You’ve got a great idea for a movie but you’re not sure where to start with writing a script. This blog will walk through some of the ins and outs of the formatting, why it’s important, and how to write a screenplay.
Screenwriting can seem like a daunting task especially with all of its specific formatting rules, but doing it correctly is important, and sometimes writing in the script style can be easier than writing prose. Check out our other blog post comparing prose and screenplay writing.
If you’re looking to fund a project you’ve already written, or if you want to secure funding before writing the script, submit a pitch to one of our funding opportunities for a chance to win up to $10,000 and other prizes.
What is Screenplay Format?
Let’s begin with the basics of screenwriting format. The first thing that separates scripts from other writing is the screenplay font. Scripts are always written in Courier New font.
Next is the screenplay title page. The title page is very important to the professionalism of your script. The title of your story should be centered on the page under the title should be By [Your Name Here].
In the bottom left corner, it is also important to add your contact information so if someone reading it likes your work, they can get in touch with you.
Another important tenet of the screenplay format is how a scene is established. Every screenplay starts with FADE IN: and then an extremely sparse description of the scene.
When writing your own, you should establish whether or not the scene is indoors or outdoors with either INT or EXT for interior or exterior and then give a one-word description of the location. Like OFFICE, PARK, GARAGE.
The last thing the opening line of a screenplay needs is a time of day. Establish this with either DAY or NIGHT. With just three words the scene is set in proper screenwriting format. A screenplay format example of this might look like.
INT. COTTAGE. DAY.
Lastly, another great way to get the hang of writing in script format is to read lots of scripts. It’s fairly easy to find free screenplays of your favorite movies, like the Pulp Fiction screenplay, online. By reading and becoming familiar with the formatting it will be easier to write.
Why does it matter?
If you’re making an experimental film or a documentary, a proper screenplay may not be right for you. In other blogs, we’ve talked about the disadvantages of formatting.
It might seem frivolous to write within these specifications, but using the correct script formatting is actually very important if you’re writing a narrative film.
It Shows Your Experience
By correctly formatting your script, it shows producers and other creatives you know what you’re doing.
When sharing your script with others in the industry, you want to put your best foot forward, and having correct formatting is the way to do that.
Advance in Screenplay Competitions
And if you’re submitting your script, contests get hundreds of screenplay submissions, and having correct formatting is the easiest way to make it past the first round of cuts.
Scripts with formatting errors will not even be considered by major agencies or in screenplay competitions and screenplay contests.
Helps with Pacing
The way scripts are set up also allows for easy reading. When writing dialogue specifically, each new line of dialogue gets its own new line on the page.
This allows for the pacing of the scene to be determined easily from a read through. And with ample white space, the page looks relatively clean, and it’s easy to read. This is another metric studios use to sort through scripts.
If your script isn’t correctly formatted, it will be hard to read, and the reader will have to do extra mental work when noticing the formatting errors, ultimately distracting them from your story. This will get your script tossed in any screenwriting competition.
How to End a Screenplay with Proper Format
In screenwriting, there is less expectation to conclude the story by tying up all loose ends. Think about how many movies end leaving you wanting more. A movie that uses its open ending capabilities purposefully is a test to a good screenplay formatting. Depending on the genre and the type of story you want to tell, you could end your script in the middle of the action by including the words FADE OUT.
A lot of French New Wave films such as Breathless, or even contemporary films such as The Florida Project, end in what seems like the middle of the action. But ending your script with FADE OUT is imperative, even if you don’t intend on the actual movie “fading out” in the edit (although, this decision is really up to the director), as it signifies to the reader that the story has concluded.
If you think you’re really serious about getting into scriptwriting you can do a couple of things. You could join a screenwriting fellowship and gain insight from fellow writings while working on your own scripts. Scriptreader Pro put together a list of fellowships for the year.
You could also get a screenwriting agent if you were looking to go the Hollywood route. An agent will represent you and your scripts to studios and executives.
Having representation adds legitimacy to you and your scripts which can be helpful if you want to sell your stories to studios. There is no one right way to become a screenwriter, which is good! Whatever way it can happen for you will be the right way, so get out and get writing.
Ensure Proper Formatting with Screenplay Tools
Before you can start writing, you need the right tools. Some of the best resources that you can return to again and again would be a screenwriting book.
Here’s a list of some of the best books to purchase.
Books also offer great screenplay examples in them. It can be very beneficial to look at some finished sample screenplays while you’re writing your own.
Another great tool is screenplay software because it can work as a guide as you write. If you don’t mind paying for software, Final Draft is the industry standard and very easy to get the hang of. If you’re a student you’re in luck, Final Draft offers a semester-long free trial, which is a great way to learn the tools and format at a competitive industry level.
If you’re looking for free screenwriting software Scrivener, Manuskript and Celtx are all great options. This post offers some more great free software.
Online screenwriting courses are also great places to learn about formatting. Especially now when classes and courses can’t be held in person, an online course might be a great way to get help with a screenplay outline or screenplay treatment.
If you’re looking for funding, you can enter one of our funding opportunities for the chance to win up to $10,000.