- Feb 5, 2021
- BY: Mackenzie Scott
The Right Script Format for Your First Indie Film
As a new indie filmmaker, learning curves are inevitable.
Budgets, resources, and schedules — once set — afford filmmakers little wiggle room for change. And in lieu of Hollywood star power and big budgets, indie filmmakers have been known to create highly cinematic films with Skeleton Crews and the resources on hand.
Whether you’re developing a script for a short or feature-length indie film, the script for your project has to abide by industry standards.
If the formatting isn’t legitimate, agents, producers, financers, and actors might not give your project the time of day.
Finding investors and collaborators to work with is a challenge when you’re just getting started in the film industry. Even with a remarkable story concept, potential collaborators likely won’t feel inclined to look past the first page if the format isn’t by-the-book.
Ensuring that your project is given a fair shot — rather than pushed to the wayside — begins with structuring each page correctly.
While production looks different for every creator, the right screenwriting format is a non-negotiable part of the process regardless of experience level or circumstance.
Once you finalize your film’s script, you can begin crafting the shot list, building the soundtrack, and working toward post-production.
This article offers industry insight on screenwriting and additional software resources that can help you make the transition from script-to-screen.
Formatting a Feature-Length vs. Short Film
Screen time plays a critical role in the screenwriting process.
A single page typically translates to one minute of on-screen action and dialogue. This means that any changes to the standard formatting (i.e., font size, margin, content, etc.) can disrupt this ratio and make it nearly impossible to gage the length of the film.
If everything is kosher format-wise, a two-hour feature film breaks down as 120 pages of script and a 90-minute film as 90 pages of script.
Short films average at about 20 minutes, or 20 pages of script. However, any film that is 50 minutes or less falls into this category.
Both short and feature-length films are commonly structured into three acts — following Freytag’s Pyramid — though short films need to be more condensed because of time-constraints.
Writing a Spec Script vs. a Shooting Script
The two are created for different purposes at different stages in the production process.
A Spec Script
As an indie filmmaker, a spec (or speculative) script is one that you create without any funding or production plans set in stone. This script is intended to attract producers, investors, and other collaborators who want to work with you to make the film.
For film projects, the spec script’s purpose is to secure financial backing and creative support for your project. For TV shows, however, a spec script is more of an opportunity to demonstrate that you can bring something new to the table while still writing in the voice of the show.
Spec scripts are not necessary for every filmmaker’s process. But if you’re looking to get more people on board for your film, a spec script can help you make these connections.
A Shooting Script
A shooting script is more-or-less the blueprint for the filming process. Directors and cinematographers take the lead when creating this script because it’s a document that they will constantly refer to on set.
This type of script accounts for how the scenes will appear on-screen. From the special effects and lighting to camera shots and angles, the shooting script moves filmmakers one step closer to production.
This script includes excess details and directions, so it’s almost always longer than the original screenplay.
Finalizing a shooting script takes many rounds of revisions, and these edits are accounted for on the shooting script’s cover page.
Breaking Down Script Formatting
When developing a script for any indie film project, there are several key elements that need to be considered.
Short and feature-length films are scripted systematically, and there are specific industry-standard formatting rules to follow.
The text throughout your script should be in 12-point Courier font. In this format, a script has an average of 55 lines of text on each page.
Experimenting with different font types and sizes makes it nearly impossible to gage how long your film will be. Sticking with the standard font ensures that you have the right ratio of pages to minutes (1:1).
Here’s a brief rundown of how the margins of your indie film’s script should be formatted:
- A 1-inch margin on the top and bottom of each page
- A 1-inch margin on the right side of each page
- A 1.5-inch margin on the left side of each page
The core elements of your script’s title page are the title of the project, the screenwriter’s name, the contact information, and the writer’s representation if applicable.
A shooting script, like mentioned earlier, also includes a cover page with a date log of the revisions made from the initial production draft to the final version.
Another margin rule to keep in mind: page numbers are generally positioned in the top right corner of every page (except the first page) with a 0.5-inch margin.
Scene Heading (a.k.a. Slugline)
The scene headline, or slugline, has the essential role of leading into each scene. You’ll preface each scene heading with either “EXT” if the scene begins in an exterior location or “INT” in an internal location.
The scene heading is written in all-caps and also includes a brief description of the scene’s setting and the time.
So, an example might be “INT. RURAL HOME - MORNING”
Action lines go hand-in-hand with scene headings, as both are aligned with the left margin and offer context about a scene.
Action lines directly follow the scene heading, and this particular on-page element gives readers more details about the setting.
A character’s name is written in all-caps and positioned 3.7 inches from the left margin. Beside their name, you might need to include an extension (i.e., V.O. or O.S.) in parentheses.
The extension “V.O.” signifies that the character’s dialogue is a voiceover whereas “O.S.” shows that the character is speaking off screen.
When a character is introduced for the first time, you should include a couple lines of description about who they are below their name.
StudioBinder includes an example of what this looks like: “FILBERT (9), wiry, lost in his own imaginary world. Dressed as a Knight. A toy sword in his other hand.”
Adhering to industry standards, blocks of dialogue are indented 2.5 inches from the left margin. While a script includes more than just the dialogue, this element shouldn’t be overlooked.
If two characters speak at the same time, you can show this on the page by placing their dialogue blocks side-by-side. For more tips on developing your film’s characters and writing dialogue, check out this source.
Resources for Aspiring Screenwriters
Screenwriting software tools like Fade In and Final Draft help you structure your script and simplify the screenwriting process. Fade In is especially regarded as an great affordable option that supports multiple languages — making it even more accessible to creators like you.
Especially when budgets are tight, it’s important to know where to turn to find affordable resources.
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