Movie Script Writing – From Formatting To Publishing

How do you write a movie script_featured image

What is a Movie Script?

A movie script is a document that is used to communicate the events of a film or television show.

The movie script tell the cast and crew how to act and what to say. They are used by directors, producers, actors, and technical crew to create the highest quality movies within budget.

A script can be a very precise document, but most are not. There is a lot of room for interpretation in film and video scripts, especially for an actor or actress. The script write shouldn’t try to direct the actor but leave them room to do what they do best.

What is the format for writing a movie script?

The main sections of a script directions are:

The SLUG LINE is very important because it reminds everyone what the scene is about and who the characters are.

The slug line should be written in all caps, centered at the top of the page. It should describe your location and who you are following.

The first line of the script should be a direction. This tells the actor or actress what they are supposed to do.

It also sets up the tone of the scene and makes it seem like more is happening than really is. The direction MUST be written in ALL CAPS!

The second line of the script should tell you what’s happening in this scene. It should also tell you who’s doing it.

The third line of the script gives you any important details. It tells you the time and place of the scene. If there is a character name that comes up here, put the name in brackets, in ALL CAPS!

How to format movie script writing
Movie script example page – The Blues Brothers

Download Blues Brothers Movie Script

How to format and write a script for a movie

How to write scripts for movies

The Importance of the Three Act Structure

The three act structure is the backbone of any story. It is the foundation that all writers build from and expand upon.

It creates a sense of unity for the entire script by giving you a guideline to follow when constructing it. There are three components in this structure:

  • The Setup,
  • The Confrontations, and
  • The Resolution.

They are all equally important because each one adds another layer to the story.

The Setup is the introduction of your main characters and their environment. It is also used to establish the theme of your script. The theme is deeply rooted in the story and defines the morals and values of your characters.

The first confrontation begins when your main character faces their first obstacle or enemy.

They must figure out how to overcome this obstacle using their own abilities and strengths, which leads into Act 2: The Confrontations.

The second act is where you will place your most important events and plot points. Your character should struggle with their decisions and the script should make you wonder if they are going to fail or succeed.

This is the most essential part of your script because everything comes down to this. Your main character should have an idea of what’s going to happen at the end of the story, even if it’s a vague sense.

The resolution is the culmination of all conflicts and obstacles that have been built up throughout your script. It is where your main character has to prove the theme in order to overcome their obstacles and defeat their enemy.

How is a movie script written? The Details

What is a character arc in movie script writing?

Creating Character Arcs

Creating strong characters can make or break a movie. If the script isn’t believable, people won’t care about what’s going on in it.

If the characters are bland, the audience will be confused and bored. It’s important to create strong and distinguishable characters that your audience can connect to.

Write about the character arcs in your screenplay.

Example of character arc:

The hard-boiled detective suffers from manic depression. As he meets case after case, his mental stability becomes more strained, making him a harder person to work with. At the end of the movie he is calm, centered and very easy to get on with because of the trials and lesson he’s learned along the way.

Every character inside my screenplays must have an arc. This arc must change them in some way, even if it is just a small change. This gives the audience something to relate to and form an attachment with.

The best way to create a character arc is by making your main character have some sort of flaw that hinders them from achieving their goals. Their character arc shows how this flaw is corrected because of his struggles throughout the story. A new strength helps him to win.

Dialogue and Description

Dialogue is spoken language in written form. It can communicate the thoughts and feelings between two or more characters.

Dialogue is important because it conveys the emotions of your characters and helps you write believable and compelling conversations.

Dialogue uses tags, adverbs, attributive adjectives, sentence fragments, or speech balloons to tell readers if the dialogue character is speaking angrily or happily.

Description helps you paint a picture for your reader so they know exactly what’s happening on the page.

The key to writing successful description is providing enough detail that allows readers to visualize but not too much information so they don’t get bogged down with unnecessary details like dialogue tags or characters individual thoughts. Show, don’t tell!

The goal of description should be to add life and personality by giving just enough to the scene without overwhelming the reader.

How to format dialogue in a movie script

  1. Dialogue should be written normally, with the speaker’s name in caps, and speech direction before their lines .
  2. The dialogue should follow natural speech patterns, but avoid contractions
  3. Use colons to break up the lines
  4. Tag dialogue with a speaker’s name and speech direction – speaker’s name in caps
  5. Do not use dialogue tags like ‘said’, ‘asked’, or ‘whispered’ unless absolutely necessary to convey the speaker’s personality or state of mind
  6. Break up conversational lines into clusters of three-four-five words, to read smoothly
  7. Use descriptive language in the scenes to add life to the story line and environment
  8. Space out the dialogue on the page so it doesn’t look cramped
  9. Use action, body language and stage direction to convey mood and body movement of characters, not just their words.

How to format description in a movie script

  1. Description is written in sentences
  2. It typically should not be longer than a paragraph
  3. It describes in detail all aspects of the setting, including appearance, feel, flavor and mood
  4. Use descriptive words that evoke a sense of what they are describing (colorful, drab, lovely)
  5. Use descriptive language to convey the environment, the characteristics of your script and the mood you want your reader to feel.

