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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.

Format and style[edit]

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 each scene and typically contains 3 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.[3]

Physical format[edit]

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. Electronic copies allow easier copyright registration and also documenting "authorship on a given date".[4] Authors can register works with the WGA's Registry,[5] and even television formats using the FRAPA's system.[6][7]

Screenplay formats[edit]

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[edit]

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, dialogue, 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.[8] A more detailed reference is The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats.[9]

Spec screenplay[edit]

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.[10]


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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How accurate is the page-per-minute rule?
  2. ^ "Hollywood Standard Formatting"
  3. ^ Schumach, Murray (August 28, 1960). "HOLLYWOOD USAGE Experts Analyze the Pros and Cons Of Time-Tested 'Master' Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
  4. ^ Zerner ESQ, Larry. "Writers Guild of America-West Registration vs. Copyright Registration". Retrieved 2020-03-29. If the writer registers the script with the Copyright Office only after the infringement has taken place, he will be barred from recovering attorneys fees or statutory damages in the lawsuit.
  5. ^ "WGA West Registry". Writers Guild of America West. Retrieved 2020-03-29. Any file may be registered to assist you in documenting the creation of your work. Some examples of registerable material include scripts, treatments, synopses, and outlines... The WGAW Registry also accepts stageplays, novels, books, short stories, poems, commercials, lyrics, drawings, music and various media work such as Web series, code, and other digital content.
  6. ^ Sonia Castang; Richard Deakin; Tony Forster; Andrea Gibb; Olivia Hetreed (Chair); Guy Hibbert; Kathy Hill; Terry James; Line Langebek; Dominic Minghella; Phil Nodding; Phil O’Shea; Sam Snape (April 2016). "Writing Film : A Good Practice Guide" (PDF). Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. p. 11. Retrieved 29 March 2020. In the UK there is no legal necessity to register your work – copyright is automatic. Registration is more important if you intend to offer your work to overseas producers. The Writers Guild of America in New York and Los Angeles offer a cheap and easy-to-use internet-based script registration system that involves uploading a digital copy. If you are offering your work in the USA you should also register it with the US Copyright Office – if you don’t, your right to legal damages for copyright infringement may be much reduced.
  7. ^ Ricolfi, Marco; Morando, Federico; Rubiano, Camilo; Hsu, Shirley; Ouma, Marisella; De Martin, Juan Carlos (September 9, 2011). "Survey of Private Copyright Documentation Systems and Practices" (PDF). World Intellectual Property Organization. p. 24. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 June 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2020. Established in 1927, Writers Guild of America, West Registry (WGAWR) is one of the oldest private copyright registries. Alt URL
  8. ^ Guide to screenplay format from the website of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  9. ^ The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats (2002) Cole and Haag, SCB Distributors, ISBN 0-929583-00-0.
  10. ^ "Spec Script". Act Four Screenplays. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "What is Script Coverage?". WeScreenplay. Retrieved 5 July 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]