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How to Format Movie Screenplay

Okay, you've got it. The screenplay concept will alter the course of history, shatter box office records, and win you every single Academy Award. Only… You're unsure of how to structure a screenplay. Is screenplay structure essential?

Our response? Yes, with a loud "Yes!" Screenplay format is required if you want your magnum opus to be taken seriously, but more importantly? It is essential if your screenplay is to become a completed film.

Movie Screenplay: Definition

It is also referred to as a script, serves as the blueprint for any film, TV program (teleplay), video game, etc.; it contains the actions, movement of the characters, speech, and stage directions. These scripts may be original compositions or adaptations of already published literary works. They also include narration of the characters' movements, actions, expressions, and conversations.

Movie Screenplay: Importance

This is not merely stylistic. The script format facilitates the script breakdown process, which is critical in transforming a screenplay into an actual movie. The script breakdown is how the director, producer, and other crew members go over the screenplay and highlight every critical piece that will need to be acquired.

They will keep track of every character that requires an actor, every wardrobe change, and every prop that has to be located or created using a script breakdown sheet or script breakdown software. Consider this: the script is the template for the program on which everyone will be spending tons of time.

Movie Screenplay: Basic Format

Font: 12 pt. Courier

Margin: 1.5 inches Left; 1 inch Right; 1 inch Top & Bottom

Page: Per page have approximately 55 lines

Note: Page numbers are positioned at the top right corner of the page, with a 0.5-inch gap on both sides. The first page shall not be numbered, and each subsequent page shall be numbered consecutively with a period.

Dialogue: Begins 2.5 inches from the page's left margin

Character Names: Must be UPPERCASE and begin 3.7 inches from the left edge of the page

Movie Screenplay: Format

1. Sluglines

It is a line inside a screenplay written entirely in capital letters to emphasize particular script material. Sluglines are separate lines in a screenplay that often serve to shorten the duration of a scene while also defining the action's pace. It is used for mid-scene location changes, visual direction, action sequences, and scene headings.

It is often utilized in two ways: as main scene headers and as subheadings. In a screenplay, master scene headers are the typical beginning phrase of a scene. They are used to indicate whether a set takes place indoors (INT.) or outdoors (EXT.), as well as the scene's location and time of day. Subheading sluglines are written in the middle of a set and may be utilized in a variety of ways to capture the reader's attention.

2. Action Lines

It is placed underneath the slugline. The proper structure for screenplays is that they are always written in the present tense and are as visually detailed as possible. More precisely, action lines inform the reader of what they expect to see and hear in the completed film. Leave your internal thoughts for the book you're working on in the background.

When it comes to screenplay format, simplicity is paramount – remember, a script is a document that will be transformed into a film, not something that can be read on its own. Department heads will often accept things and without inquiry. Therefore, if you put anything absurd in the description, they will find out how to make it a reality – that is their job.

Ensure that your action lines are purposeful and accurate. Strike a balance between allowing a filmmaker to lead a scene and providing enough information to the propmaster to achieve what you precisely want.

This is unusually true if you are trying anything as wild as creating a fight scene or a vehicle chase, both of which need meticulous planning. The more intricate the production, the more critical it is that you adhere to the script formatting. This kind of work is why the screenwriting format was created.

Note: Two hard and fast rules govern capitalization in a screenplay: always capitalize the character's name when they appear and always capitalize on the transitions.

3. Dialogue

The conversation is uncomplicated. At the very least, in terms of the format. Writing effective conversation is a subject unto itself. Center and capitalize a character's ID before inserting dialogue. Your character ID does not have to be the whole of your character's name. It may be a first or last name, or it could be an alias.

4. Extensions

Extensions appear in parenthesis next to a character's name and describe how the audience hears the conversation.

Once you begin entering the parenthesis, most screenwriting tools will automatically give the standard screenplay format extensions. They are as follows:

  • VOICE OVER (VO) refers to a situation in which a character speaks over the action but is not heard by the other characters in the scene. Usually narration, but may also be an interior monologue of a character.

  • OFF-SCREEN (OS.) When a character speaks and is heard by other characters but is not visible to the audience or other characters. Add (OS) after the character's name. "Off-camera" may alternatively be written as (OC).

Extensions include the following: someone announcing something via a loudspeaker, a figure who makes a spectacular and unexpected appearance, a ghostly disembodied voice, etc.

  • INTO DEVICES. Quite self-explanatory – characters conversing by phone or radio rather than in person. This is especially helpful when characters are conversing on the phone with someone directly next to them. Or when a local news station lays out the story's exposition.

  • PRE-LAP. Dialogue from the following scene that begins before to the conclusion of the present scene. Include the phrase "pre-lap" in parenthesis after the character's name.

4. Parentheticals

At first sight, parentheticals may seem to be extensions, but there are many critical differences. Extensions are technical instructions that describe the location of the character speaking the speech in the scene. Parentheticals serve as instructions to the performer, outlining how the line should be delivered.

