Tips on Properly Formatting Your Script

With the proper screenwriting software, formatting your short script (or feature or any length), should be easy. Whether or not you own software such as Final Draft, you should be aware of industry standards. These conventions exist not to make you crazy, but so that readers and producers can get an idea at a glance of how long the final product will be.

SPOILER ALERT: You can avoid learning all of these rules below and skip the test and just use a script writing software that allows you to write on auto-pilot and not have to fight to remember all these rules. But, if you still choose to pain stakingly set up a script using a general word processor… God speed and carry on with the paragraphs that follow:

Your script font should always be Courier 12 point, 10 pitch (“pitch” refers to the number of characters that will fit into a 1-inch space horizontally). The correct font and size is important because it determines how many pages your script will be—something many producers look for immediately. With Courier 12, one script page should translate into approximately 1 minute of screen time. Other fonts will lead to your script being an indeterminable length, which usually means an automatic PASS from the gate keepers. This is why Courier 12 is an industry standard. Also, do not use italics or bold in your script (like we just did using both in this sentence). Make sure you’re using a non-proportional version of Courier. (This means that font glyphs have a single standard of width.) In general, most word processing programs should have these parameters set as default for Courier 12. But check if you’re not sure.

Title Page
Your title should be centered, followed by “by” on the next line, and your name on the third and final line.

David Cormican

In the lower right-hand corner, include your contact information. Include your address, phone number, and email. No description, action, or dialogue should appear on this page.Some people also choose to have their scripts registered by using either the Writers Guild of American or Canada for such a service. This is by no means necessary, but it doesn’t hurt either. If you do choose to register your script, you’ll want to place this either above or preferably below the contact information on the title page.

Scene Headers and Description
Fade ins, closeups, etc. should always be in all caps. So should the place descriptions. These are left-justified with a 1.5-inch margin on the left and a 1-inch margin on the right. In cases where there is a page break, your scene headers should remain on the same page as your descriptions. In other words, do not leave a “FADE IN” on page 6 when your “INT. NIGHT – A CANDLELIT ROOM” begins on page 7. Go ahead and lead with “FADE IN” on page 7.

Action is uppercase/lowercase, just as you would write a normal sentence. It too should be left-justified with a 1.5-inch margin on the left and a 1-inch margin on the right.

Many writers break their description into shorter paragraphs for easier reading. If you have long blocks of action, you may want to consider doing this. Readers will frequently skip over description they think is too long. Especially if your script is the 20th script they are reading that day/week.

Character names and Parentheticals
You can either center character names or set them 4.2 inches from the margin. Either way, type them in all caps. In cases of a page break in dialogue, be sure to use the name of the character who is speaking, with “CON’T” next to the name to show it’s still the same character. You should set parentheticals about 0.5 inches to the left of the character’s name, and they should be about 1.5 inches long. Any longer, wrap them to the next line. Parentheticals are uppercase/lowercase, like action and dialogue.

The dialogue goes underneath each character name, and its margins are 3.0 inches from the left, and 2.5 inches from the right. (You can cheat on this a bit.) Dialogue is uppercase, lowercase, as you would write the action. In cases where you have a page break, a single line of dialogue should be pushed to the following page. In cases where you have a dialogue break, use “MORE” (no quotation marks) at the bottom of the page to indicate the dialogue is continuing on the next page.

Your top margins should be 1.0 to the body, and 0.5 inches to the number. Your bottom can be anywhere from 0.5 inches to 1.5 inches, depending on where your page break is. Page numbers go in the upper right-hand corner of each page. Remember to number every page!

Again, a screenwriting program such as Final Draft or Scrivener (which exports easily to Final Draft) should take care of the vast majority of these formatting issues for you. But if you are stuck writing your script in a word processing program, knowing these formatting details is essential. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences supplies a free, downloadable script sample with formatting standards in the script. Happy writing!

About David Cormican

DAVID CORMICAN is an award winning blogger (2010 Canadian Weblog Award winner – best literature & writing category), father, performer, producer and founder of the prestigious Canadian Short Screenplay Competition (CSSC), an organization he formed to showcase and promote emerging screenwriters through recognition and the production of their winning work. In 2010 Cormican was a nominee for the Regina Mayor’s Arts & Business Award for Innovation in the Arts and a recipient of the National Screen Institute’s Drama Prize. In addition to establishing the CSSC's Short Film Fund, he is also a partner with Minds Eye Entertainment where he is in charge of development for the production company’s feature film, television and branded content. Recent producing credits include THE TALL MAN (Jessica Biel) and FACES IN THE CROWD (Milla Jovavich, Julian McMahon) for Minds Eye and RUSTED PYRE (Brooke Palsson, Samantha Somer Wilson) and MINUS LARA (a Bravo!FACT funded short starring Romina D’Ugo) for the CSSC. He is a board member for Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, a counselor for ACTRA Saskatchewan and board member representing the arts portfolio for SaskCulture. He also sits on various committees for SaskFilm, SMPIA and the Canadian Media Producers Association.
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