How To Format A Script [Part 1]

Updated (4th June 2012): Updated prices and images for the programmes.

So you’re going to write a script? What do you need? What do you need to know? Is there a clear-cut do and dont’s? Well here at MBFilms were going to prepare you for your very own scriptwriting adventure, and in the right way! So just wait and prepare to be informed :)

Welcome to the first of a three-part post. In this post we’re going to cover the following areas of script writing: title pages, formatting (margins, font, bolding, underline, etc.), and scriptwriting programs. So let’s not dawdle!

Title Pages

The title page of a script is the last thing you should write up. It’s like any good novel or film, the title generally is the last thing to be decided upon. So why I hear you ask, why are we explaining it first? Well that’s simple. It’s best you know the easy stuff first, before you get thrown into the deep end!

So formatting the title page… what do you need to know?

First off, the order of information. In all cases of scripts, the title page will be always: Title, Format, Author(s), Based on (if any), and Copyright. Simple? Well you’d be surprised how many people get it wrong! And the first thing you don’t want to do is show any possible investors that you don’t know how to write a script!

THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT ARE PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL TITLE (working title) An Original Screenplay by Author and Author Based on This novel or this theatre play.
Draft Number Copyright 2011 Copyright Holder Address of Holder Tel: 555-555-555

As you can see it’s pretty basic. The top section of THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT ARE PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL can be omitted if wished, and most likely if a production script. You would normally use this text if it were still in development, and you were asking for feedback. To better secure your idea, from possible thieves, the line is an agreement that it is for the eyes of who you only seek.

The Title is whatever you wish to call the document. Always try to be clever about it, but don’t stress to much as in big productions this would be left down to the producer and their team. Working Title is only there if you haven’t decided on a title you’re happy with. It can be omitted if you have decided!

An Original Screenplay is a changeable text. If you are basing it upon another source it would be easier to write ‘Screenplay by’ or simply ‘by’. If you are writing a short, ‘A Short Film written by’ is okay as well! It’s really however you believe you should represent your name in the document – remember though, the line is solely to tell who it is by, not a adjective spree!

The Draft Number is only included if a draft, otherwise it is omitted. You write the copyright year underneath, followed by the copyright holder’s name and contact details. For original ideas, this would be you, and for scripts you sell it would be the now owner of the script. You can include as much information as you would like, but generally it is just your name, address, and contact number(s).

And that’s pretty much it to the Title Page. It’s simple and generally the only – and I stress only – thing you would be able to base off somebody else’s script. The margins will be the same as the actual script – so read on to find out the dimensions!

Formatting

So your script should have a 2.5cm (1") margin from the top, right, and bottom sides. The left side margin preferably would be 3.9cm (1.5") for larger scripts that would be bound on that side. The font used should be Courier 12pt.

Scene headings should be uppercase, and numbered on both sides. Scene numbers generally sit outside of the main text (about 1.3cm) – please refer to the provided script samples at the end of this post.

Action text or Big Print should be left aligned – character names vary from film and television, so please refer to the final post which will help you on this account.

Dialogue should be indented 3.4cm (1.3") from the left, and right hand sides. The alignment should be left as well. Character names should lie above the dialogue in uppercase and sit 5.4cm (2.1") from the left hand margin. Voice overs by narrators, telephone conversations, or other authoritative figures will have a (V.O.) next to their dialogue name. If the line delivered is in the same location, just the character is not intended to be on screen an (O.S.) – for Off Screen – should be used.

If you are intending to tell the actor or actress how the line should be delivered, the use of parenthetical lines should be used. To use this below the character’s name and above the dialogue, in lowercase and in brackets the direction should be stated. It is 4.4cm (1.7") from the left margin.

If a character’s dialogue is split between action lines, a (CONT'D) should be put on the following lines. If the character is split by another character or a new scene the continued should not be added.

Never split dialogue over two pages, nor sentences. If it need to go over the page either shift the entire section down, or use the (MORE) at the bottom of the page and (CONT'D) at the top next to the character’s name. This goes the same for action lines, where a (CONTINUED) is used at the bottom and a CONTINUED: at the top.

If you do get stuck open up the PDF document at the bottom of this post, as a reference guide :)

Scriptwriting Programmes

There are heaps of scriptwriting programmes out there in the internet! HEAPS! Some are clear cut winners, others just need some TLC! All in all you are bound to find your favourite one – for now…

Here are the most common scriptwriting software on the internet. Each has a description, rating, price, and operating system. We hope you find the software you want, but we advise you that if you are a serious scriptwriter you save and buy Final Draft. It is the industry standard – alike Final Cut is the editing industry standard software. We are not endorsed by any of these companies, and their ratings are based on features, usability, and price. At the end of these descriptions we have included a sample script layout PDF, a script template for Microsoft Word, TextEdit, and WordPad. There are also instructions on setting up Celtx and Final Draft.

To skip to the files below click here.

Adobe Story
    Advantages

  • Import scripts from other software (Final Draft, Microsoft Word, etc.)
  • Multiple authors working online, viewing, and editing.
  • Export to other script software programmes.
  • Desktop version is linked to online, and work offline is optional.
BPC-Screenplay
    Advantages

  • Import images, and video for reference.
  • Recommended as default scriptwriter in Britain.
  • Access BPC database for audio and video files.
Celtx
    Advantages

  • Free, with growing community.
  • Automatic formatting and margins.
  • Able to convert between radio play, novel, comic, and many others.
  • Storyboard, character profiles, scene layout, among other very useful production items.
Final Draft
    Advantages

  • Considered as industry standard software.
  • Auto add features with “smart thinking” scripting.
  • Index cards for quick info on the scene.
  • For serious scriptwriters.
FiveSprockets [software]
    Advantages

  • Conforms to industry standards.
  • Work with people online.
  • Promote yourself and script with other registered users.
  • Find jobs on in their registered section too.
Montage [software]
    Advantages

  • Import scripts from other software (Final Draft, Microsoft Word, etc.)
  • View from multiple angles – script, summary, etc.
  • Export to Final Draft format.
  • Desktop version is linked to online, and work offline is optional.
Movie Magic Screenwriter
    Advantages

  • Import scripts from other software (Microsoft Word, RTF etc.)
  • Lock up script from edits.
  • Internal chat (voice and text) with other MMS members.
  • Text-to-speech integration; have the script read out aloud.
Movie Outline
    Advantages

  • Similar to Microsoft Word layout – familiar.
  • Auto formatting.
  • Tweak the feel of the script with the FeelFactor feature.
  • Character profiles wizard.
Page2Stage
    Advantages

  • Word processor with script focused layout.
  • Open source software.
  • Graph of scenes progress.
  • Multilingual with over 30 different supported languages.
Scripped
    Advantages

  • Accessible worldwide – all online.
  • Collaborate with others in the community.
  • Competitions and contests for Scripped members.
  • Social Networks linked – share to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.
  • Multiple formats – script, stage play, audio, etc.
  • Ability to link to other OpenSource projects like Celtx
Scrivener [software]
    Advantages

  • Cork board layout to organise sections.
  • Creative layout, nice interface.
  • Formats well, and conforms to standards.
  • Include reference notes for research and refreshers.
Microsoft Word
    Advantages

  • Widely known software.
  • Easy to use.
  • Many how-to instructions in the web.
  • Microsoft Office template gallery.
Wordpad/TextEdit
    Advantages

  • Free to use, and easy to understand.
  • Export to universal file type.
  • Small file sizes.

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