Screenplay Definition:

The term ‘screenplay’ can refer to any film, television or video game script, written for narrative or documentary film purposes. Screenplay definition is a play realised on screen.

Screenplay Definition - Screenplay Pile

A Definition:

“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.”

The screenplay acts as the blueprint for all involved in a production. It’s the building plan, the key layout of how everything will come together.

A Screenplay includes: the dialogue of all characters, their movements, place setting descriptions, and acting style indications. Crucially, a screenplay might often also include certain filmmaking instructions for camera operators to follow.

A TV screenplay is often termed a ‘teleplay‘, whilst a screenplay for radio performance purposes is likewise termed, ‘radioplay’.

Screenplay or Script With Regards To Screenplay Definition?

An Excerpt From Hitchcock’s Psycho.

A script is just words on a page for actors to read.

Whereas a…

Screenplay indicates it is intended to be play out on screen, whether it be through the medium of a video game, film or TV show.

A Screenplay is the most essential part of the filmmaking process. You wouldn’t have a film at all without a well-crafted Screenplay.

The Screenplay is the anchor to an entire project.

It is the single most important document used and referred to by all cast and crew members.

Without it and it’s direction, there wouldn’t be a project.

Is important you know how to correctly write and format a Screenplay. This is much easier said than done. That said, below we have listed a few essential aspects you must include in your Screenplay for it to be valid and successful.

Screenplay Definition: Formatting & Style:

Part of screenplay definition is about the form in which a screenplay comes.

Form is essential.

Script formatting is extremely important. Film executives and script recipients will throw away scripts if they do not adhere to the traditional formatting style.

This is why it is important that you stick to the rules and avoid being creative with the formatting and style – creativity is in the words.

Industry professionals recognise a certain screenplay language. When that language is unclear or incoherent it can throw them off. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it might make them disregard your script immediately without even reading it.

STICK TO THE CORRECT FORMATTING AND STYLE.

This will not guarantee that your script will succeed. However, it will not be disregarded due to a formatting error.

A Checklist Of Formatting Essentials You Must include To Adhere To The Screenplay Definition:

  • The first page is always the title page. This is written in the same font as the rest of the script, Courier 12pt.
  • The title page is simple and to the point, simply the title of your screenplay, followed by “written by” followed by your name,
  • In the lower left or right corner you may also include your contact information.
  • One page is the equivalent to one minute of film time.
  • The standardised font for a screenplay is Courier 12pt.
  • The page number will be indicated at the top, flush right.
  • Dialogue is aligned in the centre column.
  • Description of action is aligned to the left.
  • Action is written in the present tense.
  • Everything describes as action is seen and heard on-screen.
  • A characters’ first appearance in the action is marked in Caps, e.g. GARY, followed by a brief description of their physical features.
  • Subsequently, when characters re-appear the caps are dropped and their name is written as normal.
  • If a character is speaking, their name is central above the dialogue and in block capitals.

Some Additional Pointers:

At the start of each scene, there should be some key pieces of information. This should include the scene’s exact location. Whether it is interior, or exterior. What time the scene is set (DAY/NIGHT).

This is written in block capitals.

Subheadings will be use when a new scene heading is not necessary. Whilst these do make an appearance, they are not common, and they should by no means litter a script.

Battle of the Sexes written by Simon Beaufoy:

EXT. FOREST HILLS TENNIS COURT. US OPEN – DAY

Margins:

The top, bottom and right margins of a screenplay are set at 1″. The left margin is set slightly bigger at 1.5″.

The additional half an inch leaves room for binding for when the script is printed off for a member of the script development team. They then cast their eyes over, and potentially write coverage.

An Excerpt From Pulp Fiction

The Takeaway…

Make sure to stick to the formatting and style DO’s. This will increase your Screenplay’s chances of being read and taken seriously by professionals.

To have a well-written and structured Screenplay is the most important element of scriptwriting.

The importance of form and style cannot be stressed enough.

Moving On…

Once you have understood the correct uses of form and style, it is essential to shift your focus to the importance of Terms And Jargon with regards to writing a Screenplay.

Important Terms & Jargon With Regards To Screenplay Definition :

There are several essential Terms And Jargon you should be aware of and familiar with before writing your Screenplay. Below we have listed them for you to have a read of:

SPEC Script & SHOOTING Script: 

  • Spec scripts will have been written on speculation. The screenwriter is hoping that they will be able to sell their Spect script to suitable buyers.
  • Shooting Scripts will have been produced once a script has already been purchased. These will include instructions pertinent to the director and producer etc. once shooting has begun.
  • The budding scriptwriter can typically ignore the features present in these scripts during the writing process, though may find them useful to understand when reading a pre-existing script.
  • Standard Scripts will have been written for producers or a studio. If they are interested in the Screenplay, it will be developed having had some input by the producer/studio.
  • Another type of Screenplay is an Adapted Script. This type of Screenplay will be based on another, already released work. They adapt this ‘work’ into a fresh Screenplay.

