SCRIPT FORMATTING GUIDE: SCRIPTSAMPLE.PDF
There is no absolute “standard” format used by all professional screenwriters working in the American film industry. Slight variations abound in scripts written by professionals. That said, professional scripts will invariably resemble the formatting guide that follows. Nuances may vary – margins slightly different, a dash here or there, parentheticals used this way or that – but overall, professional screenplays fit these guidelines.
Realize that “shooting scripts,” the form in which scripts are most often available at libraries and elsewhere, are not the form in which most professional writers submit their scripts. Submission scripts, sales scripts, first draft scripts – all share certain characteristics: no scene numbers, few if any camera shots designated and sequences written in master scenes.
Your script does not have to mimic the following pages exactly, but it should closely resemble them. If you’re confused about which nuances are acceptable and which would push your script into an “out-of-format” category, you would do well to follow these guidelines and eliminate those questionable nuances.
Script Problems to Avoid
Can your script give a reader a negative impression before the reader starts reading?
The answer is “possibly,” and whether it does will vary from reader to reader. Does a negative first impression mean that a script will be automatically dismissed? Of course not. If a script is good enough, no minor “fault” is going to stop it. But why cause a reader to have a negative first impression of your script if you can easily avoid it?
Writers who entered scripts with one or several of these “faults” have won Academy Nicholl Fellowships. Undoubtedly, many scripts with some such “faults” have sold.
Fifteen foibles that might invoke a poor first impression (based only on a script’s title page and page one):
Art on the title page.
Typo/misspelling on the title page.
Typo/misspelling in the first scene header.
Typos/misspellings in the first sentence or paragraph or page.
Triple/double spacing of every/many line(s) on first page.
Lack of spacing between scene header and description and/or between description and dialogue and/or between dialogue and dialogue.
Use of font other than Courier 12-point, ten-pitch, non-proportional (excluding the title page).
Extensive use of bold print.
Dialogue that stretches from the left margin to the right margin.
Extra space between character name and dialogue.
Description and/or dialogue typed ALL CAPS.
Extremely narrow or extremely wide outside margins.
Long, long, long descriptive passages.
Handwritten or hand-printed script.
Other glaring, non-standard format usage.
Writers who entered scripts with one or several of these “faults” (non-Courier and lengthy description being the most obvious) have won Academy Nicholl Fellowships.
Remember, these remarks are based on subjective observation of subjective reactions. Not all readers are affected by the same “problems” when picking up a script. And if Shane Black were to have six typos on page one, would anybody care? Probably not. Until you are paid to write scripts, it’s probably more reasonable to be careful about your submissions.