Screenplay

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Sample from a screenplay, showing dialogue and action descriptions Screenplay example.svg
Sample from a screenplay, showing dialogue and action descriptions

A screenplay, or script, is a written work by screenwriters for a film, television program, or video game. These screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression and dialogues of the characters are also narrated. A screenplay written for television is also known as a teleplay.

Contents

Format and style

The format is structured so that one page equates to roughly one minute of screen time, though this is only used as a ballpark estimate and often bears little resemblance to the running time of the final movie. [1] The standard font is 12 point, 10 pitch Courier Typeface. [2]

The major components are action (sometimes called "screen direction") and dialogue. The action is written in the present tense and is limited to what can be heard or seen by the audience, for example descriptions of settings, character movements, or sound effects. The dialogue is the words the characters speak, and is written in a center column.

Unique to the screenplay (as opposed to a stage play) is the use of slug lines. A slug line, also called a master scene heading, occurs at the start of each scene and typically contains 3 pieces of information: whether the scene is set inside (interior/INT.) or outside (exterior/EXT.), the specific location, and the time of day. Each slug line begins a new scene. In a "shooting script" the slug lines are numbered consecutively for ease of reference. [3]

Physical format

American screenplays are printed single-sided on three-hole-punched paper using the standard American letter size (8.5 x 11 inch). They are then held together with two brass brads in the top and bottom hole. The middle hole is left empty as it would otherwise make it harder to quickly read the script.

In the United Kingdom, double-hole-punched A4 paper is normally used, which is slightly taller and narrower than US letter size. Some UK writers format the scripts for use in the US letter size, especially when their scripts are to be read by American producers since the pages would otherwise be cropped when printed on US paper. Because each country's standard paper size is difficult to obtain in the other country, British writers often send an electronic copy to American producers, or crop the A4 size to US letter.

A British script may be bound by a single brad at the top left-hand side of the page, making flicking through the paper easier during script meetings. Screenplays are usually bound with a light card stock cover and back page, often showing the logo of the production company or agency submitting the script, covers are there to protect the script during handling which can reduce the strength of the paper. This is especially important if the script is likely to pass through the hands of several people or through the post.

Increasingly, reading copies of screenplays (that is, those distributed by producers and agencies in the hope of attracting finance or talent) are distributed printed on both sides of the paper (often professionally bound) to reduce paper waste. Occasionally they are reduced to half-size to make a small book which is convenient to read or put in a pocket; this is generally for use by the director or production crew during shooting.

Although most writing contracts continue to stipulate physical delivery of three or more copies of a finished script, it is common for scripts to be delivered electronically via email. Electronic copies allow easier copyright registration and also documenting "authorship on a given date". [4] Authors can register works with the WGA's Registry, [5] and even television formats using the FRAPA's system. [6] [7]

Screenplay formats

Screenplays and teleplays use a set of standardizations, beginning with proper formatting. These rules are in part to serve the practical purpose of making scripts uniformly readable "blueprints" of movies, and also to serve as a way of distinguishing a professional from an amateur.

Feature film

Screenplay for The Godfather Part II, Turin, Italy The Godfather Screenplay.JPG
Screenplay for The Godfather Part II , Turin, Italy

Motion picture screenplays intended for submission to mainstream studios, whether in the US or elsewhere in the world, are expected to conform to a standard typographical style known widely as the studio format which stipulates how elements of the screenplay such as scene headings, action, transitions, dialogue, character names, shots and parenthetical matter should be presented on the page, as well as font size and line spacing.

One reason for this is that, when rendered in studio format, most screenplays will transfer onto the screen at the rate of approximately one page per minute. This rule of thumb is widely contested a page of dialogue usually occupies less screen time than a page of action, for example, and it depends enormously on the literary style of the writer and yet it continues to hold sway in modern Hollywood.

There is no single standard for studio format. Some studios have definitions of the required format written into the rubric of their writer's contract. The Nicholl Fellowship, a screenwriting competition run under the auspices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has a guide to screenplay format. [8] A more detailed reference is The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats. [9]

Spec screenplay

A "spec script" or speculative screenplay is a script written to be sold on the open market with no upfront payment, or promise of payment. The content is usually invented solely by the screenwriter, though spec screenplays can also be based on established works, or real people and events. [10]

Television

For American TV shows, the format rules for hour-long dramas and single-camera sitcoms are essentially the same as for motion pictures. The main difference is that TV scripts have act breaks. Multi-camera sitcoms use a different, specialized format that derives from stage plays and radio. In this format, dialogue is double-spaced, action lines are capitalized, and scene headings, character entrances and exits, and sound effects are capitalized and underlined.