5. Transitions

Transitions describe how an editor should transition between two scenes; they are located on the far right of the page (right-justified) and put between two scenes.

Understanding how to utilize transitions is critical to understanding how to structure a script. However, most editors nowadays understand that no transition implies a standard cut.

Therefore, rather than using a "CUT TO:" for everything, utilize a transaction only when you want it to stand out in some manner. Generally, proper screenplay style requires that they are capitalized.

As with parentheses, your screenwriting program will almost certainly come pre-installed with conventional transitions. Among them involve, but are not limited to:

  • CUT TO

Any transition that is not indicated as a cut is presumed to be one. This transitional style denotes a more abrupt cut than usual, similar to smash cut.

It is also often used to indicate the conclusion of a scene in multi-cam scripts. Since multi-cam scripts include page breaks for both scenes and acts, it is critical to indicate when a scene is ending versus when an act break occurs, which is also a commercial break. This is important for editing reasons as well as reading since act breaks are crucial for narrative development.


When one scene dissolves into another, it almost wholly transforming it. This is primarily used to denote the passage of time.


This is where you transition between two distinct sequences. Generally, but not always, it is used for phone calls. It is critical to indicate if this is anticipated since it may significantly impact the entire production schedule.


A tricky form of edit — where you cut the film, so the last shot in the previous scene (say, a hand reaching for a knife) matches the first shot in the new scene (a hand reaching for an apple) (a hand reaching for an apple).

It is an excellent transition to utilize if you want to create suspense or foreshadowing in your narrative by drawing attention to particular acts and things that will be important later.


It is an abrupt cut, the kind of cut that occurs in the middle of a sentence. The film Hot Fuzz is an excellent example of slam cuts. Smash cuts are utilized here to create a montage effect.

7. Subheaders

It acts as mini-sluglines, indicating another location or period inside a scene. They are even structured similarly to sluglines, with left-justified and classified.

8. Shots

It is formatted similarly to a caps-locked action line, draw our attention to a particular image or manner of viewing things. Similar to transitions, they were much more prevalent in the golden age of Hollywood.

Writer-directors usually utilize them in contemporary times. Still, they may also be employed when the writer believes a visual is critical to the whole scene and wants to ensure the director is aware of it.

Nowadays, most screenwriters specify shots only when they are indispensable for the scene's interpretation.

Consider that by specifying different shot types in a screenplay, you as a writer are also emphasizing to the reader that this is a film and that cameras will be capturing it. On some level, this approach may pull the reader out of the narrative, so you may want to employ it carefully.

9. Montage

To begin a montage, whether training or otherwise, use "Begin Montage" as a subheader. Then, as you usually would, lay down your scenarios. When crafting a montage, there is considerable freedom. For instance, writers frequently prefer to list individual lines within the action or lines separated by hyphens to denote different montage locations and sub-scenes.

10. Lyrics

It isn't easy to structure in a script, much more so when they must be synchronized with the on-screen action. There is no such thing as a "lyrics" feature in screenwriting software.

When studying how to create a screenplay, it's critical to remember that one page of movie dialogue approximately equals about one minute of screen time when done correctly. The word "approximately" is emphasized. Due to the fact that lyrics take up a lot of page space yet require less time to sing, this may throw the balance off.

You have two plausible solutions to this issue:


Rather than listing each line, explain the song's overall mood and the order that it follows.


You can arrange the lyrics on the page in conjunction with images and action directions. It allows you to create some of the choreography and contribute to the rhythm and pacing of your sizeable musical number.

11. Chyrons

Chyrons are the text that displays above the screen — they are often employed to inform the viewer of the scene's time and location. This kind of event usually occurs in military or espionage films.

Begin an action line with the term "CHYRON" (yes, capitalized), followed by the chyron's content. Using "Chyron" would be the same, with the word "Chyron" replacing "Title." Both are acceptable script formats.

12. End of Act

This is a unique kind of formatting that is exclusively required when writing for network television. Whenever you conclude an act (or teaser) when the program would go to commercial, make a note of it in your screenplay by centering and underlining "End of Act One" (or Two or Three).

Then you skip a page and center and highlight "Act One" (or Act Two or Act Three) at the very top. If you're creating a screenplay using screenwriting software, it's critical to open your template as a "one-hour" or "half-hour" drama. If you open it as a screenplay for a feature picture, the screenwriting program may exclude that part. Additionally, bear in mind that a single-camera comedy differs significantly from a multi-camera sitcom in terms of writing structure.

In essence, the single-camera format is a movie screenplay with act breaks. While the multi-camera version has double-spaced speech and capitalized action lines, new acts begin halfway down the page, and each new scene begins on a new page (as we mentioned).

Ascertain which one you're creating and then adhere to the appropriate screenplay structure. These two subgenres of comedy have very distinct tones, styles, and production values. Both the reader and, even more importantly, the production team must understand which one you wrote.

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