Capitalization - Other Situations

There are times you need to consider Capitalization rules in Direction other than when introducing characters, cuing sound effects, and writing camera direction.

Below are many other situations screenplay writing may come across from time to time.

Book, Music, and Movie Titles:

Any time you mention a book, song title or musical score, or movie title in a Direction paragraph, the writer must enclose the title in quotation marks and type the title in ALL CAPS. Here are some examples of each:

Note that when the title ends a sentence, the period is placed INSIDE the quotation marks.

There is usually no problem using a book title in a film, because showing a character simply reading a novel so that the audience can see the book jacket or spine doesn't violate any copyright laws.

However, you want to be careful when mentioning titles of music or titles of movies. If it is in the Direction paragraph, it usually means you want the characters listening to music (which would be heard by the audience) or watching a movie on TV or in the theater.

Either scenario possibly means the producers would have to purchase the rights to the music or movie before your film can be made, which is more money in production costs. ALWAYS avoid calling out specific music or movie cues unless you personally own the intellectual property rights to it.

In the examples above, the use of Beiber's "BABY" would be a big turn off to a reader, and might get the screenplay tossed in the can.

However, "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" is fine. Why? Because the classic George Romero horror film is considered public domain, believe it or not.

Headlines, Signs, and Banners:

The primary way headlines, signs, and banners are similar to the various titles above is that they are also enclosed in quotations marks. But unlike titles, headlines, signs, and banners are not required to be in ALL CAPS. Whether or not to Capitalize is the writer's decretion.

All of the examples below are correct:

You'll notice in the examples above I placed the exclamation point inside the quotation marks. Normally punctuation such as exclamation points and question marks would be placed OUTSIDE the quotes, while periods and commas are INSIDE.

Since I placed the exclamation points inside, the reader assumes the exclamation point to be part of the quote, meaning the banner or sign would actually have an exclamation point on it. If I didn't want the exclamation points shown to the audience on the sign, I'd have properly placed them OUTSIDE the quotes.

Also, on the "No Trespassing" sign, I put a comma outside the quotes. As I said above, commas normally are inside quotes, but in the situation above there is already an exclamation point inside, and two punctuation marks side-by-side look odd, so I put the comma outside for this situation. Were the exclamation point not there, I'd have put the comma INSIDE the quotations marks.


Sometimes you'll want to put words on the screen, but not necessarily in the form of a headline, title, sign, or banner, which would be there for the benefit of a character in the film as well as the audience. Sometimes you want the audience to see the words, but not the characters. These are called Superimpositions.

With a Superimposition (Super for short), words are put on the screen, usually for the purpose of keeping the audience privy to time passage or oriented when there are time jumps (such as in time travel films).

Other times Superimpositions will give the audience needed information so they'll know what happened prior to the action (think of the scrolling paragraphs at the beginning of each Star Wars film), or what happened in the lives of the characters after the action of the film ended. Other times screenplay writer's will want to begin a film with a famous quote.

Here are two ways Supers can be formatted:

In the first example, the Superimposition is cued completely from the Direction paragraph. When this happens, only the word SUPER is used. SUPER is written in ALL CAPS, followed by a colon, and the words to appear on the screen are enclosed in quotation marks and also typed in ALL CAPS.

The second example is something a writer might do if he/she wants to draw more attention to the Superimposition to be sure it isn't missed among the other Direction information.

Here the entire word SUPERIMPOSE (rather than just SUPER) is basically a Subheading following a Direction paragraph that sets the initial scene. SUPERIMPOSE is again followed by a colon. Then double spaced below the Subheading to type the words that will appear on screen, still in ALL CAPS (since I want them to be ALL CAPS for the audience) and enclosed in quotes. Notice, though, I didn't put a period after 20 YEARS LATER. That's because when it is in Direction, the Superimposition is treated like a sentence. In the second example, that isn't necessary.

Optionally, I could have just typed SUPER: and placed "20 YEARS LATER" on the same line. It doesn't really matter. Just be consistent. However, had the Superimpostition been longer so that it would completely share the same line, then I'd have had to position it as above.

By the way, in the second example 20 YEARS LATER is indented the same as Dialogue. I could have also centered it on the page. Either way is correct.

For more on Superimpositions, go here.

Freeze Frame:

When a writer wants the film to momentarily freeze on an image, he/she will indicate the freeze with a Freeze Frame.

Here is one way to create a Freeze Frame within the Direction paragraph:

Here FREEZE FRAME is placed in ALL CAPS and punctuated with a period as if it were a complete sentence.

But maybe the writer wants to emphasize the Freeze more to draw the reader's attention to it. Here are two other possible ways to format a Freeze Frame:

In the first example above, there is no period after sky and FREEZE FRAME is put on its own line as a sort of extension of the Direction paragraph. FREEZE FRAME is punctuated with a period to complete the sentence above it.

In the second example, the Freeze Frame is indicated with a Subheading, with FREEZE FRAME being the Type of Shot, and BOXERS being the Subject of Shot. So the reader easily understands that the Freeze Frame is on the BOXERS the moment Johnny hits Willy.

Word of caution, though. If the scene with the boxers didn't end with the Freeze Frame and there was more boxing action following it, I'd need to double space and type BACK TO SCENE on its own line to bring the reader back into the action. However, with the first example, I could simply start a new Direction paragraph and despense with BACK TO SCENE.

Ad Libs:

Many times Dialogue will be spoken on screen but the writer need not write out the exact Dialogue in the script. Why? Because the spoken Dialogue is obvious and not essential to the story, such as in this example:

In the example above, the actors would act happily surprised and say things like, "Wow!", "Oh my God!", Congratulations!", etc. Actors need not be guided on exactly what to say and how to react. Of course, if one of the actors in the group has a different reaction, whether verbal, physical, or emotional, that would need to be called out.

In any case, AD LIB is typed in ALL CAPS so that it stands out.

Just don't go crazy with the Ad Libs. Some writers will be lazy and think they can use Ad Libs to keep from having to write so much Dialogue. Dialogue is the hardest thing to write well, and it sets apart the good writers from the bad writers. If you are using AD LIB to keep from having to write Dialogue, which do you think you are?

V.O. and O.S.:

Over the years, screenwriters and filmmakers have taken to shortening commonly used words or phrases with abbreviations.

The abbreviation V.O. is short for "voice over" and usually V.O. is used in Dialogue and found next to a Character Cue. But sometimes the "voice" heard off screen will be garbled and/or inaudible, which means placing it in Dialogue doesn't work. After all, what would you type for the Dialogue?

In these rare situations, you can call out the V.O. in the Direction paragraph, like this:

However, if the voice IS audible, then the "voice over" would simply need to be written as Dialogue, like this:

The abbreviation O.S. stands for "off screen" and is similar to V.O., but is used for character movement, off screen action, or sounds rather than voices. Here is an example:

The above example cues an off screen sound. Notice I decided to CAPS the sound. Not required.

O.S. could have also been used to cue a character walking out of the camera frame (Patricia lays down the book and walks O.S.)

b.g. and f.g.:

"Background" and "foreground" are two screenwriting terms used often enough to earn abbreviations over the years as well. But unlike O.S. and V.O., the abbreviations for background and foreground are ALWAYS typed lowercase, like this: