Sample from a screenplay, showing dialogue and action descriptions

A screenplay or script is a written work that is made especially for a film or television program. 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 play for television is known as a teleplay.


Format and style

The format is structured in a way that one page usually equates to one minute of screen time. In a "shooting script", each scene is numbered, and technical direction may be given. In a "spec" or a "draft" in various stages of development, the scenes are not numbered, and technical direction is at a minimum. The standard font for a screenplay is 12 point, 10 pitch Courier.

The major components are action and dialogue. The "action" is written in the present tense. The "dialogue" are the lines the characters speak. Unique to the screenplay (as opposed to a stage play) is the use of slug lines.

The format consists of two aspects:

  1. The interplay between typeface/font, line spacing and type area, from which the standard of one page of text per one minute of screen time is derived. Unlike in the United States where letter size and Courier 12 point are mandatory, Europe uniformly uses A4 as the standard paper size format (but without a uniform font requirement).
  2. The tab settings of the scene elements (dialogue, scenes headings, transitions, parentheticals, etc.), which constitute the screenplay's layout.

The style consists of a grammar that is specific to screenplays. This grammar also consists of two aspects:

  1. A prose that is manifestation-oriented, i.e. focuses largely on what is audible and what is visible on screen. This prose may only supply interpretations and explanation (deviate from the manifestation-oriented prose) if clarity would otherwise be adversely affected.
  2. Codified notation of certain technical or dramatic elements, such as scene transitions, changes in narrative perspective, sound effects, emphasis of dramatically relevant objects and characters speaking from outside a scene.

Types of screenplays

Screenplays can generally be divided into two kinds; a 'spec' screenplay, and a commissioned screenplay.

A speculative screenplay is a script written with no upfront payment, or a 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.

A commissioned screenplay is written by a hired writer. The concept is usually developed long before the screenwriter is brought on, and usually has many writers work on it before the script is given a green-light.

Screenwriting software

Detailed computer programs are designed specifically to format screenplays, teleplays and stage plays. Celtx, DreamaScript, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Final Draft, Movie Outline 3.0, FiveSprockets, and Montage are several such programs. Software is also available as web applications, accessible from any computer, and on mobile devices.

See also


  • David Trottier (1998). The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script. Silman-James Press. ISBN 1-879505-44-4.  - Paperback
  • Yves Lavandier (2005). Writing Drama, A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scritpwriters. Le Clown & l'Enfant. ISBN 2-910606-04-X.  - Paperback
  • Judith H. Haag, Hillis R. Cole (1980). The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats: The Screenplay. CMC Publishing. ISBN 0-929583-00-0.  - Paperback
  • Jami Bernard (1995). Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies. HarperCollins publishers. ISBN 0-002556-44-8.  - Paperback
  • Riley, C. (2005) The Hollywood Standard: the complete and authoriative guide to script format and style. Michael Weise Productions. Sheridan Press. ISBN 0-941188-94-9.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • screenplay — 1916, from SCREEN (Cf. screen) + PLAY (Cf. play) …   Etymology dictionary

  • screenplay — ► NOUN ▪ the script of a film, including acting instructions and scene directions …   English terms dictionary

  • screenplay — ☆ screenplay [skrēnplā΄ ] n. the script from which a film is produced …   English World dictionary

  • screenplay — UK [ˈskriːnˌpleɪ] / US [ˈskrɪnˌpleɪ] noun [countable] Word forms screenplay : singular screenplay plural screenplays cinema a story someone writes for a film …   English dictionary

  • screenplay —   a script or text for a film production written by a scripter or screenwriter(s) (or scribe), written (scribbled, scripted, or penned) in the prescribed form as a series of master scenes, with all the dialogue provided and the essential actions… …   Glossary of cinematic terms

  • screenplay — /skreen play /, n. 1. a motion picture or television scenario. 2. Older Use. a motion picture. [1915 20; SCREEN + PLAY] * * * Written text that provides the basis for a film production. Screenplays usually include not only the dialogue spoken by… …   Universalium

  • screenplay — noun /ˈskriːnˌpleɪ/ a script for a movie or a television show I know Corinne would be happy if I started writing scripts again. Since my last screenplay, I havent written anything in over four months. See Also: teleplay, screenwriter …   Wiktionary

  • screenplay — noun Screenplay is used after these nouns: ↑film …   Collocations dictionary

  • screenplay — [[t]skri͟ːnpleɪ[/t]] screenplays N COUNT A screenplay is the words to be spoken in a film, and instructions about what will be seen in it. Syn: script …   English dictionary

  • screenplay — noun (C) a story written for film or television: her first screenplay, an adaptation of Austen s Sense and Sensibility …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

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