As stated, it is important to familiarise yourself with the above terms. They all reflect types of Screenplays dependent on their different stages of production.

Moving On…

As a screenwriter, you should be aware of some technical terms which you will encounter whilst writing your Screenplay. We have listed a few below for you to have a read of.

Technical Terms To Be Aware Of And Familiar With:

FADE IN

  • The first words to appear on almost all screenplays, in the top left corner, indicating the events of the film are about to commence.

SUPER:

  • This will let the reader know that text will be superimposed over the filmic image. This may be to give the viewer/reader an exact year or city location.

For example, a flashback to a previous year in the life of a character may have SUPER: 1984, followed by the usual dialogue and action of the scene.

Transition:

  • This will appear in shooting scripts and indicate editing instructions. Examples of these include: DISSOLVE TO: and; CUT TO:

Parenthetical:

  • Information given in brackets to aid the actors’ delivery.
  • They will give too much guidance, which will take over from the Director’s job.

However…

  • If your screenplay needs to feature lots of additional information and guidance, it needs to be clearer.
  • Parentheticals will indicate a (beat). A beat is a small pause in the actors’ delivery that may give an insight into their reactions to events.

(O.S):

  • Off Screen – The actor isn’t seen on-screen but is present in the scene e.g. they are in a different room, but still talking to characters present on screen.

(V.O):

  • Voice Over – The actor delivering the dialogue is not present in the scene.

(MORE & CONT’D):

  • This shows character dialogue crossing over onto a new page.
  • On the original page where the dialogue begins, you will see (MORE) at the end. This way readers know the dialogue has not simply finished where the page has.
  • On the following page you will see (CONT’D) to confirm that character is continuing to speak on the new page.

Intercut:

  • This implies that the viewer is watching two different scenes from two different locations. e.g. an intercut telephone conversation.

The Takeaway…

The above terms are crucial to understand when writing a Screenplay. These terms tell the reader what is happening in a scene: the action, events and character’s involved.

They are what makes a Screenplay, a Screenplay, and in-had, a film/television show.

It is important that you make yourself extremely familiar with the above terms as you will encounter them as soon as you start to use a Screenwriting Software.

Screenwriting Software:

As the formatting parameters for a screenplay are so strict, many screenwriting softwares exist to help writers with the process. The best screenwriting will do the work for you, with shortcuts and formatting quirks intended to make the writing process all the more smooth.

  • We recommends using Final Draft which currently comes with a free 30 day trial. This software is the most used within the industry.
  • The highest level of screenwriters use it.
  • Other notable screenwriting software includes: Celtx, WriterDuet and MovieMagic Screenwriter.

If you are serious about becoming a screenwriter and have a creative and original idea for a Screenplay, it is important that you take the opportunity to use Software’s such as Final Cut as a means of getting familiar with the tools and correct Screenplay format.

You must format and style your Screenplay correctly to match the screenplay definition, or it will be disregarded. It is essential to properly construct your Screenplay to the professional standards. The numerous Software’s mentioned above will all aid you with this.

A Screenplay Definition Can Help Clarify the Screenwriter’s Goal:

The screenplay definition is as strict as it needs to be. It is a play which will be realised on a screen.

You can play with Format and style. However, the industry conforms to a standard as strict as a screenplay definition.

A screenplay is a blueprint and a blueprint needs to follow certain rules and standards in order to make sense. Following them will help you start your screenwriting journey off right.

As mentioned earlier in the article, the Screenplay is the most important element of a project. It is what all cast and crew members refer to. It provides clarity and direction and must be formatted and styled accordingly.

The Screenplay’s Financial Implications:

Screenplay costs

Additionally, it goes without saying that the what you include in your Screenplay plays a large part in the financial side to a project. E.g. if your film adheres to the Science-Fiction genre, it is highly likely that you have written in numerous special effects which require the use of CGI (which can be costly).

Additionally, the Screenplay is the soul item which determines the film’s style and tone.

  • Is it dialogue-heavy?
  • Is it Action-driven?
  • Are expensive shooting locations required or is it set somewhere which will be cost-effective?
  • Are there many characters which will require casting (and paying).

The above aspects are integral to consider when writing your Screenplay. This is particularly important if you have to pitch your idea to a panel who will expect you to know and have an awareness of your budget, casting, locations etc.

Some Final Advice…

  • Be creative
  • It is the most important document for a cast and crew
  • The Screenplay must adhere to the professional screenplay standards
  • It needs to be unique to you – you will have to pitch it and really sell your idea/Screenplay
  • Others will alter your idea (producers and studios may add creative input)
  • And take your time writing it. No one will want to read a rushes Screenplay lacking development or careful crafting.

We hope this page has been informative and brought some clarity on some key terms you should be aware of and include within your Screenplay.

  • Struggling with a script or book? Story analysis is what we do, all day, every day… check out our range of script coverage services for writers & filmmakers.

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