Wednesday, April 25, 2007


A lot of people get hung up about format. Courier pt12. The right margins. Which screenwriting software to use. And so on. There's no need to get stressed about it. Relax. As long as it looks like a script and smells like a script, it probably is a script. Only the bad ones smell, mind. The point is that only the most pedantic of readers is going to reject your script based on the formatting alone. There may be a few misplaced parenthicals or an action line may find its way into the dialogue space - and just how do you format a montage? - but if the script is 90% okay, then you should be in the all clear.

If you're still unsure about format, don't sweat. Look back at what you've written. Is it easy to follow? Does it all make sense? For the flashbacks/intercuts/montage/telephone call, have you taken the reader 'out of the story' because you've formatted it to death. If the reader can read the script and follow the action, then no problem, job done. A script needs to look like a script but after that, it's going to be something that's riddled with formatting errors to make a reader's blood boil. Lucy has some good thoughts on the matter, here.

Someone emailed me a while ago, asking about format. Here are his questions, and my answers:-

I've just bought First Draft and I am a bit confused. If you are au fait with the software could you advise me on the following:

1. What template should I use for a BBC returning drama series?
Normal screenplay format is the best to use, especially for spec scripts, even if they are intended for the Beeb.

2. Should I put 'Scene' and the scene numbers i.e. 1, 2 etc at the end of each scene or should I just indicate a transition by putting int/ext, and time etc followed by action.
The usual scene headings such as INT. OFFICE. DAY will suffice, no need to put Scene or scene numbers.

3. Should i write 'cut to' at the end of each scene/transition?
You can if you want. Up to you (I don't, unless I want to make an emphasis about what I'm cutting to).

4. At the end of each scene/transition should I let the script carry on or should I start a new page after each new scene heading?
In normal screenplay format, let the script carry on, don't start a new page after each scene.

5. OR should I just try and use Script Smart?
I've never used Script Smart. Final Draft software is widely regarded as the format to use, and the Beeb don't mind. They can reformat scripts into their own templates if necessary (once you're working on an actual series, say). There is lots of good software you can use, some for free, but you can easily set up a screenwriting template on MS Word.


If anyone has any questions about anything, now's a good time to shout.


d f mamea said...

couldn't agree more, Danny: it's the story that gets people excited, not whether it looks and feels like a script (though that helps too).

as for the software, all too often people spring for Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft when a wordprocessor will do the job just as professionally. (although, i suppose, a knowledge of wordprocessing would really help.) i keep hearing that Celtx is a hot-to-trot screenwriting app (that's also free).

James Moran said...

These seem to be the questions most asked on writing sites - people seem to get hung up on tiny elements, when as long as it's readable and doesn't get in the way, it doesn't really matter. If you're a first timer, just use standard script format, everyone can read that.

I did use Script Smart, for a long time - it's perfectly fine, just stick to the standard film script format (it's got sitcom, comic, etc etc), and work away. It's just a set of macros and formats saved into a template, it's free and handy.

James Henry said...

Don't though, when told your script needs to be about five minutes longer, simply reformat it in one point larger font to make up the space. The producer will spot it instantly and you will be told off.

This genuinely happened to a friend of mine, which is reassuring, as it sounds like the sort of thing I might have tried at school.

Comedy sketches seem to have layouts all of their own, up to and including being written in crayon on a tea towel.

Lucy V said...

Thanks for the link, Danny!

I never use CUT TO or CONT, don't see the point of them, takes up space. One of my fave so-called transitions is ANGLE ON - WTF does it mean?? It crops up a lot I find with new writers and I wonder where it's come from, because I certainkly never learned it and it's not in the transition section of Final Draft to my knowledge. Is it a thing off another bit of software, in Europe or the US or something? Does anyone know?

Anonymous said...

A quick question:

How do you and the others feel about finishing a scene with dialogue?

I mean something like:


Action, action action action. Action action action.

Dialogue dialogue. Dialogue.

Action action action.


It seems silly to add a bit of reaction or something after the dialogue just so the scene doesn't finish with dialogue but somehow it seems wrong without it...

Any thoughts?

Lucy V said...

I frequently end scenes with dialogue. Add to much reaction dialogue and you end up DIRECTING FROM THE PAGE *shock, horror*

Anonymous said...

This may be a little late for a reply but ... is it alright to start a scene without description and just leap straight to dialogue? For example, if cutting quickly between two different places where the characters and setting haven't changed in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

No... Should always start a NEW scene with scene description. If you want to cut quickly between two scenes, like a phone call, use INTERCUT, then you don't need scene description between each bit of dialogue.

Danny Stack said...

That's not entirely true, Anonymous. It's sometimes useful to start a scene with dialogue for certain transitions, e.g.


Danny takes a sip of water, unsatisfied.

I know what we should do...


We should go to the pub!

And then follow with your scene description. I'll do a proper post on the subject...

Unknown said...

Hey, how would I create a template on MS word? Thanks!

Danny Stack said...

Try MS's official template website and download the one for screenplay. I hope this link will work, otherwise cut & paste into your browser:

Devil Mood said...

Interesting post!
Could I ask I question?
I noticed that Intercut is used in scripts mainly between short alternated scenes, especially over the phone.
What kind of indication would you use in alternated but LONGER scenes? I'm thinking of continuous but I'm not sure.

Danny Stack said...

Without knowing the specifics of the scene, I think it would be safe to simply cut from one scene to the next, and the flow of the piece should be clear that it's intercutting at the same time. But yeah, using 'Continuous' in the slug lines also works, and can be a handy reminder.

Devil Mood said...

Thanks Danny :)
It's good to sort out the technical issues first and then focus only on the that was helpful!