Elements of Screenplay Formatting

By May 7, 2015Blog

If you are writing a script that you want a professional producer or development executive to take seriously, then you need to be writing in the Master Scene Format.

The Master Scene Format has six main elements:

  1. Scene Heading
  2. Action
  3. Character Name
  4. Parentheticals
  5. Dialogue
  6. Transitions


Screenplay Format

The first formatting element is the scene heading – also dubbed the slug line. Screenplays written in the master scene format are broken into scenes not cuts. The scene headings are written in all caps, as well as INT or EXT for Interior or exterior. This is followed by the name of the location and a designation of day or night.

The next element is action. This should describe action that can be seen or heard.  Sounds Effects that are important to the story but are heard off screen need to be in ALL-CAPS.

Next we have Character name. This has it’s own line in ALL caps. A character who is off screen or speaking in voiceover should be designated by O.S. or V.O.

Parentheticals provide context or instruction for the dialogue delivery. These should be used sparingly so as not to reduce the readability of the script.

Next, dialogue blocks are offset from everything else and centered on the page.  Parallel dialogue (overlapping dialogue) is written in side-by-side blocks.

The final element is the scene transition. These should be used sparingly as well.  Readability is key!

Learn to structure your screenplay with this free guide.

Additionally, there must be 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. The easiest way to conform to industry-standard format is to use a screenwriting software such as Final Draft or free online software such as WriterDuet or Celtx.

Why such strict rules for formatting a screenplay?  There are reasons — generally, 1 page of screenplay will result in 1 minute of screentime, so a 120 page script that is correctly formatted should translate into a 2-hour film.

A screenplay is a document to sell a story to potential collaborators – including a director, producer, financier, actor etc.  One of the easiest ways to tell an amateur screenwriter is non-standard formatting right off the bat.  So take the time to make sure your screenplay is in the correct format!

Now you’re ready to take advantage of our ebook, The Craft and Business of Screenwriting which provides our best advice from years of experience working with top screenwriters, Hollywood producers and studio executives. Get it here.

Writing a screenplay?  Don’t miss these annual screenplay competitions with Hollywood judges