Drama series and sitcoms are no longer the only formats that require the skills of a writer. With reality-based programming crossing genres to create various hybrid programs, many of the so-called "reality" programs are in a large part scripted in format. That is, the overall skeleton of the show and its episodes are written to dictate the content and direction of the program. The Writers Guild of America has identified this as a legitimate writer's medium, so much so that they have lobbied to impose jurisdiction over writers and producers who "format" reality-based productions. Creating reality show formats involves storytelling structure similar to screenwriting, but much more condensed and boiled down to specific plot points or actions related to the overall concept and story.

Documentaries

The script format for documentaries and audio-visual presentations which consist largely of voice-over matched to still or moving pictures is different again and uses a two-column format which can be particularly difficult to achieve in standard word processors, at least when it comes to editing or rewriting. Many script-editing software programs include templates for documentary formats.

Screenwriting software

Various screenwriting software packages are available to help screenwriters adhere to the strict formatting conventions. Detailed computer programs are designed specifically to format screenplays, teleplays, and stage plays. Such packages include BPC-Screenplay, Celtx, Fade In, Final Draft, FiveSprockets, Montage, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Outline 3.0, Scrivener, Movie Draft SE and Zhura. Software is also available as web applications, accessible from any computer, and on mobile devices, such as Fade In Mobile and Scripts Pro.

The first screenwriting software was SmartKey, a macro program that sent strings of commands to existing word processing programs, such as WordStar, WordPerfect and Microsoft Word. SmartKey was popular with screenwriters from 1982 to 1987, after which word processing programs had their own macro features.

Script coverage

Script coverage is a filmmaking term for the analysis and grading of screenplays, often within the script-development department of a production company. While coverage may remain entirely verbal, it usually takes the form of a written report, guided by a rubric that varies from company to company. The original idea behind coverage was that a producer's assistant could read a script and then give their producer a breakdown of the project and suggest whether they should consider producing the screenplay or not. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Screenwriter Writer who writes for films, TV shows, comics and games

A screenplay writer, scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.

A teleplay is a screenplay or script used in the production of a scripted television program or series. In general usage, the term is most commonly seen in reference to a standalone production, such as a television film, a television play, or an episode of an anthology series. In internal industry usage, however, all television scripts are teleplays, although a "teleplay" credit may be subsumed into a "written by" credit depending on the circumstances of its creation.

Script breakdown

A script breakdown is an intermediate step in the production of a play, film, comic book, or any other work that is originally planned using a script.

Filmmaking is the process by which a film is made. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through screenwriting, casting, shooting, sound recording and pre-production, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and an exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques.

Screenwriting or scriptwriting is the art and craft of writing scripts for mass media such as feature films, television productions or video games. It is often a freelance profession.

WGA screenwriting credit system Credit system for motion pictures and television programs

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) credit system for motion pictures and television programs covers all works under the jurisdiction of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW). The WGA, originally the Screen Writers Guild, has since 1941 been the final arbiter of who receives credit for writing a theatrical, television or new media motion picture written under its jurisdiction. Though the system has been a standard since before the WGA's inception, it has seen criticism.

William Froug was an American television writer and producer. His producing credits included the series The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, and Bewitched. He was a writer for such shows as Adventures in Paradise, The Dick Powell Show, Charlie's Angels, and The New Twilight Zone. He authored numerous books on screenwriting, including Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade, Zen and the Art of Screenwriting I and II, The Screenwriter Looks at The Screenwriter, and How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island: Adventures of a Hollywood Writer-Producer, published in 2005 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

The WGA script registration service is a service run by both the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) to establish the date of creation of literary property, typically a motion picture screenplay, useful in the often-contentious U.S. entertainment field.

A shooting script is the version of a screenplay used during the production of a motion picture. Shooting scripts are distinct from spec scripts in that they make use of scene numbers, and they follow a well-defined set of procedures specifying how script revisions should be implemented and circulated.

Writers Guild of Canada

The Writers Guild of Canada is an organization representing more than 2,200 professional writers working in film, television, radio, and digital media production in Canada. Members of the Guild write dramatic TV series, feature films, Movies of the Week, documentaries, animation, comedy and variety series, children's and educational programming, radio drama, as well as corporate videos and digital media productions. The organization administers the Canadian Screenwriting Awards.

Movie Magic Screenwriter

Movie Magic Screenwriter is a word processing program sold by Write Brothers to format screenplays, teleplays and novels.

