A film script is the document that contains all the audio, visual, and storytelling information for a feature length or short movie. It is the written map that the director, producers, cast, and crew use throughout pre-production, production, and post production on a film.
What makes a script different from a novel?
The formatting of a book can vary based on the style of the author. Some books are written in first person, others in third, but most books tend to describe not just what’s happening in the story, but the inner thoughts of the characters.
That’s not the case for a script! Remember that a film script is not just meant to be read, it’s meant to be seen.
How to format your script?
Once you have decided on your story and characters, you will need to format your script. Follow these steps to format your script in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
- To create a title page:
- Find the middle of the page, vertically and horizontally. Type the title in bold. You can also apply the ‘title’ style.
- Two lines below the title, type “Written by” centered on the line.
- Two lines underneath that, type your name, also centered.
- In the lower right-hand corner, put your name, address, phone number and email address.
- For the rest of the document:
- Insert a page number in the upper right corner of the header. Make it so that the page number starts on the second page with “2.” You don’t put a page number on the first page.
- Use the font Courier in 12-point.
- Set the margins as follows:
- Top and bottom: 1″
- Left margin: 1.5″ (you have to leave extra on the left to allow for the hole punching)
- Right margin: 1″
You can also use a free screenwriting app like Trebly or Arc Studio Pro (for Arc you can write two free scripts of any length on their platform). These free apps will help you format your script so that you can move between scene heading, action, and dialogue formatting with the click of a tab button!
Writing your script
Now that your document is formatted, you are ready to write your story. Scripts are written in scenes. Scenes are the building blocks of your movie. They are individual little chunks of story that build on one another as they work towards the conclusion.
Ideally, a scene should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Additionally, there should be something happening in each scene. The focus of the scene should be around something that drives the story forward.
Each scene should have a heading. This heading indicates where the action is happening, what time it is, and any other important information that the director needs to tell the story accurately.
The scene headings always go to the far left of the page. They should also be in all caps, so that all the letters are capitalized. If the scene you’re writing is indoors, you will start the scene heading with INT. (short for interior). If it is outdoors, you will start the heading with EXT. (short for exterior). Then you will put the location, followed by a hyphen and time of day.
If the location changes, or the time of day changes then you need to start a new scene. If someone is in the living room, that’s one scene, and if they walk into the kitchen you will need to start another scene. It’s the same thing for the day. If someone is in the living room in the morning, and then again at night, those are two different scenes. Remember that many different people work together in a movie. Filming in the morning is going to require different equipment than filming at night. And even though it might look like someone is walking from a living room to a kitchen in the same house, on a film set, those locations might be in completely different buildings.
Here are a few examples of scene headings:
INT. LIBRARY – MORNING
EXT. MALL PARKING LOT – NIGHT
Now you’re ready to begin writing your scenes.
Scenes are always written in third person and in the present tense. What are the characters doing in the scene right now? The first time you mention a character’s name, it should be in all caps. Anything that can be heard, should also be in all caps. This makes it easier for the people reading your script to see what is happening.
When writing your script, keep in mind that you should only include things that we can see. For example, if a character is sad because of something, don’t write this:
John’s day was officially awful. His sandwich falling on the ground was the last straw. At least he now had an excuse to order take out.
Unless you use a voice over, there is a lot of information in this description that won’t be visible on screen. Try writing this instead:
The sandwich lies in ruins. The ham and lettuce are scattered, the ketchup is smeared onto the floor. John stares down at his lunch. A single tear runs down his cheek.
This is a description of action that can be seen. You could use a high angle and pan to show the ruined sandwich and a close up on John’s single tear to show, instead of tell, how distraught he is.
If characters are speaking in your scene, you will need to format it. Talking (or dialogue) is usually centered underneath the character’s name. You can also use parentheticals to indicate how something should be said or if the character is doing something while they talk. Parentheticals are always lower-case and should be placed directly under the character’s name.
My poor lunch! Why is this happening right now!
You can also put action in between dialogue. To do so,you would just write the dialogue as normal, then add the action in. After, you would write the rest of the dialogue and put CONT’D next to the character’s name to indicate that the dialogue continues through the action.
My poor lunch! Why is this happening right now!
John attempts to pick up pieces of the fallen sandwich off the ground.
5 second rule, right? This is okay.
If you want to include a voiceover, or dialogue that occurs when we cannot see the character speaking, you can write V.O right next to the character’s name – like we did with the CONT’D action. This way, people reading the script will know that we will hear the character’s voice, their lips just won’t be moving on-screen.
There are a lot more screenwriting techniques out there that we did not cover. The best way to learn more about scriptwriting is to read scripts.
Every movie that has ever been made has started with a script. You can use the Internet Movie Script Database to find and read more scripts, like Twilight, The Breakfast Club, or 10 Things I Hate About You.