Formatting Spec Screenplays

No matter how good your script is, unless you’re a known writer, you need to play by the rules. And one of the first rules is – learn and use the correct format for spec screenplays.

A correctly formatted screenplay has a distinct and recognizable “look” to it, primarily due to a balance of text and white space. A trained eye can skim your script and quickly tell whether you know what you’re doing, or not. There are also more specific rules, about how to format a montage, correct ways to portray interacting with computers, and other nuances. It goes without saying, but basic writing rules such as spelling and grammar are also very important and will affect how others respond to your script.

There are two basic formats for screenplays: spec format (as in “speculative”, a movie that might see the light of day) and shooting scripts (the format used for a script ready for production). This group is primarily focused on spec scripts. Here’s a good overview on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.o…

For a quick primer on the basic spec formatting rules, check out this page from the most respected screenwriting contest, the Academy Nicholl Fellowships:…
Another one from FilmSchool:
And yet another:

It’s worth mentioning that while some rules such as the style for scene headings are fairly strict and well known, other rules are less formal and can vary. The more you learn and read, the better you’ll be able to decide how and when to apply the rules.

For table readings with our group, the most important format rules are page margins, correct scene and dialog heading formats, and avoiding blocks of text over 3-4 lines.

As we know, the odds of any script getting made into a major movie are slim. But you put yourself at the bottom of the list if all your great work is not formatted correctly. It’s like showing up for a formal business interview without business attire: they won’t even listen to what you have to say.

The most straightforward way to format your script is to use one of the many screenwriting programs. Many ASA members use Celtx, a popular and free tool. You have to create an online account (just email and password), and then you can download the free app. It’s easy to use, and creates correctly formatted PDF files. Another one that looks promising is Fade In Pro.

The two most common commercial apps are Final Draft and MovieMagic Screenwriter. Some people say you must use these apps, but at least for this group, the free ones are just fine.

Here are links to most of the screenwriting apps out there:…

You can use Microsoft Word as well, but most people find it easier to just use one of the existing apps. If you want to try that route, here’s an MS Word template:

For anyone serious about screenwriting, I strongly recommend getting a copy of the Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier. It has lots of detailed information, from the basics to very detailed recommendations about almost any script format issue.

Finally, you need to spend time reviewing produced scripts. The trick there is that many scripts are the shooting script format, so it’s important to understand the differences.

Here is a list of resources where you can download scripts for free:…

Basic script formatting is really pretty simple, and with free software, it is easy to do. There are a few key rules that will get you 90% of the way there. For the rest, there are many resources online, the Screenwriter’s Bible, and this group.

Happy writing!