Screenplays are written in a very specific format. Unlike prose, where the author can use any mixture of font sizes and styles to convey their message, screenwriters have to use a rigid style with no variation.
The traditional screenplay style is designed to be as clear and straightforward as possible. It ensures that all the necessary information is there, but it’s not distracting or confusing.
Screenplays use industry-standard terminology and abbreviations to help organize the text and make it more readable for all involved in the production
They use a variety of terms and abbreviations to refer to specific actions on the part of the characters.
Many of the terms used in screenplays are unique to the medium, and many terms are abbreviated.
Below is a list of common abbreviations found in screenplays and their definitions.
What Are screenwriting terms?
Screenwriting terms are words used in the art of screenwriting that most people don’t know what they mean.
The screenplay is the blueprint for a motion picture. It contains the major elements of the film, including dialogue, character descriptions, setting descriptions and plot.
A screenplay is similar to a stage play: it describes in detail what characters say and do in each scene. Like a stage play, it does not describe camera angles or editing. These are left to the director.
Screenplay Terms And Abbreviations
For example, “Action” might be used as a transition to indicate that a new scene is beginning.
Screenwriters also use action to describe physical actions taken by characters or objects during filming or production.
For example, it’s common for an action line to read: “CUT TO: (Blackness). (Silence).”
This describes an editing transition in which one shot fades into another with no visual or audible elements.
There are other times when writers will call for an “action” line, such as when they want music to play under a scene or the director needs technical information about the shot.
An act break is a point at which one act ends and another begins in a script. In traditional three-act structure, acts are separated by natural breaks in the story.
Act One ends when the protagonist begins his journey into unfamiliar territory, and Act Two ends with him encountering challenges he can’t overcome using ordinary methods.
A screenplay is a written work by a screenwriter for a movie or television show.
It is what is used as the basis for the movie and it’s what both the actors and directors use to know what they have to do to make the movie or TV show.
A beat sheet is a document that contains an outline of all the major beats for your script. They will include lines of dialogue, stage directions, etc.
Basically everything you need that isn’t actual storyboards for your script.
Act 1 refers to the first act of a film or TV show.
It is typically anywhere from 15-30 pages long, depending on how much information needs to be given in order to set up the storyline and characters.
Act 2 refers to either act 2 in a three-act structure or act 2 in a two-act structure.
Act 3 refers to either act 3 in a three-act structure.
Glossary Of Screenwriting Terms
Screenwriting is a very specific type of writing. It is used to turn a story into a movie, but it also has its own rules, which have developed over time.
Some of the more common screenwriting terms are listed below.
Cliffhanger – A cliffhanger is a suspenseful ending to a movie that leaves the viewer wanting more.
The idea behind this type of ending is to get an audience to come back for the next installment. This type of storyline was created by Edward Stratemeyer as he published and wrote numerous “Ginger” and “Tom Swift” series books in the early 1900s.
Tie-in – Tie-ins are books or movies that are connected to a popular TV series or movie. Tie-ins can be considered a form of cross marketing, which is when two businesses partner together to promote each other.
Tie-ins were born out of necessity, as they were used to promote upcoming movies and TV shows in order to keep people interested, so they would buy tickets once the program started broadcasting.
Some television shows or movies need no introduction, but for those that do, tie-in novels can provide details about the story and background information on characters that may not have been included in the original work.
Screenwriting Language Explained
Screenwriters often use common phrases when writing on a page. Here is an explanation of the common screenwriting language used.
NAME: FADE IN: This is the traditional old school way of beginning a script. Although it has fallen out of favor, many writers still use it as a standard.
TITLE: This is the name of the production. It usually comes in over a black screen and we then cut to the opening scene.
WRITER: The name of the person writing the script.DIRECTOR: The name of the director shooting the movie.
SYNOPSIS: A short summary of what happens in our 90-120 page screenplay. Sometimes it’s included, but most often it isn’t necessary as we experience the story onscreen via an opening scene or title card that informs us what’s going on before we start reading.
CARD DIALOGUE: This is when two people are talking and we see their names at either end of a line, but not their faces or bodies, just their names.
CAPTION DIALOGUE: This is when two people are talking and we see their names at either end of a line, but not their faces or bodies, just their names and sometimes a short descriptive phrase.
What Does TX Mean In A Script?
Many scripts are not written in the normal right-to-left format. Instead, they are formatted in a way that starts on the left and goes to the right.
This type of script is called inverted script. (It’s also known as “mirrored” or “back-to-front” script.)Inverted script is used for a number of reasons, mainly to accommodate an artist who can’t read from left to right because of a disability.
It also makes reading easier for people whose first language is not English. I know that I myself find it much easier to read inverted scripts, probably because I am left-handed and was taught to read backwards!
Sometimes you will see scripts that start with a capital letter but then don’t have any capital letters for the rest of the page or show no capitalization at all.
This is called small caps, which means that all letters are the same size (usually slightly larger than normal lowercase letters)but without ascenders or descenders (the parts of certain letters that go up or down).
Small caps are sometimes used by manga artists whose work has been translated into English as well as by some comic book letterers to create a more “manga-like”
What Is BG In The Screenplay?
What is BG in a screenplay? Back ground. Your back ground is your life.
It’s who you are, what you’ve done, and where you’re from. Until you start writing a script, you might not think it’s important to know your back ground but it is.
The back ground of a character is what makes up who they are and why they do the things they do.The back ground of a character gives the audience an understanding of why they act the way they do.
For example, there’s nothing wrong with having a main character that comes from wealth but until we know that they grew up in wealth it doesn’t mean anything to us. Or if we don’t know where the character lives, it’s hard to get an understanding of their lifestyle.
You can have all the detail in the world about your main characters back ground but if you never put it into your script then no one will ever know about it and it won’t matter.
It isn’t necessary for every single detail about your character to be included in the script but there are some key details that need to be written down or at least discussed with your director and producer before filming begins.
What Does ECU Mean In The Screenplay?
ECU stands for Extreme Close Up and is a technique used in photography, filmmaking and television production to emphasize, or to reveal something in particular. A good example of this is during an interview or speech where the camera focuses on a person’s face, close up.
ECU’s can be used as a transition tool as well.
In photography and cinematography, an extreme close-up (ECU) is a shot that tightly frames part of the subject, usually using a wide aperture. The term is also sometimes used to describe the point of view shot where the subject is so close that it fills most or all of the screen.
The ECUs are often used in films to provide context concerning people or objects that previously appeared in a wide shot so that they can be more fully explained by following shots with wider angles. ECUs are also seen when seeing objects from extreme distances such as mountains, buildings or outer space.
Some films will use ECUs as transitions between two other shots or scenes. In television production, an extreme close-up may be considered an “insert” (as opposed to a “cutaway”, which shows something outside the primary scene).
What Does SFS Mean In Script?
So you’ve got a movie script that you’re looking to get made, and you’ve run into the term: SFS. What does that mean?
What Does SFS Mean In Script?SFS stands for “Shared FIlm Scenario” or “Shared Film Script,” whichever way you want to look at it.
It is a contract wherein 2 or more film studios agree to share the costs and profits of one single film project.
This means that instead of making the same type of movie over and over again, the studios can split the costs for each other’s films, thus increasing their film output, but at a reduced cost per film.
Because of this, there can often be multiple scenarios for one film project.While this is all well and good for the studios, it can cause problems if you’re a screenwriter who has penned a script that has attracted the attention of multiple studios.
You may have gotten some offers from each studio to make your film, but they are all set on different scenarios than what you originally intended.This is where things can get ugly if you don’t watch out.
Do not sign any contracts with these studios unless they state clearly which scenario they are planning.
What Does Action Mean In The Screenplay?
As a writer, you need to know what “action” means when it comes to screenwriting. If the reader sees a lot of action in your screenplay, they’ll know that you are an exciting writer who gets right to the point.
TIP: A screenplay may have a LOT of action. That’s good! The more action there is, the faster people will read it! But if a screenplay has too much action, it can make readers feel like they’re being led by the nose and that’s not good.
In the movie world, “action” means something we can see with our eyes, anything that takes place on camera. So if you have something happening off-camera, it’s not considered “action.”
What Does A Beat Mean In The Screenplay?
A beat is a term in screenwriting that indicates a visual or emotional pause in the story. It is a strategy used to slow down the action, either for dramatic effect or to make clear what is going on emotionally with the characters.
A beat can also be used to build tension, usually when an event occurs that threatens the protagonist’s goal or creates new problems for them.
Scenes are split into “beats” which are moments of action.
Beats are then broken down into “action” and “reaction,” which describes how the character reacts to events that occur around them.The following article will explain beats, action, and reaction as they relate to screenwriting.
What Are Screenplay Beats?
Beats are very brief moments in a screenplay where something happens but nothing changes. Sometimes, a beat will not even contain any dialogue; it will simply be a moment where something happens, such as when two characters look at each other silently from across a room.
These beats often serve a purpose of slowing down the pace of the story for dramatic effect, allowing for the audience and readers to reflect on what has happened in order to grasp what is going on with the characters emotionally.
What Does ECU Mean In The Screenplay?
What does ECU mean in the screenplay? It stands for Extreme Close Up.
An extreme close up (ECU) is a very tight shot, usually of an actor’s face, which shows a lot of detail.
Often these shots are used to make a visual connection between two characters who can’t actually see each other.Tight close ups are often used to show how characters feel rather than what they look like.
See the image below from the film Panic Room where the mother played by Jodie Foster is trapped in her safe room and has a panic attack. The camera focuses on her face which is contorted with fear and panic as she imagines what might be happening outside.
Extreme close ups are often used when one character is thinking about another character as well as when one character gazes at something that represents their true love such as an engagement ring or photo album.