What Is Character Back-story and Motivation?

A character’s backstory is what they have lived through in the past and helps describe their motivations for wanting to achieve their goal, whatever it may be.

The backstory helps us understand how a character will react to different obstacles towards their goal. A well-written backstory can make your script more interesting and believable.

The hero's character arc shows him changing
The hero’s backstory holds the key to their motivation

What Is The Hero’s Journey?

The hero’s journey is a journey into the unknown. It is a quest to find oneself and one’s inner strength. The hero starts out as an outsider in society, in disrupted circumstances, who possesses some quality which the culture considers valuable.

This individual has a strong desire for change and improvement of their life and society around them.

They are willing to go on this journey to meet challenges head-on and learn more about themselves in order to help those around them change as well.

These heroes may undergo physical (violence), psychological (spiritual/moral), or spiritual transformation.

Their extraordinary journeys often have many obstacles that try to hold them back from reaching their true potential by succumbing into common human traits like fear, loneliness, apathy, and etc.

Through the tribulations of their own life they learn patience, tolerance, humility, selflessness, independence and other qualities which is the key to understanding and valuing people and things differently from what they perceive them (The Sacred Hero’s Journey).

The hero’s journey is the foundation for most stories. This is a template that can be used to create any story, and now that you know the difference between plot and story you may find it easier to understand.

There are many great books written on this subject, but basically it goes like this:

  • The hero leaves their world on a quest. They meet up with allies who help them at different points along the way.
  • The hero faces a series of tests, usually at the hands of the one they longed most to defeat. They overcome each test and emerge stronger.
  • The hero returns home, feeling a sense of completion and (hopefully) having saved everyone there.

There are other stories that modify this structure; find the one that works for you and use it.

Theme, Tension, and Conflict

Theme

Theme is the general point, message, or moral of your story as it applies to everyone in your audience.

This is a key element of storytelling since it helps you decide what type of story you want to tell and how to best communicate that idea in order to help create your desired outcome.

If this is too complex for you, just think about what you want people to take away from reading and watching it. That should give you an idea of the more specific theme for your story: whether it’s love conquers all or sometimes bullies get their comeuppance, etcetera.

Themes can be simple (such as “no good deed goes unpunished”) or complicated (such as “born into wealth but gave it all up to live with the poor and see if they could survive; found that neither rich nor poor was better off than the other but instead that each had value”).

Figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it before you write your story.

Tension

Tension in movie scripts is when two forces are in opposition or conflict.

If you feel that your story needs more tension, ask yourself the following questions: “Are any of my characters behaving in a way that goes counter to their personality?” or “Is there any resistance from outside forces?” or “How is it that my main character is in the position they are in?

What are the motivations of those around them?”

This is an important step to creating tension, but more importantly, a good way to learn about your story. The best way to find out if your story has a good amount of tension is by reading some stories that do and seeing if you can relate to them by better understanding why those stories are better than yours.

Conflict

Conflict is what keeps your script moving forward. It’s the internal and external obstacles that stand in between your protagonist achieving their goal. It can be a person, a place, an idea or any combination thereof.

It’s the obstacles that your protagonist must overcome to reach their goal. This can be another person, a place, idea or any combination thereof. The struggle between the hero and their antagonists is what keeps your story interesting and on its’ feet.

Obstacles for the Protagonist to Overcome

  • Obstacles that arise from the protagonist’s inner self: – Losing hope, not believing in oneself, fear of success and failure, depression or anxiety
  • Obstacles that arise from outside sources – Unsupportive people (friends, family), lack of money or resources, negative social environment (bullying)
  • Obstacles due to circumstances: – Climate, natural occurrences, difficult living conditions, etc
  • Obstacles that arise from the outside world: – War, famine and other disasters (global)
  • Obstacles due to other characters: – Other people who want to bring down your protagonist or cause harm
3 act structure of movie script writing
The hero overcomes his flaws to beat the villain

Character Arcs

A Character Arc is the emotional and psychological journey a character goes through in a story. They have an identity crisis, a low point, or some other struggle that changes them. Then they come out of it with new self-awareness or feeling.

The character arc must be a significant change for your main character, and it will be reflected in the final product by the end of the story.

It’s important to understand that the arc, whether it is large or small, must be visible in the story.

A huge character change (like a conversion) does not have to happen in the first act. It may happen midway through or even in the third act of your screenplay. Just make sure there is a change at some point and that it is reflected in your characters actions.

Story Arcs

A story arc is the three-act structure of a narrative. It is a common convention in storytelling that a protagonist has an emotional change in the course of the events they go through and their character arc is reflected in their actions.

Main Character: In Act 1, our main character is introduced and we are told of some idea or goal which they want to pursue.

We start watching them as they make attempts at achieving this goal and meet many obstacles along the way.

Finally, by the end of Act 1, it becomes apparent that they have not yet achieved their goal and may never do so no matter how hard they try alone.

