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The Rules
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Notes on Several Nicholl Fellows
Screenplay Format
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Nicholl Fellows
1986 - Present

Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

A Few Notes on Formatting

There is no absolute "standard" format used by all professional screenwriters working in the American film industry. Slight variations abound in scripts written by professionals. That said, professional scripts will invariably resemble the formatting guide that follows. Nuances may vary -- margins slightly different, a dash here or there, parentheticals used this way or that -- but overall, professional screenplays fit these guidelines.

Realize that "shooting scripts," the form in which scripts are most often available at libraries and elsewhere, are not the form in which most professional writers submit their scripts. Submission scripts, sales scripts, first draft scripts -- all share certain characteristics: no scene numbers, few if any camera shots designated and sequences written in master scenes.

Your script does not have to mimic the following pages exactly, but it should closely resemble them. If you're confused about which nuances are acceptable and which would push your script into an "out-of-format" category, you would do well to follow these guidelines and eliminate those questionable nuances.

Screenplay Format Sample (PDF)
Screenplay Format Sample (Text only version)

While the PDF version should maintain format when printed, we have found that it is extremely difficult to put a script online in a "Text only version" that will maintain formatting, margins, font size, etc. when printed. Top and bottom margins never seem to be maintained, and when printing, the page number will probably roll down the page. While this formatting guide script looks correct on screen, we have also found that it typically will print in a smaller font, reducing from the correct 12 point Courier/Courier New to the incorrect 10 point Courier/Courier New. Be aware of the potential reduction when printing and don't try to mimic the margins of the printed script; instead follow the margin, font, spacing guidelines found in the on-line version.

If you click on the text script link, you will have access to a text version of the script. From there, you should be able to print with the correct font size (although the top and bottom margins will still roll down the page). Or you can save the script text file and then import it into a word processor (which will cause the correct margins to be lost) or import it into a script formatting program (which should then reconstitute the margins).


Script Foibles That Might Cause a Negative First Impression of Your Script

Can your script give a reader a negative impression before the reader starts reading?

The answer is "possibly," and whether it does will vary from reader to reader. Does a negative first impression mean that a script will be automatically dismissed? Of course not. If a script is good enough, no minor "fault" is going to stop it. But why cause a reader to have a negative first impression of your script if you can easily avoid it?

Writers who entered scripts with one or several of these "faults" (variant covers and brads are the most obvious) have won Nicholl Fellowships. Undoubtedly, many scripts with some such "faults" have sold.

Twelve foibles that might cause a reader to think less of your script before it has been "cracked":

  1. Art on the script cover.
  2. Hard, slick Acco covers (with long metal connectors).
  3. "Permanently" bound scripts (i.e., plastic spine binding).
  4. Commercial, "college paper" covers.
  5. Wimpy brads.
  6. Long "dangerous" brads.
  7. Cut "dangerous" brads.
  8. A "clipped" or "rubber-banded" script on non-three hole paper.
  9. Overly thick scripts.
  10. Thin scripts.
  11. Three-ring binding.
  12. Color of card stock cover that inadvertently bugs a reader.

(You'll notice that I did not include the number of brads, though scripts with one brad generally aren't too good. And once you turn inside a thin script and discover that it's been copied on both sides of the paper, you forget the thinness [unless you hate having to fold back the pages to read them].)

What about after the cover is turned?

Fourteen foibles that might invoke a poor first impression (based only on a script's title page and page one):

  1. Typo/misspelling on the title page.
  2. Typo/misspelling in the first scene header.
  3. Typos/misspellings in the first sentence or paragraph or page.
  4. Triple/double spacing of every/many line(s) on first page.
  5. Lack of spacing between scene header and description and/or between description and dialogue and/or between dialogue and dialogue.
  6. Use of font other than Courier 12-point, ten-pitch, non-proportional.
  7. Extensive use of bold print.
  8. Dialogue that stretches from the left margin to the right margin.
  9. Extra space between character name and dialogue.
  10. Description and/or dialogue typed ALL CAPS.
  11. Extremely narrow or extremely wide outside margins.
  12. Long, long, long descriptive passages.
  13. Handwritten or hand-printed script.
  14. Other glaring, non-standard format usage.

Writers who entered scripts with one or several of these "faults" (non-Courier and lengthy description being the most obvious) have won Nicholl Fellowships.

Remember, these remarks are based on subjective observation of subjective reactions. Not all readers are affected by the same "problems" when picking up a script. And if Shane Black were to have six typos on page one, would anybody care? Probably not. Until you are paid to write scripts, it's probably more reasonable to be careful about your submissions.

Greg Beal
Program Coordinator
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting


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