Screenwriting Secrets by John Scott Lewinski

Screenwriting Secrets » Script Format Sample

Screenplay formats vary between media. In television, sitcom scripts look different on the page from one-hour dramas. Interactive or documentary scripts have their own collection of rules and traditions. A stage play is an entirely different matter. A beginner might end up confused, wondering how a script should look.

In this case, I wanted to present a basic look at a feature screenplay. I include actual text from one of my scripts to avoid legal hassles. Next to each element, in red bold text, I explain what purpose the element serves.

INT. SMALL COURTROOM - DAY
SLUGLINE: THIS ELEMENT ESTABLISHES
LOCATION, TIME OF DAY AND, OCCASIONALLY,
OTHER EFFECTS SUCH AS INSERT, MONTAGE
OR FADE IN.

A late middle aged JUDGE stares at sets of papers before him with sad, sincere eyes. Before him sit David and his lawyer on one side, with Jennifer and her lawyer on the opposite side of the aisle.
ACTION: THIS ELEMENT INCLUDES ALL DESCRIPTIONS OF CHARACTERS, APPEARANCES, LOCATIONS, EVENTS AND ACTIONS. REMEMBER - YOU CAN ONLY INCLUDE IN ACTION WHAT CAN BE SEEN. FILM IS A STRICTLY VISUAL MEDIUM. YOU CANNOT INCLUDE OMNISCIENT NARRATION IN ACTION.

David just stares into space, expressionless. He looks haggard and worn. He didn't age, yet he seems older -- his eyes heavier. Jennifer wears all black and constantly fights back tears behind burning eyes.

The judge pushes the papers away:

JUDGE
CHARACTER: THIS ELEMENT SIMPLY INCLUDES A CHARACTER'S NAME. IT IS ALWAYS IN ALL-CAPS AND SITS IN THE CENTER OF THE PAGE.
I've sat in his chair for 13 years. Not as long as some, but long enough to see a hell of a lot of ugliness. But, I never get used to something like this. A husband and wife... driven to divorce by the death of their only son.
DIALOGUE: THIS ELEMENT INCLUDES A CHARACTER'S LINES. IT CAN INCLUDE LINES SPOKEN IN NARRATION OR TO THE CHARACTER ITSELF.

Jennifer lets bitter tears come, but David remains stoic.

JUDGE (cont'd)
WHEN DIALOGUE IS INTERRUPTED BY ACTION, THE CHARACTER'S NAME SHOULD WEAR A "CONT'D."
My heart goes out to both of you for the loss of young Eddie.
(beat)
PARENTHETICAL: THIS ELEMENT SHOULD SUGGEST A READ FOR THE SPECIFIC LINE OF DIALOGUE FOLLOWING IT. A WRITER CAN SUGGEST EMPHASIS, EMOTION OR PACING. THESE SHOULD BE USED SPARINGLY AS DIRECTORS AND ACTORS RARELY APPRECIATE YOUR SUGGESTIONS.
Your attorneys assure me that you have made every effort to reconcile since the tragedy.

David still does not respond, but his lawyer nods for him. Jennifer looks to her attorney and mirrors his nod to the judge.

JUDGE (cont'd)
Very well. Then I grant the divorce due to irreconcilable differences and approve the separation of the joint estate according to your legal settlement.

Jennifer sobs quietly now. The judge looks to David, who remains silent, expressionless, dead... until a pager beeps on David's belt. He immediately snatches it up, checking the number. David shows the pager to the judge:

DAVID
(suddenly eager)
Your Honor? Please?

The judge seems momentarily stunned by David's sudden enthusiasm, but he motions him permission to leave.

As David stands, he sees the hate and disgust in Jennifer's damp eyes. David hesitates, as if searching for something to say to her...but he simply exits. Jennifer's lawyer looks over to the now sobbing woman, but he can offer no comfort.

EXT. COURTHOUSE - DAY

David rushes out of the building, a cell phone to his ear:

DAVID
Detective Mast, please... Bill?! I got a page from one of the uniforms. Are you mobile?

David rushes to his car, leaving the parking lot with reckless speed.

CUT TO:

TRANSITION: THIS ELEMENT LEADS THE READER TO THE NEXT SCENE AND CAN INCLUDE "CUT TO:", "DISSOLVE TO:", ETC. IT USUALLY PROCEEDS A SLUGLINE TRANSITIONS ARE USED SPARINGLY IN MODERN SCREENPLAYS AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED TO AVOID CONFUSION BETWEEN LOCATIONS.

Notes

  • Scripts should run between 90 and 120 pages. Readers love to get scripts that hover right around the 105-page mark.
  • Script title page formats vary, but they should include your title, name, contact information and copyright registration data.
  • Page numbers traditionally appear in the upper right-hand corner of the script page.
  • Avoid diagrams or artwork in your script unless absolutely necessary.
  • At one time screenplays used MOREs and CONTINUEDs to mark the bottom and top of the script page. These are rarely, if ever, used now. Avoid them.
  • Avoid numbering scenes, suggesting camera angles or add production notes in your spec script. You are not writing a production draft. Get your story on paper as visually as possible.

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