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The Ultimate Screenplay Format Reference

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Dialog

In the vast majority of cases your dialog will consist of a character cue followed by one or two lines of what that character says. (One line is better.)

Like this:
 


                     JACK
         Helen, say something
.
 


JACK is the character cue (or character name). It should start 3.7 inches from the left physical border of the page or 2.2 inches to the right of the left margin which is 1.5 inches from the left of the page. See the page on measurements for details.

 

Actorís Instructions (wrylies)

Actorís instructions are an element that you should use sparingly. They are also called Ďwryliesí - allegedly because they are used often to tell the actor that the character talks wryly.

Wrylies are put into parentheses. In your script they are to start 3.1 inches from the left physical border of the page (1.6 inches from the left margin which is located 1.5 inches from the left of the page):
 


                     JACK
               (to Helen)
         You talk too much.
 


Use actorís instructions to clarify in case of need. In the example above the wryly makes it clear that Jack is addressing Helen.

Use them sparingly. Professional actorís donít like to be instructed by the screenwriter.

 

(O.S.) - off screen

When a character talks (O.S.) that means that he is on site and part of the scene but not seen on the screen while he/she speaks.

(V.O.) - voice over

When a character talks (V.O.) it means that he is not physically part of the scene. Strictly speaking he/she doesnít even have to be on site if her voice only appears as voice over in the scene.

Even if he is in the scene and hears his own voice but his lips donít move - thatís still a voice over.

Moreover, the Screenwriterís Bible says that any kind of narration is a (V.O) - no matter whether the character who talks appears physically in the scene or not.

For example, if a character explains something about pages in a book and the camera shows the pages or images while he is talking - thatís a voice over. It doesnít matter whether he closes the book later in the scene and goes on talking. Of course, the direct talk after closing the book will be neither (V.O) not (O.S), but just ordinary dialog.

MORE and CONTíD / CONTINUED

There is only one situation where you should use the MORE/CONTINUED construct. That is when a characterís dialog lines are interrupted by the end of the page and continue at the top of the following page:
 


                     JACK
         No, Iím right. No way this could
         work. Itís a pipe dream. People
         tried it and failed. Of course, I
         donít mean it could never work. Iím
         not perfect. I can make mistakes.
                   (MORE)
 


and then on top of the next page:
 


                                                       28.


                     JACK (CONTíD)
         Like two years ago, when for two
         minutes I thought I was wrong.
 


Of course, as your dialog wonít often exceed a line or two, situations like this wonít come up often, if ever. Even then itís worthwhile to consider adding a few line feeds and move the entire dialog section to the next page.

The (MORE) and (CONTíD) can also appear in all lower-case letters: (more), (contíd).

It is no longer necessary to use CONTíD when the speech of a character is interrupted by action lines:
 


                     JACK
         No, Iím right. Iím absolutely
         sure. There is no way it could
         work that way. Itís a pipe
         dream. People tried it and
         failed.

Helen grabs a full bottle of wine and takes aim.

                     JACK
         Of course, I donít mean it
         could never work. Iím not
         perfect. I can make mistakes.

Helen slowly lowers the bottle but remains suspicious.

                     JACK

         Like two years ago, when for two
         minutes I thought I was wrong.
 


Obviously, shorter dialogs make for more dynamic. The central question now is: Does Helen throw the bottle, do they both break into laughter or does only Helen laugh while Jack wonders why?

Whatever happens - a CONTíD should not be used here.