How to format a screenplay!
A screenplay should have 4 things. Sluglines, Action, Character Names, and Dialogue.
1. Sluglines are the header for the scene. INT. or EXT. then the location followed by what time of day. All capitalized.
INT. COFFEE SHOP – DAY
EXT. PARKING LOT – NIGHT
2. Action which explains what is going on in the scene. A good rule of thumb is to keep this simple. Write action for 5th grade reading level just like USA Today. It keeps normal formating with the exception of the first time you introduce a character you capitalize all the letters.
SALLY a young voluptuous blonde sites down next to Johnny with a cup of coffee.
You do not capitalize Johnny if you already introduced him earlier in the screenplay.
3. Character names. The character’s name is always capitalized and centered about the dialogue.
4. Dialogue which is what the characters say. It always starts on the line below the characters name and is indented. When the dialogue stops there is a space.
The best thing to do to format your screen play is use software that does this automatically for you. You can use Final Draft which is the industry standard. They offer a free trial version which is exactly the same as the full version. The only difference is that it doesn’t let you save files that are over 15 pages.
Be sure you use 12 point font in Courier. Be sure to number all your pages with the exception of page 1 on the top right corner. Final draft will do this for you automatically. It also has a feature to create your title page.
This is the last book on screen writing you will ever need. Thats the motto of the book and I agree. Blake Snyder (October 3, 1957 – August 4, 2009) was an American screenwriter who recently passed away. But he left an imprint on the industry of screen writing before he left us. He found a niche as a mentor and has helps numerous writers better understand how to write. The concept he invest that I love is his beat sheet. He found that every time he would pitch a story the executives always seemed to ask him the same questions and he saw a pattern. The pattern he later realized feel into specific beats in the story so he created something called a Beat Sheet. 15 beats that are crucial to your story. You can download his beat sheet from his website that is still online.
The other interesting thing I loved in his book was His Immutable Laws Of Screenplay Physics. Basically they are common sense rules for movie script writing. That is how he got the name Save The Cat. My favorite is Pope in the Pool. Basically you have some boring exposition that you need to explain to move your story forward you need to divert the audiences attention with something more interesting action while your characters discuss this. If you put the pope in pool swimming you are sure to hold the audiences attention.
This is my favorite book on how to write a script. It might not be the only one you need but it certainly is the last. It really helps bring together all the other concepts and the steps I listed on this blog.
You will need a unique concept. Something original. Something high concept. A good example of an elevator pitch that is high concept is (Alien crash lands on each and befriends a boy who helps him get home. ET) Even an art film should have a high concept. Think about Once Upon A Time In America.
Don’t ignore this step. You need a catchy title to help aid your log line and use it to build your elevator pitch. No matter how small your film you still need a good pitch to get people involved and interested.
3. Three Acts
All movie scripts have 3 acts. A beginning Middle and End. Act 1 is your introduction. Act 2 is your journey and act 3 is the conclusion. Be sure you know how your story starts and ends. And don’t forget the middle. That is crucial for developing a good story that is not 250 pages long.
Good characters want something this is their need. They also change over the course of the story. In order to build a great character you need to understand their point of view and attitude towards things.
This area is often ignored. The typical Hollywood movie doesn’t have a lot of depth. Think about subplots that build and enlighten your audience to your larger theme. Subplots should reveal something about your plot and your characters. It tells who they are through action.
6. Plot Diagram
Once you have some ideas about how your going to tell your story plot out the scenes. Every script should have 40 scenes. You can start making a list and filling out your story. The more action and subplots you use the easier it will be to fill out the plot diagram. What you don’t want to do is start writing and then come up with ideas as you go. You want to carefully craft your story and plot it out before you get started.
7. Beat Sheet
Break down your story into beats. This is the concept of Blake Snyder from “Save the Cat” There are 15 important beats that every movie script has you want to plot these out before you start writing.
I always start with a long detailed treatment. Basically this is a scene outline of exactly what happens in each scene. You can use this as a guide. but you need to know your story before you write this. If you write it as a scene outline you don’t have to go in sequential order. Once you finish your treatment I always go back and write a 4 page version. This is what I let friends read to give me feedback. I look at the treatment as a way to get feedback and do most of my rewrites here.
9. Movie Script
If you have been successful during all the previous steps this is the easy part. It will write itself. You need to know your story.
10. Rewrite Movie Script
You want your movie script to be perfect so you need to do rewrites. Keep in mind the larger the structural change to the story the more invasive the rewrite will be. Hopefully your story was crafted in a way that you don’t need more characters or scenes but are just adding in texture. If you need a major structural change to the plot arc you might want to start back at a previous step before you engage the rewrite.
More Detailed information on my site How To Write A Movie Script!