Format-wise, anything that makes your screenplay stand out
is unwise. This may seem counterintuitive. Anything you do to separate your
script from the pack is good, right? Depart from the accepted format,
though, and you risk having your script prejudged as amateurish. A conscientious reader will overlook such superficial matters and focus on
content. However, if your work looks unprofessional, it may not be taken
We offer a Proofreading
service that flags any format errors in your script. Our Development Notes also includes a section on formatting, detailing how to bring your script
into compliance with Industry standards. It's tailored
specifically to your work, and covers only those elements that depart from
standard screenplay format.
When it comes to formatting, screenplays follow strict
rules. These rules evolved during the days when scripts were written by
typewriter, and they haven't changed. Computers have made a screenwriter's
life easier, but even the smartest scriptwriting software is still quite dumb
when it comes to certain formatting rules. To ensure your script gets a
fair read, follow these guidelines.
You can also view a condensed version of the
Script Format Guide as a PDF file (180 KB).
Or, if you prefer, right-click the link and select "Save Target As..." to save the file to your computer.
To view or print the file you must have the Acrobat® Reader® installed on your computer.
The Acrobat® Reader® can be downloaded, free of charge, from:
NOTE: The script examples on these pages are best viewed with
the text size on your browser set to medium.
It isn't necessary to file a copyright
with the Library of Congress. Your
script is automatically protected under common law. However, it's a
good idea to register
it, either with an online service, such as the National Creative Registry (protectrite.com),
or with the Writers Guild of America.
This being said, the Industry tends to view registration and copyright
notices as the marks of a paranoid amateur. You would be wise to leave
them off your script.
Use a plain cover. White or pastel card
stock, not leatherette. Avoid using screw posts, steel fasteners, or plastic-comb
binding. Bind your script with sturdy, brass prong fasteners, such as
those made by ACCO®.
The ones Staples sells are too flimsy. Readers hate it when a script
falls apart in their hands. You can order
professional-quality script supplies from
Kill the graphics. No pictures on the
cover or within the script. This is a dead give-away that the writer
is an amateur.
Although scripts are printed on
three-hole-punched paper, there’s an unwritten rule that speculative scripts
are bound with two fasteners, not three. Why this tends to be
common practice is unclear. Perhaps it’s because submissions often get
copied by the studio's story department, and it’s easier (and cheaper) if
there are only two brads. It’s an indication of how petty some readers
can be that they judge your professionalism by the number of brads you use.
However, to avoid this pitfall it’s a good idea to use only two brass fasteners
to bind your script.
Use a basic fly page with the
script’s title, the writer’s name, and contact information. No more,
no less. The title should appear on line 25, centered, in quotes, and
in ALL CAPS. There should be four blank lines between it and “Written
by” (also centered), and one blank line above the writer’s name, which should
be centered on line 32. The contact information should appear at the
left margin, its last line being an inch from the bottom of the page (i.e. line 60).
The draft date is not needed on
a speculative script (as opposed to a shooting script), and may be left off
the fly page.
Use a fixed-pitch, Courier
typeface. Movie scripts still look as if they’ve been written on an
old, Smith-Corona typewriter. Some readers actually dread proportional
spacing, as it allows writers to cram more text onto a page. A
proportional spaced typeface may appear more polished, but the standard is
12-point Bitstream® Courier 10 Pitch (not Courier
New, which is too spindly). Hewlett Packard distributes a free “Dark
Courier” True Type font based on Bitstream® Courier BT.
You can download it
Page numbers go at the top,
aligned with the right margin, and followed by a period. There is no
need to preface the number with the word “Page.” The page numbers
should be in the same typeface (see previous point) as the text.
The page count begins with the
first page of the script, not including the fly page. The page number
should appear on the fourth line down from the top edge. No page
number should appear on the first page.
There’s no need to put the
title, draft information, and date in the header. It’s only required for “A”
and “B” pages when a film is going into production. For spec scripts, the
page header should have only the page number.
It’s customary to place the
title at the top of the first page, centered, underscored, and in ALL
Standard practice is to begin
the script with the words “FADE IN:” at the left action margin. There should be only one blank
line between this and the heading of the first scene.
