Organizations such as the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) allow a screenwriter to register his rights to a screenplay for television programs, feature films and other literary endeavors. Writers should submit screenplays to registration organizations pnly when the work is finished, according to the WGA, because the work cannot be altered once the writer submits it. Proper screenplay packaging and formatting criteria prescribe standards for fonts, cover pages, dialogue, stage direction and even binding the screenplay. Several formats exist for screenplays, though most studios prefer that screenwriters submit a spec screenplay, one that focuses on the story instead of staging directions.
Formatting the Document
Type the screenplay in 12-point Courier font using a word processing program. Movie studios use this font size and type in order to time a screenplay, because one page in 12-point Courier translates roughly into one minute on the screen, according to screenwriting.info.
Set the document's top, bottom and right-side margins between 0.5 and 1 inch, then set the left margin between 1.2 and 1.6 inches. The extra space on the left margin allows room for the screenplay to be bound after it is printed, according to screenwriting.info. Place page numbers in the top right corner of the header in plain numerals with a period following each number.
Center the title of your screenplay on one line of the title page, followed by your name on the following line. Unless you have an agent, include your contact information in the bottom left corner of the title page, according to brassbrad.com; if you have an agent, include her contact information. Do not include a page number on the title page.
Formatting the Story
Use consistent margins to distinguish scene descriptions, dialogue and character stage directions. Scene descriptions should have a left margin between 1.5 and 2 inches and a right margin of 1 inch. Dialogue should have a left margin of 3 inches and a right margin of about 2.25 inches; character stage directions should have a 3-inch right margin and a left margin of about 3.7 inches, according to Virginia Commonwealth University.
Center the title of your story in quotation marks on the page following your title page. Begin each scene in the screenplay with a heading in all capital letters, which is called a slugline and which begins with INT. or EXT., meaning interior or exterior. Name the scene's location next, then briefly identify the time of day, according to Southern Methodist University.
Provide a description of each scene after the slugline, but do not provide stage directions. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, of which the screenplay is a part, so leave staging the actors to the studio producing the screenplay. A spec screenplay does not include stage directions because, in most cases, the production studio will change the screenwriter's stage directions.
Identify which character is speaking immediately above her dialogue, using parenthetical descriptions such as "slowly" or "whispering" sparingly to describe how the character delivers the line. Screenplays for feature films are typically between 95 and 125 pages, according to screenwriting.info, though most screenplays seldom exceed 114 pages. Television screenplays vary in length depending upon how the series is structured.
Printing, Binding and Mailing the Screenplay
Print the screenplay on standard letter-sized paper, single-sided only. Ensure the ink or toner is dry, then use a three-hole punch to put eyelet holes in the left-side margin. The eyelet holes on each page must align with those on all other pages.
Place your screenplay between two pieces of card stock, which constitute its front and back cover. The covers should have eyelet holes that align with those on the screenplay and should have no writing or decoration, according to brassbrad.com. Bind the screenplay between its covers by clasping a brass brad through each eyelet.
Place the screenplay into a letter-sized document mailer. Address the mailer and make sure to include postage and a return address. In addition to proper formatting and packaging conventions, observe all guidelines and requirements of the organization to which you are submitting the screenplay.
Ben Taylor has been writing since 2005 and has had work published by WEKU-FM and West Virginia Public Broadcasting both on air and online. Taylor holds a Master of Arts in English from Eastern Kentucky University and currently teaches composition and ESL there.