A Filmmaker’s Guide to Perfectly Formatted Short Film Scripts

short-film-scriptsYou have been writing your screenplay for several months, or years. Finally, you will have a chance to pitch your idea for an engaging love story between a cricket named Walt and a rambunctious but endearing alien named Sue. But before any writer can send out their masterpiece, they have to format. How to format short film scripts? Here is a simple guide to start you on your journey to filmmaking legend.

The Basics

Before you even start to worry about page margins and fonts, make sure that your screenplay is good. And I don’t mean good enough for your mom and grandma to enjoy when they can’t load Netflix. It needs to be good, with a clear and compelling story, believable characters, and a plot that makes sense. Even in a short film there is a very clear story presented, with a beginning, middle, and end. If you aren’t sure about the quality of your screenplay, take it to a local writer’s group or share it with some of your filmmaker friends. Then listen to their honest feedback.

Formatting

There are many different international standards for screenplays. Here we will go with the formatting expected for big studio films in North America. However, if you plan on pitching your screenplay overseas, be sure to find out if they have different guidelines. Short film scripts, just like big name blockbuster Hollywood type scripts, needs to be written with Courier Font 12 point. Why? The length of your film is often determined by the length of the script, when it is properly formatted. Roughly one page of your script is equal to one minute of screen time. It’s not an exact science, but that is just one reason why the correct font is necessary.

The top margin needs to be one inch (2.5 cm). Both the right and bottom margins can be roughly the same with minimal leeway. Because you need space for binding, the left margin should be around 1.5 inches (or about 3.8 cm). And guess what two words need to start out your short film, always? FADE IN. This needs to be in upper case, flush left. Add a colon then go to the next line.

Scenes

Your short film scene heading will be flush left, as well, in caps. Use EXT (exterior) and INT (interior) for each scene, as well as indicated DAY or NIGHT. For example, INT. FRED’S BUTCHER SHOP – NIGHT. Then begin with your action and dialog. Action will describe what the audience will see and hear. Dialog is what the characters say. The dialog is centered while the action is left justified.

Keep the action and dialog crisp and short. This is not a novel. This is a short film screenplay. You want to write exactly what the audience will experience with their senses, not what is going on in the head of the character, unless you can show them. For example, if a character is angry, he or she might throw a cup of coffee against a wall or yell at their students.

Other Important Terms

You might need to have a character yell from a bedroom off-screen or off-camera. This is abbreviated with “O.S.” A voice-over is indicated with “V.O.” Transitions like “DISSOLVE” are often avoided but you can add them in your script. Know the difference between s “spec script” and the “shooting script”. Most writers are working on a spec script. This script does not have camera actions added. It is simple, without additional details and direction. The shooting script is the script actually used in production. This may have additional camera cues and editing directions. There are many available books to help you with your short film script or you can hire a professional script service to get you on your way.