How to format a script: The jargon explained

How to format a script: The jargon explained

By Isla Gray 03/01/14

Playwright and scriptwriter, Isla Gray, brings us this great glossary of scriptwriting terms to help you format your script on the page. She’s even thrown in a downloadable template, too...

Download Isla's example script here.

Action

Non-dialogue sections of the script detailing what you see on screen, also known as scene direction.

Character name

Tells us which character is speaking. Appears centred above dialogue IN CAPITAL LETTERS. 

Cast

Can appear bracketed under each scene heading to list the characters appearing in that scene e.g. (FRANKIE, JACK, ALEX). If you are writing for a specific television programme the script team will outline whether or not they adopt this formatting.

Continuing dialogue

Dialogue spoken by the same character that continues uninterrupted on a new page or after interrupting action. Marked by the character’s name with [CONT’D] added in brackets e.g. FRANKIE [CONT’D]

CUT TO:

A transition command at the end of the scene to demonstrate that the action moves to a new scene, jumping location and/ or periods of time. (See “Transitions”) 

CUT TO CONTINOUS:

A transition command at the scene end to demonstrate the action moves to a new scene immediately, jumping location but not time. (See “Transitions”)

Dialogue

Single-spaced lines of speech under the appropriate character name.

Dual dialogue

When two characters speak simultaneously, formatted side-by-side within the script. 

Draft

A version of the script. Each new draft is numbered chronologically e.g. First draft, Second draft etc.

EXT. (exterior)

Appears at the start of the scene heading to indicate that the scene takes place outside.

First draft

The first version of the full script.

Font

For screenplays, Courier (New) 12 point is standard.

FX (or SPFX)

Shorthand to outline special effects.

Header

Information printed at the top of every page. For example, the left hand side can be the script title, on the right hand side the page number.

Intercut

Cutting back and forth between two scenes occurring at the same time when appropriate e.g. INTERCUT SCENE 7 WITH SCENE 8.

INT. (interior)

Appears at the start of the scene heading to indicate that the scene takes place inside.

JUMP CUT: (or SMASH CUT:)

A transition command at the end of the scene to demonstrate a super-fast transition from one scene to the next.

O.S. (off-screen)

Dialogue spoken by a character who’s present in the scene but does not appear on-screen when their dialogue is spoken.

Parenthetical

Appears within a line of dialogue to show what action a character is doing at time of speaking.

Producer/ Director draft (P/D draft)

The version of the script read by the production team for the Producer/ Director meeting. This version will be redrafted after notes to deliver the Shooting script.

Scene heading (slug line)

This is one line of text in CAPS at the beginning of every scene telling the location and time of day the scene takes place e.g. INT. CAFÉ – DAY

Scene numbers

Appear at the start of every scene on the same line as the scene heading.

Scriptwriting software

Programmes include Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter and CeltX. CeltX, Page 2 Stage, Five Sprockets are free and available on the web. Scriptwriting is possible in MS Word, but be ready to change the margins repeatedly for the various elements.

Shooting script

The version of the script used during production shooting. This should be your “final” draft, but it can include ongoing amendments.

Spec script (speculative script)

A non-commissioned unsolicited script.

Title page

The first page of a script detailing the following information – SCRIPT TITLE and writers name (central). Writer contact information or agent’s details (bottom left or right hand corner).

Transition

Marks the end of a scene and instructs how the action moves to the next scene e.g. CUT TO:, CUT TO CONTINUOUS: Formatted capitalised at the right hand side of the page.

V.O. (voice over)

Dialogue spoken by a character who isn’t present in the scene (and therefore does not appear on-screen) when their line of dialogue is spoken.

Z

Like in all good glossaries nothing ever begins with Z.

 

Further formatting advice is available at the BBC Writersroom website. Or visit the Script Library at the BBC Writersroom to select from loads of recent television and radio scripts and peruse at your creative pleasure. 

 

Image by National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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