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Sample from a screenplay, showing dialogue and action descriptions
Sample from a screenplay, showing dialogue and action descriptions

A screenplay, or script, is a written work by screenwriters for a film, television program or video game. These screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression and dialogues of the characters are also narrated. A screenplay written for television is also known as a teleplay.

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  • ✪ Gone Girl — Don't Underestimate the Screenwriter
  • ✪ Biggest Mistake Screenwriters Make When Selling A Screenplay by Pilar Alessandra
  • ✪ How To Format A Screenplay - 5 Basic Elements : FRIDAY 101
  • ✪ Submitting To A Screenplay Competition, The Big Mistake Screenwriters Make - Gordy Hoffman
  • ✪ What Should A Screenwriter Know Before Writing A Screenplay? - Erik Bork


Hi, I'm Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. Many audiences never consider how important a great screenwriter is to a movie. They may not realize how much the director and actors take their cues from the script, or think about why some scenes are exciting and others are boring. Because the hardest part about screenwriting isn't having an idea for a story, it's figuring out how to tell that story in a compelling way. Today we're looking at Gone girl, for which Gillian Flynn had the difficult task of adapting her novel into a modern film noir thriller. "I did not kill my wife." The screenplay is very well crafted, and mixes traditional storytelling methods with her own personal style to create a unique story world. Let's take a look at a few techniques Gillian Flynn used in her fantastic screenplay for Gone Girl. Number one. Efficient action lines. In a script, action lines describe what is happening. They're important because they help the director translate scenes from script to screen. And Gillian Flynn writes great action lines. In this scene, she efficiently sets the tone in just two sentences. And a few lines later... While it's up to the director and actor, in this case Neil Patrick Harris, to decide how to portray this on screen, this action line serves as a guide. And if you watch the scene with this action line in mind, you see that NPH truly gives him nothing. You may notice that the dialogue in the final film is different from the script. This happens frequently. The director or writer or actor changes something on set. This is why it's so important for the writer to set the tone of the scenes in the script — so anyone making changes understands the context and intention of the original line. For example, at the end of the scene, Flynn writes: The phrase "ugly pause" is such a great way to describe a moment. It implies tone and pacing in just two words. Gillian Flynn's action lines are descriptive, concise, and full of personality. The second technique I want to talk about is: The Last Line is the Point of the Scene. In Anatomy of Story by John Truby - a screenwriting book I highly recommend - he writes: He uses an upside-down triangle to represent the idea. Let's apply the triangle to one of the best scenes in Gone Girl. "Hello?" The first line of the scene is: Which immediately frames what the whole scene is about. What does Nick actually know? What is he lying about? This scene is about Nick realizing how much trouble he's in. Let's watch as Flynn makes the scene funnel toward a single point. Nick begins to understand that all of the evidence points to him. The noose tightens... And tightens... And tightens. Until finally: Boom. The scene culminates in a single point as Nick finally realizes the trouble that he's in. He makes a new decision and the story moves right along. That's good screenwriting. If you look for it, you'll notice most good scenes follow this simple rule. The last topic I want to cover is one of the most misunderstood story techniques: The subplot character. Most people think of a subplot character as a kind of other-protagonist in a separate storyline, but this is incorrect. Again, quoting John Truby: Basically, it's a character that is dealing with the same problem as the protagonist, but in a different way. Of the two subplot characters in Gone Girl, one is in the movie for a single scene. By comparing the protagonist, Nick, with this subplot character the writer can reveal information and demonstrate how certain choices may play out. The first comparison: Amy is framing Nick for murder, and she previously framed Tommy for rape. This is new information for both Nick and the audience. Amy has a history of this behavior. The second comparison: Amy lashed out at Tommy after he stopped trying to be the man she wanted him to be. This is an important lesson for Nick, because eventually he realizes this is how he can get Amy to come back - by going on TV and pretending to be the man she wants him to be again. Nick is learning from Tommy's experience. And the final comparison: Tommy underestimated the extreme lengths that Amy could go to. This is essentially a warning for Nick - Amy is crazy enough to get away with this if she wants to. In just one scene, Gillian Flynn is able to use the Tommy character to give Nick and the audience new information, and show a glimpse of what could happen to Nick if he's not careful. And, because she's a good screenwriter, the scene ends at the point. I really appreciate films that respect the audience, where you can tell the people that made it really care about creating an entertaining experience. The screenplay for Gone Girl is a great example of how to use simple, classic storytelling techniques to do exactly that. Thanks for watching Lessons from the Screenplay. If you have a suggestion for a script I should analyze in the future, leave a comment below. And if you want more insights into great screenplays, be sure to like this video and subscribe.


