Script formatting

Here are some basic things which a lot of people follow. These are from different sources over the internet, and from some of the best ones.




It is extremely important that your screenplay follows all the professional rules of script formatting and presentation.

If you ignore these �rules� it clearly indicates that you are a novice, and will often mean your scripts are ignored. The last thing you want!

Below are some common mistakes that first time writers make and you should try to avoid.
# Do not bold, Italicize or underline ANYTHING in your script
# There are only two elements that should be CAPITALIZED in your action. The name of a character when they are first (not thereafter) introduced and SOUNDS. Nothing else!
# Do not include any camera directions (pan, zoom, close-up etc)
# Do not include any editing directions (cut to: fade to: jump cut)

These last two points are vitally important as these only appear in SHOOTING scripts, not in SPEC scripts.

All screenplays are SPEC before they are locked and go into pre-production, only then are they changed by the production secretary and director.

Writers MUST always follow the rules of the SPEC script.


Ok now I’m going to be pulling out some things I feel will help you from the book I recently finished. Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M. Akers, c. 2008. Click below to read more.

Here there are…


This is one of the most beneficial (and easies) things you can do to improve your writing. Even if you’re not a great writer, losing “to be” will make you look like you know what you’re doing.

Mrs. Hale, my fifth grade teacher, always told me to use “active verbs.” I never had a clue what she meant. I do, however, understand how to get rid of “to be.” Go through every line of scene description, and if it has the verb “to be” in any form, rewrite it so it is active.

“To be” signals the reader on page one that you aren’t an experienced writer, as “to be” is one of the first things to fall away as you climb the ladder toward becomming William Goldman.

Dave runs to his car. The bumper’s being held on with duct tape.

Dave runs to his car. The bumper held on with duct tape.

Of all the items on the Your Screenplay Sucks! checklist, this is the simplest and has the highest power-to-weight ratio. Your writing will improve by leaps and bounds if you follow the simple rule:

Get rid of “is.”

Now you know.

“Is” isn’t the only worty dird in the screenwriting canon.

(Taken from pages 173-175)


If the reader sees “the” all over everywhere, they’re going to know you’re not a top writer. Same with “that.”

Type “Ctrl F” or “Apple F” and search out “the” and “that” and get rid of a lot of them. It will tighten up your writing.

Alex just stares down and squeezes the meat out of a crab leg.

Alext just stares down and squeezes meat out of a crab leg.

(Taken from page 175)

Seven Deadly Sins of Screenwriting

Using Find (Ctrl F or Apple F) in your computer, chase down these words in any form you find them. Losing them or changing them will strengthen your work.

“Find” spacesISspace should find only the word you’re looking for, not every “is” in your screenplay.

is: He is grinning – becomes – He grins.

are: The convicts are singing opera – The convicts sing opera.

the: Nacho hightails it out of the town – Nacho hightails it out of town

that: Ralph can’t tell that she’s French – Ralph can’t tell she’s French.

then: She laughs. She then looks at Alice – She laughs. She looks at Alice

walk: Tika walks down the hall – Tika prisses down the hall.

sit: Sitting at the poker table, Doc deals cards – At the poker table, Doc deals.

stand: The surgeon stands at the operating table and works – At the operating table, the surgeon works.

look: Cheryl is looking at Stephanie – Cheryl studies Stephanie.

just: I am just totally exhausted – I am totally exhausted.

of the: Tom sits by the entrance of the mall – Tom sits by the mall entrance.

begin: The tape begins playing – The tape plays.

start: She starts moving toward the den – She moves toward the den.

really: Betty is really pretty – Betty, hot as a two-dollar pistol, struts in.

very: The kids sing a very old song – The kids sing a traditional song. (“very” means the following word is weak)

ly: (as on the end of an adverb!) seach for LYspace. Also seach for ly. and ly, as LYspace will not find an adverb at the end of a sentence, etc. Grade school writers go wild over adverbs. You’re past that now. Use them, um, sparingly. If at all.

Change these words in whatever you write and the results will be tighter and stronger.

Okay, it’s 16 deadly sins. So sue me.

(Taken from pages 176 and 177)

Again, all that was taken from William M. Akers book.

10 basic rules (Gary Goldstein)

1. Feature film script should be between 95 and 120 pages in length.
Never longer. A script over 120 pages needs editing.
Never shorter. A script shorter than 90 pages is too short.
The perfect length is 100 pages for comedies, 110 for dramas.
Cheat your margins if you have to, but better yet write and cut to the correct length.

