance in this action is a bit too wordy from Home Alone:

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But this, from the same screenplay, is just perfect:

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 8.03.46 PMScreen Shot 2018-08-07 at 8.02.21 PM

TRANSITIONS

Transitions includes a variety of ways to get from one scene to the next. The basics include cuts, dissolves, fades, and wipes. You would write it, like this from Pulp Fiction:

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All transitions are typed on the right hand side, except for FADE IN.

Fades are a gradual transition from a solid color to the picture, and is typed at he left margin for direction.

Cuts are the most common transition. When there is no transition, a cut is assumed.

Dissolves are a gradual transition form one picture to the next.

Wipes are less common nowadays (especially straight wipes), but can still be used. It is when a new image slides over to the next.

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