Format and style

The format is structured so that one page equates to roughly one minute of screen time, though this is only used as a ballpark estimate and often bears little resemblance to the running time of the final movie.[1] The standard font is 12 point, 10 pitch Courier Typeface.[2]

The major components are action (sometimes called "screen direction") and dialogue. The action is written in the present tense and is limited to what can be heard or seen by the audience, for example descriptions of settings, character movements, or sound effects. The dialogue is the words the characters speak, and is written in a center column.

Unique to the screenplay (as opposed to a stage play) is the use of slug lines. A slug line, also called a master scene heading, occurs at the start of every scene and typically contains three pieces of information: whether the scene is set inside (interior/INT.) or outside (exterior/EXT.), the specific location, and the time of day. Each slug line begins a new scene. In a "shooting script" the slug lines are numbered consecutively for ease of reference.

Physical format

American screenplays are printed single-sided on three-hole-punched paper using the standard American letter size (8.5 x 11 inch). They are then held together with two brass brads in the top and bottom hole. The middle hole is left empty as it would otherwise make it harder to quickly read the script.

In the United Kingdom, double-hole-punched A4 paper is normally used, which is slightly taller and narrower than US letter size. Some UK writers format the scripts for use in the US letter size, especially when their scripts are to be read by American producers, since the pages would otherwise be cropped when printed on US paper. Because each country's standard paper size is difficult to obtain in the other country, British writers often send an electronic copy to American producers, or crop the A4 size to US letter.

A British script may be bound by a single brad at the top left hand side of the page, making flicking through the paper easier during script meetings. Screenplays are usually bound with a light card stock cover and back page, often showing the logo of the production company or agency submitting the script, covers are there to protect the script during handling which can reduce the strength of the paper. This is especially important if the script is likely to pass through the hands of several people or through the post.

Increasingly, reading copies of screenplays (that is, those distributed by producers and agencies in the hope of attracting finance or talent) are distributed printed on both sides of the paper (often professionally bound) to reduce paper waste. Occasionally they are reduced to half-size to make a small book which is convenient to read or put in a pocket; this is generally for use by the director or production crew during shooting.

Although most writing contracts continue to stipulate physical delivery of three or more copies of a finished script, it is common for scripts to be delivered electronically via email.

Screenplay formats

Screenplays and teleplays use a set of standardizations, beginning with proper formatting. These rules are in part to serve the practical purpose of making scripts uniformly readable "blueprints" of movies, and also to serve as a way of distinguishing a professional from an amateur.

Feature film

Screenplay for The Godfather Part II, Turin, Italy
Screenplay for The Godfather Part II, Turin, Italy

Motion picture screenplays intended for submission to mainstream studios, whether in the US or elsewhere in the world, are expected to conform to a standard typographical style known widely as the studio format which stipulates how elements of the screenplay such as scene headings, action, transitions, dialog, character names, shots and parenthetical matter should be presented on the page, as well as font size and line spacing.

One reason for this is that, when rendered in studio format, most screenplays will transfer onto the screen at the rate of approximately one page per minute. This rule of thumb is widely contested — a page of dialogue usually occupies less screen time than a page of action, for example, and it depends enormously on the literary style of the writer — and yet it continues to hold sway in modern Hollywood.