2. Do NOT use camera directions. Ever.
(Note: Historically, writers used to employ camera directions, but the practice is no longer in vogue.)
Do not use words like CAMERA, CLOSE UP, LONG SHOT, DOLLY, PAN, or anything else that refers to the camera.
Do not use CUT TO or any references to editing.
At the beginning of the script, you may use FADE IN.
At the end of the script, you may use FADE OUT.
Please use a maximum of two dissolves in the entire script. If any.
Dissolves are not generally well-received, disdained by directors and studio readers.

3. Dialogue should generally be one to three lines long. Only occasionally should dialogue exceed four lines. Keep it short and simple.
A few monologues may be acceptable, but even they should be broken up with action (e.g. ‘he drags on a cigarette’), so they are under ten lines in length. Long stretches of one character talking are boring and hard to read.

4. Scene description should be kept to a minimum.
Many studio executives and readers may actually skip over scene description. If they can’t get the story from the dialogue, some may feel frustrated and stop reading.
Scene description should be one to three lines in length, and never more than five lines without a break.
When describing significant amounts of action, break the description into logical paragraphs, separated by double spacing.

5. An entire scene – from one slug line to the next – ideally runs three pages or less (it can be as brief as a small fraction of a page). Never more than five pages in length. The average scene should be a page and a half or less. Larger, important scenes can run three or four pages. Please make certain the script keeps ‘moving’ or ‘flowing’ for the reader. If you have a great deal of dialogue or information, experiment with breaking the scene up into multiple locations (e.g. “Let’s get to the restaurant, and I’ll explain…”).

6. Character names should begin with different letters so the reader can more easily distinguish them. Different numbers of syllables can also help (e.g. Stan, Sue, Sam and Sara is far more challenging for the reader than Susan, Drew, Alyssa, Charlie). In particular, characters that talk to one another should have uniquely different names (e.g. not ‘Lyle’ and ‘Kyle).

7. If a particular character has few lines (half a dozen or so) and only appears in one or two scenes, it’s best to refer to that character by occupation (e.g. POLICEMAN, MAID, BARTENDER). This lets the reader know they do not have to worry about this character fitting into the story. Use a proper name only if important to do so or the character has a signficant effect on the story.

8. Do NOT use parentheticals, except when absolutely essential. Typically, a parenthetical is used to introduce a line of dialogue, describing how that line should be read (e.g. angrily, laughing, nervously). Please make every effort to avoid this device and, if you must, limit to four or fewer your use of parentheticals. The litmus test is: is it likely the reader will misinterpret this line (sarcastic: “Sure I will.). Beginning writers often make the mistake of using parentheticals consistently throughout a screenplay.

9. Slug lines – the first line of scene, describing time and place – always begin with INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior). They always end with NIGHT or DAY. Do NOT use ‘Magic Hour’, ‘Late Afternoon’, or any other such departure. Only use ‘Morning’ or ‘Sunset’ if it is critical to the timeline of the story.

10. Character names are capitalized in scene description only once, the very first time that character appears in the screenplay.
Sounds are capitalized (e.g. BANG).
Please don’t use this often or get carried away with capitalizing sounds (e.g. PATTER, PATTER, PATTER of feet as he SHUFFLED; or the faucet went DRIP, DRIP, DRIP as the kettle WHISTLED).
Stick to loud, important sounds. If in doubt, don’t capitalize.
Nothing else in scene description should be capitalized.
(Note: Long ago, writers sometimes included lighting effects, props and other capitlaized items, but these are no longer accepted practices).

Use an INTERCUT if you want to move back and forth between two scenes without having to format in a bunch of sluglines. Or you could just do individual sluglines but that’ll look really bad. So something like this.


FRANK turns on the computer. He manipulates the mouse and keypad.

ON SCREEN, a window pops up with the image of a woman, DARCY.


Darcy manipulates a few buttons on the keyboard of a computer.

ON SCREEN, a window pops up with an image of Frank.


Hey baby.

Hey honey. How are you?

Oh not to bad.


I believe you could also format/write it as this.



GREG’S car pulls into an open spot; followed closely by MACER’S car. The two cars sit side-by-side in the quiet garage.

Greg rolls down his window; Macer does so as well.


GREG: Where you followed?

MACER: Not likely.


Then continue on in this fashion. Another example could be …



GREG’S car pulls into an open spot; followed closely by MACER’S car. The two cars sit side-by-side in the quiet garage.


Greg lifts a BRIEFCASE from the back seat and places it in the passengers seat. Greg opens it revealing a manilla folder of papers. Greg rolls down his window.


