Screenplay Formatting Guidelines: Your one stop formatting shop
Here are a few simple rules to formatting your script that all industry professionals know. I recommend using Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriting.
Font: Courier Size: 12
Cover Page: Should contain the title, author, and an email/ phone number.
The script itself should be between 80-120 pages. I recommend following a three act structure, with 7 pillar beats, especially if this is your first script.
Beat 1: Ordinary World: This is where you set-up the ordinary life of your protagonist, as well as their relationships, character flaws, and what they want.
Beat 2: Inciting Incident: Something happens to your protagonist that forces them to make a decision. This Catalyst moment. Frodo inherits a powerful ring from his uncle Bilbo. Hagrid gives Harry a letter to Hogwarts. Suddenly, your protagonists world is turned upside down.
Beat 3: Act One Turning Point: This is the point where your protagonist decides if they prefer their ordinary life, or if they will take a step into the new world. Often, the journey before the protagonist will test every single one of their character flaws, which helps define the theme of the movie. Will Frodo leave the shire to embark on a journey to Mordor? Will Harry Potter go to Hogwarts? Even if the protagonist refuses the call, something must force him/her to take a step into the new world.
Beat 4: Midpoint: Usually around the page fifty mark. This is a scene that takes the story in a new direction. Often your character has changed, and realizes the new world their in isn’t all its cracked up to be. Or they’ve reached their goal, but realize it’s not actually want they want. A great example of a midpoint is in Avatar, when Jake realizes everything is backwards. His life on Pandora has become his real world and real life, while his life as a paraplegic war veteran is just a dull dream, this is the opposite of how he started.
“An important scene in the middle of the script, often a reversal of fortune or revelation that changes the direction of the story.”
– Syd Feild
Beat 5: Second Act Turning Point: This is your “all-is-lost” moment, where it can’t possibly get worse for your protagonist. Everything bad that could happen to them, happens in this moment. Often, they have just achieved their external goal, but are furthest from their internal goal. One of my favorite example of an “all-is-lost” moment, is in Little Miss Sunshine, where Frank, a character with low self-esteem, urges his daughter not to dance in the pageant, for fear she will be made fun of for being fat. Frank is horrified, when Olive decides to go on stage anyway.
Beat 6: Climax: The climax is the moment in your movie where your protagonist and antagonist come face to face, and your protagonist overcomes their character flaw in order to defeat the antagonist. In a romance, this is the big speech where your protagonist shows how she’s changed in order to win the love of her life.
In the Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel trades her voice for legs, so she can walk on land and be with Erich. In the climax, Ariel must overcome Ursula’s spell and regain her voice, however, by regaining her voice she is sacrificing her legs. She saves Erich from marrying Ursula, but is once again a mermaid.
Beat 7: Resolution: The new world. Everything works out (Comedy). Nothing works out because your character learned the lesson too late (Tragedy). The resolution of The Little Mermaid is when Triton (Ariel’s father) realizes Ariel truly loves Erich, and grants her legs.