How to Format a Screenplay: Screenplay Formatting 101

You get ideas for a killer screenplay,

you know the story cold.

But sometimes the screenplay format

can stifle your creativity.

That's some sort of guide.


But why do we even need to format?

We format because screenplays are written to be produced.

Formatting incorrectly isn't stylistic.

It's necessary.

For first AD`s, to break down your script into characters, props, costumes, etc.

in software like StudioBinder.

All scenes start with a scene heading or slug line.

To tell the reader where the action is happening.

A slug line is a location

followed by a time.

Your location can be anywhere.

From a specific place

to a general idea

to a totally real boarding school.

Time is usually what time of day it is.

Like this.

Or that.

And continuous,

if the action carries on word from the previous scene.

And use flashbacks if you're writing for "Westworld."

The first part of a slug line states

whether your location is inside or out.

If your location is outside,

it would be an exterior.

And get the abbreviation "EXT."

Slug lines can be both.

As is often the case with moving vehicles.

But every location needs action.

Consider this scene from "Spider-Man."


-How strange. There's nobody here."

But what would it look like on a screenplay?

Did you imagine something like this?

The key to successful action,

is to keep it visual

and in the present tense.

Leave interior thoughts to the novels.

While there are no hard and fast rules for capitalization

there are a few guidelines.

As a rule of thumb,

you want to capitalize character names the first time they appear,

sound effects and interjections,

and important details,

like a prop or a plot twist.

Formatting dialog is pretty straightforward.

"Ezekiel 25:17.

'The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish

and the tyranny of evil men.'

You have your character ID followed by the words there.

It's pretty simple.

Throw an extension next to a character ID

to tell us how the dialogue is heard.

When a character speaks over the action,

on a radio or walkie-talkie.

When the characters speak off-screen,

but we can't see them yet.

You know when dialogue starts in the scene before it,

like this.

"So now now NASA can talk to me,

they won't shut up."

That's called Pre-Lap.

It's marked just like any other extension.

But if you want to show how characters says a line,

you use a parenthetical.

Going right into a character ID,

a center justified parenthetical changes how character speak.

Like this.

" NO,God!"

No, God, Please, No!"


Put transitions

right justified between two scenes.

The most popular transition is "Cut To."

It`s emphasizes how quickly the editor should move on to the next scene.

But there's plenty of other transitions writers use.


And if you want the editor to cut between two scenes consistently,

usually for a phone call

that's called an intercut.

It goes right where you put the transition.

If you're sitting in one location

and want to move within it or skip ahead,

you use subheaders to move locations within a scene.

Format it after an action line.

You press enter and capitalize.

Why don`t we see some examples?

"-A voice.

A sign.


-Don`t worry. Andy`s going to take care of us.

I guarantee it."

But to be clear

a subheading isn't the same as a shot.

Exterior - freeway overpass. Day.

"Anyway, I got places to be,

a face to fix and ohh."

Format in all caps, like an action line.

A shot directs our attention to a visual.

To sort a montage

enter these words

above the short scenes you want to string together.

And in it, the same way you started it.

Got lyrics?

It is important to keep in mind

that one page equals roughly one minute of screen time.

Since lyrics take up little page space,

but require much time,

one option is to space out the lyrics on the page.

The other option is to describe the music sequence,

instead of listing at each lyric.

Like Damien Chazelle did in "La-La Land."

"-Oh, what a waste of lovely night.

-You see there's nothing here.

Well, let's make something clear.

I think I'll be the one to make that call."


Then the text that appears over the screen.

Under a scene heading,

you start an action line with the word CHYRON and all caps.

And put the text after.

Some screenwriters use the word TITLE instead.

"Can absolutely makes sense! You`re janitor who snakes toilets with his bare hands."

Now that you know the ins and outs of screenplay format,

you can get back to telling a story.

It's time to get writing.

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