All scripts have 6 components: Scene Headings, Action, Character Names, Dialogue, Parentheticals and Transitions. If you can learn how to format these 6 components you're well on your way.
Scene Headings appear at the beginning of each scene and are often referred to as Sluglines. The purpose of sluglines is that they tells us the scene's setting. They look like this:
crew whether or not they'll be shooting on a sound stage or on location.
Occasionally, if the action moves back and forth it is alright to use INT./EXT.
2. Location. This is where the scene takes place. This should be short:
HOSPITAL INFORMATION DESK or BOWLING ALLEY or PARK.
3. Time. Usually it's just DAY or NIGHT but can be as specific as 00:01. (if
there's a countdown of some sort.)
and a space, hyphen, space between Location and Time.
At times, you may require a Sub-location to clarify the Location. It will look like this:
INT. JACK'S HOUSE - KITCHEN - NIGHT
A new scene occurs whenever there's a shift in Time, Location, or both.
Describes what is happening in the scene and which characters (if any) are involved.
Action follows standard rules of capitalization. It's single-spaced and the narrative
description is written in present tense. Don't exaggerate descriptions; only add the
details necessary to move the story forward. Try limiting paragraphs to 4 or 5 lines.
Physical descriptions of locations and characters should be brief and important to the
story. Only write things that can be shown on screen; DO NOT add thoughts, motives,
recollections (leave that for the dialogue). It should look something like this:
INT. BOWLING ALLEY - BALL RACK - NIGHT
TONY is standing in front of the ball rack. Blue, red, green, black—he finds
an assortment of balls in front of him. He stoops to pick a green one, but
his fingers don't fit, he tries the black one - the holes are too far apart for
his hand. After trying several different balls, TONY finally finds a blue one
that's perfect for his hand. He picks it up and walks towards his lane.
You must have some description after a Scene Heading, even it's only a single line.
EXT. RESTAURANT - NIGHT
As JOE approaches the vehicle, it blows-up.
3) The Character Name:
It always appears on top of the dialogue every time a character speaks and tells us
which character is speaking. It looks like this:
Character names are always capitalized. If a minor character (without a name) is
speaking, it's alright to use a description such as DOCTOR, MAN, WOMAN, WAITER,
NURSE. If there are two Nurses, for example, you can use NURSE #1 and NURSE #2.
Dialogues are the words the character speaks. It is focused, clear and concise.
Lines of dialogue should be kept short (unless it is a justifiable monologue); people
must be able to understand what your characters are saying. It looks like this:
INT. BAR - NIGHT
RONNY walks into the bar. He looks around and finds his friend JACKIE waving
to him. He goes over to her.
Let's get out of here. I got the tickets.
Really? How did you manage those?
These are used within dialogue to describe what a character is simultaneously
doing, who she's talking to, or how he is speaking. Parentheticals are always inside
parenthesis and appear on their own line. If they hit their left margin they wrap
around to the next line. Use parentheticals sparingly and for clarification purposes
only. They look like this:
(putting down his menu)
Parentheticals are also used to let us know the location of the character that is
speaking. This direction appears next to the Character’s Name. There are two
cases where this is found: VOICE OVER (VO) AND OFF SCREEN (OS).
VOICE OVER (VO) is used when a character or narrator’s voice can be heard
talking from some unknown place. Occasionally, the character is on screen and we
are hearing his thoughts as he narrates his own story through a voice over.
OFF SCREEN (OS) is used when a character is speaking in a scene but does not
actually appear on the screen.
Transitions are used to indicate a change from one scene to the next. In a spec
script, they should be used sparingly. Typical transitions are: FADE IN, FADE OUT,
CUT TO, MATCH CUT, MONTAGE, INSERT, INTERCUT, SERIES OF SHOTS,
DISSOLVE TO and BACK TO SCENE.
Each of the above 6 components is set at a specific location in the script. In the old days, we had to manually format the script to these locations using Microsoft Word or other such word processing programs. Scripts are set up using the following technical elements:
THE SCENE HEADING:
Should be 1.5 inches (15 spaces) from the left edge of the paper.
Should be 1.5 inches (15 spaces) from the left edge of the paper.
Should be 3.7 inches (37 spaces) from the left edge of the paper.
Should be 2.5 inches (25 spaces) from the left edge of the paper and end
2.5 inches (25 spaces) from the right edge of the paper.
Should be 3.1 (31 spaces) from the left edge of the paper and end
2.9 inches (29 spaces) from the right edge of the paper.
Should be right justified, one inch from the right edge of the paper OR
1.5 inches from the left edge of the paper.
In a single character's speech, made up of Character Name, Dialogue, and
possibly a Parenthetical, there are single spaces between the components.
Between everything else, double space.
FONT, MARGINS, AND SPACING
Screenplays live on letter-sized paper (8.5 x 11 inches). They're always written in
Courier font, 12 point, 10 pitch. No bold, no italics. Page Margins: Left: 1.5 inches,
Right: 1 inch, Top: 1 inch, Bottom: 1 inch.