Macer lifts a BRIEFCASE from the back seat and places it in the passengers seat. Macer opens it revealing BUNDLED DOLLAR BILLS; lots of them. Macer rolls down his window.


GREG: Where you followed?

MACER: Not likely.

GREG: Good. You have the money?

Macer lifts the briefcase for Greg to see.

MACER: You have the files?

Greg lifts the briefcase for Macer to see.

MACER: Then we’re all square.

GREG: Let’s get this over with it.


This is another way you could write it as well. The difference between the two examples is that in the first example, the way it’s written out, we are in the INT of the parking garage but, since the way it was written, we haven’t moved inside the cars at all. So the reader assumes that we are looking at the EXT of the cars. There’s no need to really format this because it can be assumed; it would also be a waste of space. The INTERCUT is established as INTERCUT – GREG AND MACER’S CONVERSATION. Since we established that the windows were rolled down we assumed, as the reader, that the entire time the conversation is taking place we are OUTSIDE of the cars. Does that makes sense?

In the second example we have a similar scenario only this time we have moved to the INT of the cars to show action. We are seeing what Greg and Macer are doing individually. When we used the INTERCUT in this example we simply put it as INTERCUT – GREG AND MACER. Notice that there was no specific notation as to it being STRICTLY a conversation. Now we have the freedom to go back and forth between the conversation of Greg and Macer AS WELL AS the action that each is doing. Does this make sense?

These are just the ways I would handle the scene. Hope that helped. Good luck!

P.S. – If I’ve made a mistake somewhere and someone catches it; PLEASE correct it.

Another thing I forgot to address concerning the use of an INTERCUT. When using the INTERCUT be sure to address the overall “theme” of the INTERCUT much like you would when using a FLASHBACK.


The cinematic effect you want to achieve or create is noted to the reader by FLASHBACK and the “theme” of this flashback is GREG’S ACCIDENT. So the reader gains two things: the first is that the cinematic technique FLASHBACK is occuring, and second that the “purpose” or “theme” of this flashback is to look at GREG’S ACCIDENT.

The same concept exists when using an INTERCUT


Here we reveal to the reader that we are using the cinematic effect of an INTERCUT with the overall “theme” being GREG AND MACER’S CONVERSATION. Notice that the “theme” is specific to the CONVERSATION. We, as the writer, are making an emphasis on the conversation and not so much the action of Greg and Macer; their actions aren’t the highlight of this scene.

However, in the second example …

ex 2.

… we don’t put emphasis on the conversation but rather just the two people; Greg and Macer. In the second example we are highlighting the people and their actions and not so much their conversation.

Simply put, example 1 puts the CONVERSATION ahead of the action while example 2 puts the ACTION ahead of the conversation. Does this make sense? Hope that helps a bit. Good luck.

The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, c.2005, pg 137-138


Generally, the MONTAGE is used more than the SERIES OF SHOTS. Even when the sequence is a true SERIES OF SHOTS, the MONTAGE format is often used. Sometimes the heading MONTAGE is used and then the shots are numbered exactly like the SERIES OF SHOTS example above. The rules are fluid here, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Use both devices sparingly.”

— The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, c. 2005, pg 139

Examples of MONTAGE and SERIES OF SHOTS, as taken from The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, c. 2005, pg 137, 138-139


— They run along the beach. Suzy raises her countenance against the ocean spray.

— They bicycle through a park.

— Bill buys Suzy ice cream at a small stand. She stuffs it into his face. The patrons chuckle.


A) John lifts a .38 Special from his desk drawer.

B) John strides down the sidewalk, hand in pocket.

C) John arrives at an apartment building.

D) Mary answers the door. John pulls the trigger. A stream of water hits Mary in the face.

Just end the montage with Montage End.

But apparently, if you use these techniques in draft scripts a reader will deem you as a rookie. Only use these techniques once you’ve become an established writer. — Jay Bugsworth


A treatment for … pitching to a company to buy? Because I’ve heard of this before. I don’t want to but I assume you mean for your sceenplay and not for pitching. So you have sort of a layout of the entire screenplay, correct? This is what I do …

4 page write-up

1/2 page write out the first scene of your screenplay IN DETAIL

1/2 page general overview of what happens in the first act of your screenplay

1/2 page write out plot point one scene/sequence IN DETAIL

1 page general overview of what happens throughout act two, the struggles and conflicts your character faces

1/2 page write out plot point two IN DETAIL

1/2 page write out general overview of what happens in act three

1/2 page ending scene/sequence IN DETAIL

That’s how I roll. -arron Faulkner


Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips

“Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys?’

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.”

CARE OF eric peter schwartz


These should help some of you along.


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