Spec scripts are scripts written on the
speculation of a future sale. They are written in the present tense using master
scene format. This format uses:
These are discussed in detail below.
There is absolutely no technical direction for camera, sound, music, and
editing. Technical and artistic direction are implied through creative
Master scene format makes the script as easy and inviting to
read as possible. The following link is a sample script page
from The Godfather, which you can use as a reference for this lesson:
SAMPLE SCRIPT PAGE
Shooting scripts are scripts used during
production to shoot the movie. They are written with much more detailed than
spec scripts and may include, among other things, scene numbers, editing
transitions, and camera angles. Shooting scripts are a great
source of confusion for novice writers because they seem to break all the
formatting rules discussed in this lesson.
Since shooting scripts are used in
production, they are formatted to include any helpful information that the
director may request. They are not used for
selling purposes, so if you come across one, do not use its format.
Shooting scripts are difficult to read and will turn off
prospective investors. Only use this approach when the script is going
directly into production. The remainder of this lesson deals with
formatting a spec script.
A scene heading, also called a "slug
line," is composed of three parts:
interior vs. exterior
time of day
The three parts are written on one line
and capitalized, as in the example below. Interior and exterior are always
abbreviated as INT. and EXT.
Time of day is limited to DAY and
NIGHT, with the occasional use of DAWN and DUSK.
INT. DON'S LIVING ROOM - NIGHT
If any of the three elements change, it
creates a new scene and a new heading is required. For example, if the
next scene takes place in the same location but during the day, the heading
would be changed to read:
INT. DON'S LIVING ROOM - DAY
Special Scene Headings
There are several special scene headings to help clarify issues of time and
space. They include:
Use this heading when the script
alternates between several different time periods. It can be written in a
variety of ways, including "season year." This heading is from the
Use this heading when returning to a
previous location or time after a short scene change:
BACK TO THE DON'S LIVING ROOM
Use this to indicate a minor shift in time at the same
Use this to indicate an earlier time:
This indicates that a series of short related scenes follows (note
a montage can also be implied in the writing):
This indicates that the scene takes place in more than one
location. It is often used with telephone calls:
Use of special scene headings is a matter
of personal taste and will distinguish your writing style.
They should make the
script easier to read. If the script becomes more complex, you are using
them incorrectly. If in doubt about a heading, do not use it.
Special scene headings can be used alone
or in conjunction with a normal scene heading. When used in conjunction with
a normal heading, it is placed first, as such:
INT. DON'S LIVING ROOM - NIGHT
It is acceptable to use a special scene
heading on the same line if it improves the writing flow:
INT. DON'S LIVING ROOM - NIGHT (SPRING 1946)
Narrative description is the telling of
the story as it unfolds on screen. It begins directly below the scene
The writing should be lean and visual, focusing on action that
moves the story forward. Though concise, it should have enough flair to engage readers. This style of writing is demonstrated in
Write Only What Can be Seen and
Heard - Unlike a novel, everything in a screenplay must be recorded in
terms of picture and sound. Therefore, narrative description should never
include anything that cannot be seen or heard.
For example, you cannot
describe a character's feelings, since this cannot be recorded. To convey
a character's feelings, thoughts, and memories they must be externalized in
some way. This can be through action, dialogue or flashback scenes.
Upper Case - An old formatting
convention was to write all character names and sound effects in
upper case. This makes it easier to break down a shooting script, but
serves no purpose in a spec script. Caps, therefore, are no longer used in
narrative description except when a character is first introduced. This
flags the new character for the reader.
Timing - It is a customary
assumption in the movie industry that 1 page of screenplay equals 1 minute
of time on screen. This is convenient for planning purposes. Since the
average feature is 120 minutes, the average script should be about 120
pages in length.
Because of this convention, description
passages should cover as many pages as the scene is expected to run in
real time. For example, if you sense that an action scene will take a minute of screen time, it should be written to cover 1 page, rather
than 1 line.
Dialogue blocks, also called
"speeches," are composed of three parts: character name,
wryly, and dialogue, as illustrated below:
I didn't tell mama anything.
Character names are written in upper
case, wrylies are written in lower case inside parenthesis, and
dialogue is written in normal sentence case.
A wryly indicates how a line should be
said. It was named after all the novice screenwriters whose characters
say things in a "wry" way. Wrylies should only be used if the
subtext of the dialogue is not clear. Keep them to a bare minimum. Action
can be written as a wrly if it is a few words and helps the flow of
When a character speaks in narration it
is indicated with (VOICE OVER)
after the character's name. When a character speaks from off screen, it is
indicated with (OFF SCREEN)
after the character's name. These instructions can be initialed, though it
makes the script a bit more cumbersome to read for non-industry types:
HAGEN (Voice Over)
||Off Screen Dialogue:
HAGEN (Off Screen)