Screenplay Format

Knowing how to navigate and understand the film script.

Misha Tenenbaum avatar
Written by Misha Tenenbaum
Updated over a week ago

The majority of films begin as a screenplay. Every collaborative person involved must be able read and understand its intentions so they can effectively bring their individual, creative contributions to the filmmaking process. Even if you never plan to write a screenplay, you're going to need to be able to understand the standard formatting conventions to make sense of what you're reading.

Scene Headings

Sometimes referred to as Sluglines, scene headings are written in CAPS and used to orient the reader to where the proceeding scene will take place. All scene headings will start off with indicating:

  1. Camera Location - Interior (INT) or Exterior (EXT)

  2. Scene Location - A brief scene description to orient the reader.

  3. Time of Day - Day or Night


Scene headings should be numbered as this is essential for using in all three Stages of Production. The shots that are planned in pre-production and filmed during production will be label and tracked to correspond with the scene numbers in the script. When it comes time for post-production, the Assistant Editor will be responsible for making sure the media organization adheres to the previously used scene and shot numbering.

Special Headings

There are a few other alternative Special Headings to keep an eye out for that will indicate types of montage, series, flashback, or dream sequences. These tend to be highly editorial segments to anticipate in the edit.

Action Lines

Following your scene headings you'll encounter Action Lines which are visual descriptions written in the present tense that serve to indicate essential information the audience sees or hears in the film. Within action lines you will find:

  1. Action - subject or object movement staging within the scene

  2. Location and Character Descriptions - essential, visual information regarding the scene and/or a character's appearance

  3. Sounds - auditory information critical to the story


Sandwiched between your action lines, you'll find one of the most essential narrative components, Dialogue. Dialogue segments are comprised of:

  1. Character Name or Cue - always be written in CAPS

  2. Actor's Direction or Parenthetical - performance suggestions that are in parentheses under the character's name to clarify intended subtext

  3. Speech - what the actor says

Off Screen and Voice Over

Look out for parenthetical notations to the right of a character's name written as O.S. (Off Screen) or V.O. (Voice Over). This indicates dialogue or voice over from a source not visible on screen. Noting this allows you to anticipate a plan as to whether the dialogue will be recorded asynchronously on set or if it will be recorded during post production.

The Screenplay in Post-Production

Once the film is shot, the screenplay will also serve a technical purpose in post production, as it is repurposed into a useful document prepared by the Script Supervisor called the Lined Script. This document will give the post-production team insight as to how the scenes were covered on during production, as it relates to the screenplay.

Want to see a full script?

You can review the screenplay for the short film, Authentic, here.

You can also find many full-length Hollywood screenplays at The Internet Movie Script Database, here.

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