Script Formatting 101

Each television series is formatted differently.  Not only are dramas different from sitcoms, which are different from soap operas, etc., but series within the same genre are formatted differently.   Margins vary; line spacing varies; some series capitalize sounds while other bold or underline the same thing.  For comprehensive formatting guidelines, I recommended Script Frenzy’s formatting guides.  But THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IN FORMATTING IS TO BE CONSISTENT THROUGHOUT THE SCRIPT.

Professional scriptwriting software such as Final Draft includes a variety of templates for both original scripts and current series.  But if you are writing a spec script, the best way to ensure your formatting matches that of the series is to download a copy of show’s script.  If you have an industry connection, an agency assistant can provide you with copies of scripts.  If not, here is a link to an online resource that provides a wealth of scripts from both past and present series, along with a link to other script providers. Scripts are also available for purchase from Script City. When it comes to formatting, it’s not important that your margins and line spacing of your spec match that of the real show.  What is important is that your spec adheres to the style of the show;  if you’re writing a spec of an ABC show, don’t curse as though you’re writing for HBO.  If you’re writing for a single-cam comedy, don’t use a multi-cam format.  And pay attention to the page count.  For instance, The West Wing scripts were longer than most hour long dramas because the characters talked faster.  But that’s not license to try to get away with a 100 page script.

A note from my husband, Warren Bell:

For what it’s worth, as a showrunner, I don’t care about the specific formatting of a series.  If your Lost script doesn’t look like real Lost scripts, that’s not going to bother me.  In fact, there’s little chance I will know, unless you send me a spec of the show I work on.  As long as you use some sort of appropriate standardized format, and as my wife said, it’s consistent.

To submit a specific question regarding script formatting or to suggest additional resources, please leave a comment below this post.

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