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how to guide by Andrew Lowes | 2001

How To Scriptwrite Part 3 - Layout

The presentation of your script is very, very important. The film industry has evolved it’s own standards for script layout over the years and if your manuscript doesn’t conform to them then it is unlikely to get read. This isn’t an essay you’re writing and you won’t get extra points for original presentation. Luckily, the script format currently in use isn’t that difficult to learn.Size MattersThe layout of a film script was established back when people were using manual typewriters. That accounts for the fairly basic look that scripts tend to have. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t do it on an old-fashioned typewriter then don’t do it. The text should be laid out using 12 point Courier font on a Mac or 11 point Courier New on a PC. No bold or italic lettering is allowed. You can underline dialogue for emphasis where needed.The margins should be one and a half inches on the left of the page and one inch on the right. The text should be justified to the left. Descriptive text should be six inches wide. Dialogue is always narrower at three and a half inches in the centre of the page. All character names should be in capitals.The beginning of each scene starts with what is known as ‘the slug line’. It is in capitals and gives basic information telling us where the scene is set and whether it is day or night. For example:
Do I include camera directions?The simple answer to that question is ‘no’. The script should be able to help anybody reading it visualise the finished film in their head. But a director will not take kindly to be told how to do his or her job. That applies even if you intend to direct the film yourself. If you are planning to direct your own script you should most definitely not include descriptions of the various film stocks you intend to employ throughout your film. It’s not big and it’s not clever.That doesn’t mean that you can’t have some influence over the look of the finished film. It just means that you have to be a bit crafty about how you do it. Take the following passage: SVEN THRUUSHTHOUSER enters through the door. The camera tracks left as he makes his way through the crowd. This is clearly wrong because we have used a camera direction. But with a little re-writing the same passage can be made perfectly acceptable: SVEN THRUUSHTHOUSER enters the bar. We follow him as he pushes his way through the crowd.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the story is being told visually. So only describe something if the audience can see or hear it. Characters thoughts can’t be mentioned unless they’re used as a voiceover. A voiceover is indicated by putting V.O. next to a characters name.

Guiding the performances So we’ve can guide the direction of the film but what about the performances? Telling the actors how to play a part is going to get a fairly frosty reception but by being crafty again it is possible to have some effect. To do this you need to make use of the ‘wryly’. These are little instructions inserted before a character’s dialogue:

DAFFY DUCK(Ironically)
No, no! It doesn’t make you look fat at all!
They are called ‘wrylies’ because American script readers aren’t supposed to be able to recognise irony unless it is clearly pointed out to them.Another way of guiding the performance is to make use of the term, ‘beat’. This is used to indicate a slight pause and can be used either as part of dialogue or narrative action:
I didn’t touch Monica Lewinsky. Never. Not even once.
Well maybe once….
The Front PageEven the way the front page of your script is laid out is important. About halfway down the page put the title followed by your name underneath. You can also put the draft number and date of last revision here if you wish. There is some debate about these last two items. Undoubtedly they are useful to the writer as a way of keeping track of which version of a script they are working on. However, some script readers seem to be put off by seeing a script that has a revision date that is several months or even years past. The assumption being that the script has probably passed through several hands before reaching them and that it has probably been rejected for a reason. It’s probably worth playing safe and leaving the revision number and date off any scripts you send out to people unless they ask for it.Also don’t forget to put your contact details at the bottom of the front page. Producers and script readers get hundreds of screenplays a year and scripts and covering letters have a nasty habit of parting company in busy offices. Them’s the rulesThere are good reasons that scripts are laid out in this way. The main reason is what in known as the ‘page per minute’ rule. That states that a script laid out in this manner should work out with one page of script equalling one minute of screen time. In practice this is more of a guideline then a rule as a script that contains a lot of narrative action can easily end up being longer then a page per minute. Likewise a script that contains a lot of dialogue can work out much shorter. The length of your script is important to bear in mind as producers are usually looking for scripts of a certain duration. Three-hour scripts that get put into production are rare, even from established writers. Long films tend to put audiences off. A good length to aim for is between 100 — 115 pages.If the idea of formatting your script correctly still seems daunting then there is help at hand. You could consider buying specialist software. Final Draft and Scriptware are both dedicated screenwriting programmes. Alternatively, there are a number of script templates available for most popular word processing packages downloadable from the Internet. The New Producers Alliance website links page ( is a good place to start. Or try going to and search for ‘screenplay templates’.If you want to get your hands dirty I’ve prepared an example script showing some common script features and how they are used.Next Time: Writing for Low Budget

Screenwriting Part 5 - WRITING SHORT FILMS

Screenwriting Part 4 - WRITING FOR LOW BUDGET

Screenwriting Part 3 - LAYOUT


Screenwriting Part 1 - STRUCTURE

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How to make your short film eligable for the Academy Awards

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Company Secretary Guide - Part 2


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