There is no single standard for studio format. Some studios have definitions of the required format written into the rubric of their writer's contract. The Nicholl Fellowship, a screenwriting competition run under the auspices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has a guide to screenplay format.[3] A more detailed reference is The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats.[4]

Spec screenplay

A "spec script" or speculative screenplay is a script written to be sold on the open market with no upfront payment, or promise of payment. The content is usually invented solely by the screenwriter, though spec screenplays can also be based on established works, or real people and events.[5]


For American TV shows, the format rules for hour-long dramas and single-camera sitcoms are essentially the same as for motion pictures. The main difference is that TV scripts have act breaks. Multi-camera sitcoms use a different, specialized format that derives from stage plays and radio. In this format, dialogue is double-spaced, action lines are capitalized, and scene headings, character entrances and exits, and sound effects are capitalized and underlined.

Drama series and sitcoms are no longer the only formats that require the skills of a writer. With reality-based programming crossing genres to create various hybrid programs, many of the so-called "reality" programs are in a large part scripted in format. That is, the overall skeleton of the show and its episodes are written to dictate the content and direction of the program. The Writers Guild of America has identified this as a legitimate writer's medium, so much so that they have lobbied to impose jurisdiction over writers and producers who "format" reality-based productions. Creating reality show formats involves storytelling structure similar to screenwriting, but much more condensed and boiled down to specific plot points or actions related to the overall concept and story.


The script format for documentaries and audio-visual presentations which consist largely of voice-over matched to still or moving pictures is different again and uses a two-column format which can be particularly difficult to achieve in standard word processors, at least when it comes to editing or rewriting. Many script-editing software programs include templates for documentary formats.

Screenwriting software

Various screenwriting software packages are available to help screenwriters adhere to the strict formatting conventions. Detailed computer programs are designed specifically to format screenplays, teleplays, and stage plays. Such packages include BPC-Screenplay, Celtx, Fade In, Final Draft, FiveSprockets, Montage, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Outline 3.0, Scrivener, Movie Draft SE and Zhura. Software is also available as web applications, accessible from any computer, and on mobile devices, such as Fade In Mobile and Scripts Pro.

The first screenwriting software was SmartKey, a macro program that sent strings of commands to existing word processing programs, such as WordStar, WordPerfect and Microsoft Word. SmartKey was popular with screenwriters from 1982 to 1987, after which word processing programs had their own macro features.

Script coverage

Script coverage is a filmmaking term for the analysis and grading of screenplays, often within the script-development department of a production company. While coverage may remain entirely verbal, it usually takes the form of a written report, guided by a rubric that varies from company to company. The original idea behind coverage was that a producer's assistant could read a script and then give their producer a breakdown of the project and suggest whether they should consider producing the screenplay or not.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "How accurate is the page-per-minute rule?
  2. ^ "Hollywood Standard Formatting"
  3. ^ Guide to screenplay format from the website of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  4. ^ The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats (2002) Cole and Haag, SCB Distributors, ISBN 0-929583-00-0.
  5. ^ "Spec Script". Act Four Screenplays. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  6. ^ "What is Script Coverage?". WeScreenplay. Retrieved 5 July 2016.

Further reading

  • David Trottier (1998). The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script. Silman-James Press. ISBN 1-879505-44-4. - Paperback
  • Yves Lavandier (2005). Writing Drama, A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scritpwriters. Le Clown & l'Enfant. ISBN 2-910606-04-X. - Paperback
  • Judith H. Haag, Hillis R. Cole (1980). The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats: The Screenplay. CMC Publishing. ISBN 0-929583-00-0. - Paperback
  • Jami Bernard (1995). Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies. HarperCollins publishers. ISBN 0-00-255644-8. - Paperback
  • Luca Bandirali, Enrico Terrone (2009), Il sistema sceneggiatura. Scrivere e descrivere i film, Turin (Italy): Lindau. ISBN 978-88-7180-831-4.
  • Riley, C. (2005) The Hollywood Standard: the complete and authoritative guide to script format and style. Michael Weise Productions. Sheridan Press. ISBN 0-941188-94-9.

External links

This page was last edited on 10 March 2019, at 18:49
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