Screenplay Basics

Here are the basic formatting rules for every screenplay:

Paper: 8 1/2" x 11" white 20 lb. Three-hole punched.

Type Font: 12 pt. Courier or Courier New, which is a 10-pitch, fixed-pitch font.

What does all that mean? Well, 12 point is the size of the font. We are all familiar with that concept. 10 pitch means that 10 characters = one inch of space on the page. Fixed pitch means that every character, whether lowercase or uppercase, will take up the same amount of space on a line. There are definitely other fonts that fit the bill. But just stick with Courier.

Margins: 1" for Right, Top, and Bottom margins. 1.5" for Left margin (to allow for holes). Right margin is NOT justified!!

Length: 85 to 120 pages, no less and no more.

Many formatting experts would argue the maximum limit is 125 pages. Lessen the chances of crossing that boundary by putting 120 pages in your head.

When I edit a screenplay, the first thing I do is check the page count. If I see 120 pages, I get nervous, because if my analysis of the script includes ADDING scenes here and there, odds are I've got to advise cutting scenes as well. Even though I say the max is 120, I prefer to see 114-116 pages (about average for most screenplays) to leave a little re-writing room.

Genre often plays a large part in determining how long your screenplay should be. Animated features and kid's movies tend to be shorter in length - around 85 to 100 pages (you can keep a child's attention for only so long), while comedies, sci-fi, and horror films will be longer, around 95 to 110 pages. Thrillers and dramas are always the longest genres of screenplay, often pushing the 120-page boundary.

Recently when a client of mine sent me a 150 page screenplay, I told him to cut 30 to 40 pages. He argued that James Cameron wrote more than 120 pages with Avatar. I told my client when he helps to create the highest grossing film of all time, he can, too. Until then, cut 30 to 40 pages.

REMEMBER: 1 Screenplay Page = 1 Minute of Film Time