A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned and unsolicited screenplay. It is usually written by a screenwriter who hopes to have the script optioned and eventually purchased by a producer, production company, or studio.

Screenwriting software are word processors specialized to the task of writing screenplays.

A scriptment is a written work by a movie or television screenwriter that combines elements of a script and treatment, especially the dialogue elements, which are formatted the same as in a screenplay. It is a more elaborate document than a standard draft treatment. Some films have been shot using only a scriptment.

Zhura

Zhura, merged with screenwriting competitor Scripped as of March 28, 2010, is a free web-based screenwriting software application for writing and formatting screenplays to the film industry standard, as well as other formats. Zhura allows users to collaborate on scripts in public or in private groups and used Creative Commons Licensing for all work in the public workspace.

Scripped

Scripped was an online screenplay services company offering three services: script writing, script registration, and script coverage. Scripped did not facilitate collaboration among screenwriters. It combined with Zhura in 2010. According to Techcrunch, Scripped had more than 60,000 writers as of March 2010.

Movie Outline is a word processing program to step outline a cinematic story and format a screenplay. It was created by Dan Bronzite, a produced UK screenwriter. It was released in 2004 as an outliner but has expanded its features in later releases.

Blake Snyder was an American screenwriter, consultant, author and educator based in Los Angeles who, through his Save the Cat trilogy of books on screenwriting and story structures, became one of the most popular writing mentors in the film industry. Snyder led international seminars and workshops for writers in various disciplines, as well as consultation sessions for some of Hollywood's largest studios.

Fade In (software)

Fade In Professional Screenwriting Software is screenwriting software for writing screenplays in the professional, industry standard format used in Hollywood and elsewhere. It can also be used for teleplays, stage plays, radio plays, multimedia, graphic novels, and other similar script formats.

Ken Nolan is an American screenwriter and novelist best known for adapting the 2001 biographical war film Black Hawk Down from the non-fiction book of the same name.

References

  1. JohnAugust.com "How accurate is the page-per-minute rule?
  2. JohnAugust.com "Hollywood Standard Formatting"
  3. Schumach, Murray (August 28, 1960). "HOLLYWOOD USAGE Experts Analyze the Pros and Cons Of Time-Tested 'Master' Scene". The New York Times . Retrieved April 6, 2021.
  4. Zerner ESQ, Larry. "Writers Guild of America-West Registration vs. Copyright Registration". www.writersstore.com. Retrieved 2020-03-29. If the writer registers the script with the Copyright Office only after the infringement has taken place, he will be barred from recovering attorneys fees or statutory damages in the lawsuit.
  5. "WGA West Registry". Writers Guild of America West . Retrieved 2020-03-29. Any file may be registered to assist you in documenting the creation of your work. Some examples of registerable material include scripts, treatments, synopses, and outlines... The WGAW Registry also accepts stageplays, novels, books, short stories, poems, commercials, lyrics, drawings, music and various media work such as Web series, code, and other digital content.
  6. Sonia Castang; Richard Deakin; Tony Forster; Andrea Gibb; Olivia Hetreed (Chair); Guy Hibbert; Kathy Hill; Terry James; Line Langebek; Dominic Minghella; Phil Nodding; Phil O’Shea; Sam Snape (April 2016). "Writing Film : A Good Practice Guide" (PDF). Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. p. 11. Retrieved 29 March 2020. In the UK there is no legal necessity to register your work – copyright is automatic. Registration is more important if you intend to offer your work to overseas producers. The Writers Guild of America in New York and Los Angeles offer a cheap and easy-to-use internet-based script registration system that involves uploading a digital copy. If you are offering your work in the USA you should also register it with the US Copyright Office – if you don’t, your right to legal damages for copyright infringement may be much reduced.
  7. Ricolfi, Marco; Morando, Federico; Rubiano, Camilo; Hsu, Shirley; Ouma, Marisella; De Martin, Juan Carlos (September 9, 2011). "Survey of Private Copyright Documentation Systems and Practices" (PDF). World Intellectual Property Organization. p. 24. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 June 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2020. Established in 1927, Writers Guild of America, West Registry (WGAWR) is one of the oldest private copyright registries. Alt URL
  8. Guide to screenplay format from the website of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  9. The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats (2002) Cole and Haag, SCB Distributors, ISBN   0-929583-00-0.
  10. "Spec Script". Act Four Screenplays. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  11. "What is Script Coverage?". WeScreenplay. Retrieved 5 July 2016.

Further reading