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Screenwriting Format

Updated on May 3, 2014
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Introduction

Instead of just having you read this article line for line and picking up on some things, I will give you an example of a screenplay, and tell you exactly what has been done correctly in the formatting of said screenplay.

EXT.FOREST.DAY

DOROTHY,TIN MAN, SCARECROW and TOTOwalk through a thick forest in the Land of Oz. Dorothy carries a basket, theTin Man carries an axe and an oil can. The road is paved with yellow brick and is covered withdried branches and dead leaves. The Emerald City is seen far in the distance.

DOROTHY

It’s really scary in these woods!

Breaking that Down

What you see above is the very basics. However, knowing these things you will be able to at the very least begin writing a screenplay. At the beginning of EVERY scene, or change in room, a Scene Heading is needed. In this example, the scene heading is “EXT.FOREST.DAY” The format is very easy for the scene heading, it simply goes: EXTERIOR/INTERIOR (If your scene is outside or inside).LOCATION (where you scene is located).TIME OF DAY (The time of day your scene takes place). So, if my scene were to take place in my bedroom at night, the scene heading would go something like: INT. BEDROOM. NIGHT. Yes, it’s that simple.

From here, you go into your action. What lots of people seem to forget, is that your action should be written descriptively. I see lots of people saying very vague, broad things such as: “SMITH walks toward camera.” You want to put in as much description and grammar as you would a normal story. When someone reads the screenplay, they should be able to see in their heads what the scene is going to look like. The formatting for action is pretty simple. Don’t tab in, write descriptively, and CAPITALIZE anything important; for the most part, this will be people and recurring objects.

The Dialogue is another VERY simple format. Make sure to tab into the center of the page, put the characters name in FULL CAPS, tab again to underneath it, then Write out his/her dialogue. It’s that simple. Make sure your dialogue flows, and it isn’t plastic and fake. Throw in personality with each line. If you have to, give your characters a nervous habit (like Leonardo DiCaprio biting his finger nails in The Departed), or a word or phrase they always say. Give them life.

Writing a Shot

Disclaimer: Before I tell you how to write a shot into your screenplay, let me just tell you this: directors don’t like being told what to do. So, if you are writing a screenplay for someone other than you, try and avoid putting in different shots. Stick to the story and dialogue and let the Cinematographer and Director deal with how to tell your story visually. However, if you are writing for yourself, then it can be extremely helpful when trying to remember exactly how you pictured it. Now that that’s been covered, let’s get into how to write in a shot.

To write a shot into a screenplay, you need to follow the following format:

NAME OF SHOT:

Description of shot…

Once again, it is a simple concept. You name the type of shot that it will be, then you continue by describing what happens in the shot. Wanting to know the different kinds of shots? Well here is a ShotList:

Source

Shot List:

Wide: A wide shot of your subject

Very Wide: A very wide shot of your subject, closer than the EWS, but further away than the wide shot

Extremely Wide: The widest shot you can get, your entire subject can be seen and perhaps even more

Master: A shot that contains all of the subject(s) in the scene,

Medium: A medium shot, if on a person generally from hips up or the equivalent.

Close-up: A close up, on a person generally from the chest up or the equivalent.

Medium Close-up: Half way between the Medium Shot and the Close-up

Extreme Close-up: Extremely close to the subject, EX: An eye on a person.

Cutaway: When the shot requires a cutaway, or taking to a different place

Cut-in: The opposite as a cutaway.

Zoom-in: When the shot zooms in on the subject.

Pan: When the shot requires a pan from left to right or right to left.

Two-shot: When there are two people in the shot

Over the Shoulder: A shot from over the shoulder of a person.

POV: A shot from the Point-Of-View of the subject

Montage: A plethora of different clips mixed into one “Montage”

CGI: A shot requiring computer generated imaging.

Weather Shot: A shot establishing the weather of a scene.

Summary/Conclusion

When it comes down to it, writing a screenplay is just piecing together a bunch of small formatting templates into one product. However, where people lack is in the actual content. Take your time to make sure that what you are writing sends the appropriate message across. When you write your first draft, don’t think…. Just WRITE. Go back later and correct it. It could take 1000 ideas and 10000 words before you find the 1 idea that carries the rest of your story. Don’t get discouraged, put your effort into writing, and you’ll have written a screenplay in NO time.

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