Today’s belief is that less is more when it comes to camera directions, unless you plan to direct the production yourself. Gone is the close up, cut to, dissolve to, wide shot and high angle. Movie and television scripts shouldn’t include camera directions as a rule, but there is some latitude if a specific camera shot or movement is necessary to move the narrative forward or reveal a joke. The character’s action is what should move the story forward from scene to scene.
On the average, one page of dialogue equals about a minute to a minute and a half of film. Television shows are approximately 46 minutes without commercials, and a one-hour television script can range from 35 to 50 pages.
The format for a screenplay is fairly simple. It begins with a FADE IN, always in caps an on the left-hand margin, and ends with FADE OUT, always in caps and on the right-hand margin. If you want your screenplay to appear professional, the industry standard font is Courier and font size 12, and the margins for top, right and bottom are one inch; the left margin is set at 1 1/2 inches to allow for binding.
The most important transition is the SCENE HEADING, or what is sometimes called the slug line. It starts with interior or exterior (letting the crew know if the shot will be inside or outside) and is always capitalized and abbreviated. Also in the scene heading is the location. Keep it brief. In addition, the time of the scene needs to be a part of the line. Time of the scene examples may include things like day, night, dusk, early morning, early evening, midnight, later, much later, next morning, week later, etc. The use of the dash between the elements is the only punctuation. The scene heading is always capitalized.
EXT. DOUGHNUT SHOT — EARLY MORNING
With this scene heading, we have established the scene takes place outside a doughnut shop in the early morning. This is followed usually by a brief description of the scene or action.
The scene opens and we see a doughnut shop on a street located somewhere in Georgetown. Painted on the outside window are the words, “Donut Express”.
The person speaking is capitalized and appears at the top of the dialogue. Also capitalized is the first appearance of a character noted in the description. Every moment in a screenplay takes place now, so use the active, not passive, voice.
DOTTY has made it through the busy shop and now stands a counter. She talks to others around her, but no one seems to be listening.
I don’t usually buy doughnuts. Not a healthy breakfast choice.
Basic Camera Directions Screenwriters Should Know (for when the specific camera angle is important):
ANGLE–another view of the previous shot
CLOSE UP–tightly frames a person or object
MONTAGE–a series of scenes
DISSOLVE TO–a slow transition from one scene to another
POV–seen from the eye of the character
INSERT–to highlight an object in the scene
INTERCUT–two scenes cutting back and forth between locations simultaneously (for example, during a phone call)
FREEZE FRAME–the illusion of a still photograph
PAN–stationary camera pivots back and forth or up and down
Script Presentation Guidelines:
There are several screenwriting software options available. Find one that works best for you, otherwise, you will be formatting all day instead of writing. However, dialogue should be 10 spaces from the left margin and no more than 60 spaces long. The actor’s instructions start 16 spaces from the left margin and are no longer than two inches. The character’s name should be 22 spaces from the left margin.
Crossposted on Lia London's website. Follow her series on "Screenwriting" for more tips.