Proper screenplay formatting is extremely particular and offers very little wiggle room. There are good reasons behind all of this specificity. A properly formatted script adheres to the current industry standards, meaning all professional screenplays, with very few exceptions, have a standardized appearance and format. In this article, we will explain why following industry-standard formatting is important, how to achieve it, and why these particular margin measurements are considered the standard.
Why proper formatting matters
A big piece of formatting a screenplay correctly has to do with timing out a film’s runtime. The general rule of thumb is that one page of a script equals out to approximately one minute of screen time in the finished film. A 90-page script should wind up as a roughly 90-minute movie.
This timing is rarely 100% accurate but it gives a good idea as to a film’s length. This is of utmost importance when a studio or producer is green-lighting a script for production.
The differences between a spec script and a shooting script
When writing a screenplay on spec, formatting can make or break your chances at finding success. Industry professionals can detect improper formatting at a glance and will immediately reject a script with formatting issues such as incorrectly-sized margins. Be sure to stick to the current industry standards when formatting. Thankfully, screenwriting software can make screenplay formatting much easier.
Screenplay Format Margin
Automate with screenwriting software
A traditional word processor, such as Microsoft Word, can only approximate screenplay format so closely. However, a word processor designed specifically for screenwriting can make much of the formatting process automatic. This frees up the writer to focus on the creative rather than the technical. Some widely used screenwriting programs, such as Final Draft, can be quite costly, but there are alternatives like StudioBinder's screenwriting software.
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Using a program like this, designed especially for screenwriting, is the only way to truly achieve a 100% industry-standard screenplay. If you plan to forge ahead with a traditional word processor, then you will need to manually set your margin sizes to approximate script format.
Margin sizes explained
The margins of a screenplay are larger than when writing in prose or other formats.
The top and bottom margins of a screenplay should both be set to one inch (1 in.), and the left margin should be set to one-and-a-half inches (1.5 in.).
The right margin is the only one that offers a slight degree of flexibility. Technically, the right margin can be set to anywhere between half an inch and one-and-a-quarter inches.
Although the right margin is flexible, it should remain uniform throughout the script once it has been set. It is likely best to set this margin to one inch, just like the top and bottom margins.
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There are three reasons for margins being set this way. The first has to do with script timing, the same as with many other script formatting conventions. The margins being sized the way they are in a script is partially responsible for why one page equals roughly one minute of screen time.
Adjusting the margins will throw that timing off. In turn, this effects everything from the budget to the shooting schedule.
The second reason margins are set larger on a script than in other writing is to provide more space for notes to be left in the margins. Scripts are likely to go through many revisions and copies of any given script are likely to have their margins loaded up with all kinds of notes from different production personnel.
The reason why the left margin is the largest is strictly utilitarian. Screenplays are traditionally hole-punched on the left side and held together with brads (aka brass fasteners). The extra half-inch on the left margin accommodates these brads while still allowing room for notes on the left-hand side of the page.
Formatting a Screenplay
So, that is everything you need to know about screenplay margins. There are plenty of other screenplay formatting conventions to master, so continue your format education with our comprehensive guide on industry-standard screenplay formatting. You will learn how to format all of the different screenplay elements such as sluglines, character tags, and dialogue lines. Learn how to format a screenplay, up next.