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Book Recommendation

THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

Announcing ReAnimus Press

If you're looking for great stuff to read from bestselling and award-winning authors—look no further! ReAnimus Press was founded by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]








Critiquing a screenplay    Andrew,

    I’ve noticed that the responses I’ve received for my screenplay all state that they don’t know much about the format, so I wrote a short (820 word) article for the web site about it.  If you find it worthy, please feel free to publish it.  I can supply it in doc or pdf format, if you prefer.

    David A Maisel

Screenplays & Scripts

Screenplays and Scripts
by David A Maisel
© 2004, David A Maisel

     There are three general types of screenplays (movie, hour length TV and half hour length TV) and two associated formats (radio plays and stage scripts). Although each of these five formats have their specific needs, there are many similarities in the way each are presented. This article will present the differences and similarities and give a short selection of general terms used in screenplays.

     Movie and Television screenplays generally film one minute’s action for each page of script. Movies can film for the entire runtime, but Television has to allow for commercials and station breaks. Therefore, movie screenplays generally consist of 90-125 pages, and television screenplays have 44-50 pages for a one-hour show and 22-25 pages for a half hour show. Radio plays, which are rare but still exist, follow the same page length and production timing guidelines as television screenplays. Stage scripts follow the same guidelines as movie screenplays.

     Screenplays and scripts are visually based and present the pictures and sounds exactly as they should appear on screen or on stage. Radio plays as audio based and present only the sounds as they should be recorded and broadcast. As such, there is little character description other than generalities to establish as view and all character development is in the action and conversation. You will find no background or thoughts other than as spoken or shown visually.

     Due to the strictly limited amount of time and the tastes of the viewing or listening public, minor anachronisms are acceptable as long as they move the plot along and prevent slow spot in the production. Some example of these anachronisms are:

  • A street cop who can defuse a bomb under a moving vehicle
  • Finding a clue when you need it instead of having to search for it
  • Arriving at a destination within seconds of leaving home
  • The hero kills the villain with his/her first shot

     Of course, none of these are likely in real life but they’re accepted by the viewer and used to move the action along in the least amount of time.

     The format of a screenplay makes it as easy as possible to tell background from action and conversation. All background is left justified and runs the entire length of the page. All conversation is indented left and right and runs down the center of the page. The first time a character’s name or designation (COP #1, for instance) is given, it is capitalized. After that, the first letter is capitalized in the background and the name is entirely capitalized in conversation mode.

     Names are indented twice in the conversation sections, modifiers are indented one and conversation is not indented and is not placed in quotes. Italics and underlines are used for emphasis. For example (Bobby had been introduced earlier in the screenplay, but Ray has not):

O.S. the doorbell rings.
Bobby stands,
Crosses to the door,
Opens it


               RAY (O.S.)
     Hey, man, my car broke down. Can I use your phone?

     I guess. C’mon in.

Ray, a large, overly muscled man in a stained tank top and cut off jeans, enters.

          (pointing to phone)
     It’s over there on the stand.

     Had Ray entered before speaking, his description would have looked like this:

RAY, a large, overly muscled man in a stained tank top and cut off jeans, enters.

     Notice that Ray’s character is defined by how he looks (a large, overly muscled man in a stained tank top and cut off jeans) and how he speaks (Hey, man . . .). Little more than the minimum to establish the character is given as those decisions are made by the directors, the casting agents and the producers. Background is much the same - the bare minimum to show what is absolutely needed, for example:The stars wheel about in all directions.

PULL BACK and steady the shot to show a spaceship rotating in all three dimensions.

     No specific constellations or nearby planets or stars were mentioned. Had they been important, they would have been added.

     As you can see, there is nothing in the screenplay which is not see, done or heard by the viewer. As such, this tends to be a very visual format. When writing critiques, please keep this in mind.

Screenplay terms and abbreviations:



(V.O.) or V.O.

(O.S.) or O.S.












      Indoors / Outdoors

Designed credit sequence

Voice over

Off screen

Speech interrupted by description or page break

Use to change the scene, as appropriate

Time passage

Lots of time passage

Voice coming over a phone, radio, etc.

Repeat scene headings

Start and end the script or delineate major sections

Emphasize a detail or a clue

To reveal

Shift a point of view in a scene

On the giant bug, eating the agent


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