This leads to Act 2 where our protagonist finds allies who help them overcome these obstacles; but even with all this help, they have not yet achieved their goal. Along the way, we meet antagonists who try to stop them from achieving their goal.

The protagonist is still at a loss, but by the end of Act 2 it is evident that something has to change or there will be no story.

Act 2: In Act 2, something must happen which changes the situation so dramatically that our character seems to be having a complete reversal of fortune. At this point, the audience is captivated by how the story is going to continue and how this reversal will affect them.

Act 3: In Act 3, our protagonist has been given a new opportunity to achieve his/her goal and decides to go for it. However, there are still obstacles that stand in their way.

The protagonist must overcome these obstacles and in the end achieves their goal as well as some greater understanding of themselves or the world around them.

The final event is the defeat of the villain who is confronted by the protagonist, their allies and sometimes friends.

How to write a movie script – getting some help

What is the best screenplay writing software?

What is a good script writing software?
Celt movie script writing software pre’production

There is some great software out there but Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter and Celtx are the most popular among professionals.

Final Draft is probably the most professional of the lot and is also the most expensive one. Here are some of the key features of Final Draft:

Rapid Screenwriting: It brings you to the right place right away with its pre-made scenes that you can write in a matter of minutes without wasting time or missing out on anything.

You get your scenes, your characters and your story all set and ready to go after just a couple of clicks. It helps you move forward and stay productive.

Story Maps: By using Story Maps, you can create your own unique beats and customize your story into a fresh new way of doing it. Each beat has multiple versions so you are not getting stuck with just one path for your script.

Celtx is the most versatile screenwriting software available and is perfect for those who want to have a free, open source option that is compatible with Final Draft (.fdx) files.

Are movie scripts copyrighted?

Yes, once your script is finished you need to register with the Writers Guild of America and sign a copyright agreement. This will enable you to receive all the royalties that come from distribution of your work.

To get a WGA registration number go to http://www.wga.org/ and click on the link called “Getting Started,” then on “Copyright Registration.”

Where can I get scripts of movies?

Many movies are released today with the script to purchase. You can find them at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon. Most bookstores in Hollywood have a large number of scripts in stock as well.

Scripts of old movies can be found via the internet as well, but you will need to do some digging to find them. The best place to start is at a forum called “Studiobinder” where you can download scripts for free.

How do I write a film script?

Again, a lot of this is subjective. The best way to learn is to study some good scripts and try to understand what makes them good by reading the script and watching the actual movie.

Create success by copying success, in the movie industry means that the best script ever is the one that makes the most money. There are always exceptions to this rule, but that’s why you’d want to consider copying other successful script formats and structure.

Consider being stable on your action scene writing. You must know what you could write and how your scenes will play out from the beginning to end before you go ahead with writing them.

Once you have a fair idea of how things are going to end, then start writing each scene as it comes in.

Where to submit a movie script?

There is no one right place to submit your script, it’s up to you. If you’re submitting online, check out your favorite script website first and see if they have an “open” or “contest” section.

Some companies like Paramount Pictures and studios like Disney will post contests in order to find new screenwriters.

Is script writing hard?

Yes and no. It depends on how much time you put into it and what kind of script you’re writing. If you are asked to write a screenplay for a movie, then it can get hard considering that there are thousands of writers who might want to do the same thing as you.

Organization is key and software can speed up your writing process. The key is to have one idea that will work in a movie, then create a list of ideas that go along with this idea and there should be no more than three ideas at any given time.

Then you can move those ideas into the subsequent stages such as outlining and character development. Once you have this outline you can move on to writing the script.

How to learn screenplay writing

There are a couple of different ways to learn screenplay writing. Some people start by reading screenplays and learning the format. Some people try their hand at a screenplay writing contest and some will work at it until it becomes second nature.

Learn to write well and learn to read well (reading is essential for students, writers, teachers, etc) because once you’ve learned to read well you will be able to learn the different structures of different stories and can then determine what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.

Do movie directors write scripts?

No, directors don’t write scripts at all. The screenwriter is the only person who does that.

The director’s job on set is to tell everybody what to do. Even if you are directing a film that is scripted, the director will not be directing it exactly the way it is shown on the screen.

If you have a character walk across the screen in an unrealistic way, your director might simply say “walk more slowly.” The director directs.

How long should movie script be?

The script can be as long as needed to tell the story, but it must hold the attention of the audience. If it’s too short, then it might seem like there is something missing. If too long, then it may be too hard to read or understand.

If you are going to write a script for a contest or festival then you will have to follow a specific format and length guidelines which can be found on the website hosting the contest.

How long is a typical movie script?

The average movie script is anywhere between 100-120 pages, however, you must remember that the first “draft” of a screenplay is really just the outline for the story.

In order to turn this into a movie script, you will need to add detail and connect all of those dots.

This means that in order to have a full screenplay ready for production it will have to be at least 120 pages because that is how long it takes to tell the whole story.