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Script Format: Telephone Calls

Telephone conversations can be tricky. There are various ways you can present them, depending on which character you wish to be the focus of our attention, and how much latitude you wish to give the editor. We can cut between both parties, or show just the caller or the recipient.

One option (and the most common way) is to set up the first location with a brief scene, such as the caller dialing the phone, and then set up the second location, such as the recipient picking up the phone. While still at the second location, add the action element “INTERCUT with,” followed by the caller’s location, all on the same line above the caller’s first speech in the scene. To clarify that a character is talking on the telephone, place the personal direction “(into phone)” under the cue:

Screenplay snippet - Telephone Calls #1

On the other hand, you may not wish to show both sides of the call, but remain focused on just one character. In such scenes, it is rare these days in the cinema for us to hear the other party. Insert a parenthetical “beat” when the character we see onscreen is listening and reacting:

Screenplay snippet - Telephone Calls #2

If it’s important that we hear both sides of the conversation, then the unseen character’s cue would have a “(V.O.)” extension and the personal direction “(over phone, filtered)”:

Screenplay snippet - Telephone Calls #3

In this situation, the extension “(O.S.)” would be incorrect. “(O.S.)” is used when an unseen character is in the same location, but just off-screen.

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