The first line of text should
appear on the seventh line from the top of each page. The bottom
margin varies, according to the rules for where it’s permissible to break a
page, but the target is between half an inch and an inch.
spaces should follow the punctuation at the end of each sentence. (Don't
confuse this with double-spacing the lines, which is done only in
three-camera television shows.) Keeping sentences separated by two
spaces, not just one, makes the script easier to read. Two spaces also
follow a colon.
Underscore for emphasis
instead of using bold or italics.
Print your script on only one
side of the page. Double-sided printing may save paper and make your
script appear slimmer, but readers tend to find it awkward and annoying.
It takes twice as long to turn a page, which may result in the perception
your script reads slow.
Try to keep it under 120 pages, but no
shorter than 100 pages. Longer screenplays used to be more acceptable.
(The final draft of Chinatown, for example, was 145 pages.)
However, the trend is toward shorter, punchier scripts. The rule is a page per minute. Comedies tend to be shorter than
Don't cheat by narrowing your margins
in an effort to shorten the page count. The standard width
of a dialogue element, for example, is 33 characters. Narrower
margins make it more difficult to estimate the running time. Even worse, a wide
swath of dialogue forces the reader to spend more time on each page.
This may also convey the impression your script reads slow.
View a sample script page, with guidelines for
setting your margins.
Use the standard pica line
spacing of six lines to the inch. While word-processing software may
permit you to compress the lines to fit more text on a page, closely spaced
lines are harder to read. What’s more, tight spacing will throw off
the estimated running time.
The top “CONTINUED:” and bottom
“(CONTINUED)” should be omitted. They are needed only in shooting
scripts. As is the case with scene numbers, these notations aid the
production staff in scheduling the shoot. In speculative screenplays
intended for submission, top and bottom “CONTINUED’s” only clutter up the
Do not indicate where to place the title of the
film or where to roll the credits. These notations are superfluous in a
speculative script. Such matters are usually decided by the director.
End the script with the
transitional instruction “FADE OUT.”
(including the period). Insert three blank lines, and then write “THE
END” centered, in ALL CAPS, and underscored (but without the
Run a spell-check. All it takes is a
few mouse clicks, but it is surprising how few writers do this. Simple
spelling errors may be interpreted as carelessness on the part of the
writer. And if the writer doesn't care, why should the reader?
Make your job easier by using software dedicated to
Draft® and Movie Magic®
Screenwriter™ have become standards in the Industry. The
Script Editor, a free download from
integrates with their line of production software. These programs automate the formatting and
maintain consistency. They also remember your choices and offer
keyboard shortcuts for quickly inserting such elements as scene headings and
character cues. No matter what software you use, though, it won't
handle all the formatting. Some format rules go beyond margins and
If you're on a Mac, you can also
take advantage of the submission tools in
The only screenwriting software developed exclusively
for Macintosh OS X, Montage is unique in the way it integrates with Apple's
Address Book. Montage helps you build a query letter, and then
manages your submissions to conceivably hundreds of industry contacts, including
managers, agents, and production companies.
You can use the Web-based
ScriptBuddy. It requires nothing to install, works on any
Internet-enabled computer, and makes collaboration easy and convenient. ScriptBuddy automatically backs up your script, and stores it securely
online. The free trial lets you write one script.
Scripped is Google Docs for
screenplays. Easier to use and more sophisticated than ScriptBuddy, it
handles version sets and enables online collaboration in real time.
Standard "tab" and
"enter" shortcuts, auto-complete, and script summaries make writing
fast and efficient. Access your screenplay from any computer without the
need to download software. A basic account is free. Scripped Pro,
which costs $9.95 a month, exports to a wide range of formats.
one of the more exciting newcomers. Not just a
screenplay formatting application, it is an entire creative suite that
integrates pre-visualization tools, production scheduling, and collaboration
over the Internet.
It has everything you need to take your story from concept to production. Based on
the Firefox browser, it is cross-platform and free to download.
Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats: The Screenplay
by Judith H. Haag and Hillis R. Cole, Jr., CMC Publishing 1989.
Considered the final authority on format, this book offers many more
examples than space allows here.
Some people say times have changed,
and script formatting is now less
bound by rules than it once was. The truth is that Industry standards
really haven’t changed. Ignore them at your peril.
||Michael Ray Brown, the founder of Story Sense, compiled this guide
from reading thousands of screenplays, many of them prepared by
studio typing pools or professional script services. If you
have questions or comments, please contact him at