The title of your script should be centered on the page both vertically and
horizontally. It should appear in all capital letters. There should be a double
space and the word “by” should be typed you then double space again and
type your name. It should appear like this:
In the lower right-hand corner, put your name, mailing address, telephone number,
email, and (if you've decided to register your script with the Writer's Guild) your
Writer's Guild registration number. Like this:
ALL CAPS IN ACTION:
The very first time a character's name appears in Action, it appears in ALL CAPS.
Some writers also use ALL CAPS when a sound effect appears in Action. Others
capitalize important props. This would look like this:
JACKSON yawns and stretches his arms. The toaster oven DINGS.
Jackson pulls out a BUTTER KNIFE and butters his BAGEL.
These go in the upper right-hand corner. There's no page number on the first
page of a screenplay.
DO NOT put scene numbers on your scenes. These are only for shooting scripts,
and are used to help the production crew plan the shooting schedule.
Fortunately, today there are many software which eliminate the need for knowing these tedious details. One of the best was Sophocles - sadly the company that made this software closed and this software is no longer available. Celtx is the next best thing I have used, if I remember correctly it was the only screenwriting software available for MAC when it came out. It's available for both PC and Mac, and it gives you several option for writing a script - from Theatre, Film, Radio, Comic Book, Novel to Storyboards - it covers most forms of writing and is my #1 choice today. Trelby was one of the first screenwriting software available on the market, but after 2006 it disappeared, now it's back and its FREE - one of the few software that's available for Linux as well as Mac and PC. My favorite feature of Trelby is that it has a built in list of names from different ethnic background you can use for character names - it's easily becoming my new favorite.
A film treatment (or treatment) is typically the step between scene cards and the first draft of the script. It is longer than an outline (or one-page synopsis), and it could include details of the directorial style. Treatments are set up like a short story but they are told in the present tense and describe events as they happen. There are 2 types of treatments: 1) the original draft treatment is created during the writing process and 2) the presentation treatment which is created as presentation material.
If you are new to the business of writing screenplays, chances are the term "treatment" will be new to you as well. Agents, studios and producers rarely have time to read an entire script so the treatment becomes a very important tool for writers. The primary functions served by the treatment in today's entertainment business are selling and diagnosing a story. What distinguishes one treatment from another is simply its effectiveness in making the sale, and/or laying out the story.
Many key elements make a treatment worth reading. The first is to keep is short. There are 3 kinds of treatments: 1) Original dramatic treatments, 2) treatments of true stories and 3) Adaptation treatments. Another key is to keep the treatment user-friendly and straightforward. A treatment will range anywhere from 1 to 25 or more pages, depending on the kind of treatment it is and its purpose. A treatment does the same thing for a screenplay that a screenplay does for a film. A treatment can be thought of as a written pitch; its purpose is to catch the buyers attention and make them want more.
The big difference between treatments and screenplays is that treatments are written in paragraph form and screenplays have a very technical format (as mentioned above). The writer should keep the language simple yet forceful and declarative. The treatment is used to describe the events of the story so that it can be visualized and brought to life and should be done with the least amount of words possible. The writer should highlight the major points of the story.
Several factors are important in the creation of an effective treatment: a good opening that catches the readers attention from the get go, there should be a climax that is satisfactory for them as well and in the middle there should be a main character the reader should be able to relate to the character in some way. The story should also have a conflict around which the story revolves.
Some examples of Treatements:
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
The Star Wars
PREPARING A FILM PACKAGE:
Once your script is ready it's time to SELL IT. Well this is not as easy as it sounds - you could have the most brilliant script and it will never get made. There are steps to selling a script which are much more complicated than anything you may ever encounter. Hopefully the following websites will help you understand these steps and help you along the way.
What Funders Require
Preparing to Pitch Your Screenplay to a Studio
Legal Issues in Film Production
Film Budget Examples
BBC - Film Network - FilmMaking - Guide
THE BUSINESS PLAN:
A film business plan is most helpful for independent filmmakers who want to raise money from private investors. Potential investors want to know that there is a strong producing team in place. They also want know that the filmmakers have a strategy for generating film revenues from a variety of distribution channels. A film business plan helps to deliver the information investor(s) will require to make a reasoned judgement. It's critical a filmmakers business plan include these elements:
- Distribution strategy
Establish the distribution goals in a few pages. Include any resources your team already has to obtain a theatrical or DVD distribution deal. These resources become a foundation for how you will be able to return investors' money.
- Sales projections
Write an overview of the film industry at present time. Use resources like the Hollywood Reporter, IMDBpro.com or MPAA.org for current financial information and gross dollar receipts for films with a similar genre to yours. Use conservative numbers that reflect an understanding of both moderate theater success and DVD sales and rentals.
- A strategy for recouping investors
Establish a marketing plan based on the budget you are seeking. A film like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" relied on social networking and small theatrical releases where the film, "Transformers" used massive marketing budgets with wide theatrical releases.
When I started out as a writer I faced a lot of problems trying to sell scripts. Unfortunately there were no resources available at that time to help me and I had to learn from The School of Hard Knocks. I hope this post will help future screenwriters in writing and selling a properly formatted script. These guidelines and resources can help with your writing but it's only your imagination that can help you write well and most of all you need luck on your side to sell it. No matter how good your script is "Being at the Right place at the Right time" really holds true for this industry.
* Price in U.S. Dollars.