Here’s an example from the film, Titanic:The camera is focused on Jack Dawson played by Leonardo DiCaprio’s hand as he pulls out Rose Dewitt Bukater’s (Kate Winslet) photo album.
He looks at her picture and then looks away sadly, clearly thinking about their brief encounter.
What Does CONT’D Mean In The Screenplay?
CONT’D is an abbreviation that stands for continued, and it’s used in screenplays to indicate a character speaking when the time lapse on the page would be too long to put into dialog.
Consider the following example:A few moments later, the crew appears in the mess hall. They sit down at their usual table.
CONT’D:”After we dropped of Captain Janeway and her crew, we returned to Starbase 10.”The above is just one line of dialog that takes place over several minutes.
It would be quite challenging to write out this conversation, so a CONTINUED tag is used to indicate the next line of dialog. In a screenplay, it is common for two characters to speak at once without the “CONT’D” tag speaking over each other.
In most films, however, only one character speaks at once anyway and we see who’s talking by using camera shots or close-ups.
If a specific character has an exchange with another character in which they are both speaking at once you should use “HIS/HER” or “YOUR” when writing out their lines of dialogue.
What Does An Ellipsis Mean In The Screenplay?
Have you ever written to someone and then left a letter out of the word that comes before or after? You may say, “I am going to the store.
What are you going to do?” The ellipsis is used in writing just as it is in speech.
It means that the writer has left out a few words.The use of ellipses varies from writer to writer, but they usually indicate an unfinished thought or a long pause in the action.
Sometimes writers use them to skip over dialogue because they don’t want to reveal what the character is saying.Ellipses are most commonly found in novels, but they can also be found in screenplays.
Screenwriters use them to imply a pause or hesitation in dialogue or when a character doesn’t finish his or her sentence on purpose.They also use them when they want to speed up the pace of the screenplay, taking out unnecessary words and sentences that slow down the action.
There are three types of ellipses:
- One dot indicates an omission of one word from the original sentence.
- Two dots indicate an omission of more than one word from the original sentence.
- Three dots indicate an omission of several words from the original sentence.
What Does EXT Mean In The Screenplay?
EXT stands for extra, a person in a film who is not part of the main plot. An extra is usually an un-named character and are used when there is a need for large numbers of actors.
These characters are typically seen in the background and do not play an important role in the plot. Usually extras have no lines in the film at all.
The main function of extras is to portray a crowd or group of people (such as a wedding party or funeral attendees).
Extras are often used to fill out the background of a shot or scene. They can be categorized into types based on their use on screen:
Background extras : these are the most common extras and will appear in large numbers in most scenes.
Background extras will be dressed similarly to other characters to distinguish them from foreground actors but they often wear clothes which have been worn by other people before them and may even come from second-hand stores.
These extras are generally low paid and will usually work on several productions during one pay period. Background extras often move about during filming so that it appears there is a large number of people present at any given time.
In some cases it is possible that hundreds of different people are used as background extras on a single film set and many experienced background actors.
What Does INT Mean In The Screenplay?
INT, short for Interior, is a screenplay element used to indicate the location of a scene. It’s most often used to denote an interior location, but it can also be used for explaining exterior shots.
The INT element is most commonly seen in screenplays intended for film production. There are also elements such as EXT (Exterior) and INTERCUT (which explains how two scenes are related).
Most of these elements are optional, but they can be useful if you’re trying to get your screenplay produced.INT is usually written as one word — “INTERIOR” — and it’s placed directly at the beginning of a scene heading.
Even though the word “INTERIOR” is written out, you should still capitalize the “I”.You’ll see this element written in scripts under the following circumstances:Scene takes place entirely within one room or building, or on-location outside with no discernible set.
Scene takes place in one room that has an opening for a door and/or window(s), but the action inside the room doesn’t require that any door or window be opened or closed.Scene takes place completely within a vehicle such as an airplane, car, boat, etc.,
What Does O.S. Mean In The Screenplay?
O.S. means off screen. A character’s reaction to something that happened elsewhere in the scene.
Telling what happened on screen is easy, telling what happened offscreen is a little trickier, but it can be done. Here are two ways to do it:
1. Have one of the characters react to something that happened offscreen.
2. Show the audience what happened offscreen by using an insert or cutaway shot.
Here are three examples of O.S.:
INT. OFFICE — DAY The boss hands Bob a pink slip and sends him packing. BOB Thank you for opportunity, sir! I’ve learned so much here… Bob walks out into hallway where his co-workers are waiting with cake and balloons. They jump up and down cheering while Bob makes small talk with them…
Simply showing the audience what happens off screen can be tricky because you don’t want to tell the story twice and bore your audience, but if you come up with a clever way to have one character react to another characters reaction then you can get away with it, as in option number one above.
If that doesn’t work for your script just show them what happens in an OTS (on-the-shoulder) or insert shot.
What Does VO Mean In The Screenplay?
When you see VO or V.O. in the screenplay, it means Voice Over.
It’s the part of the script where you will hear the character’s thoughts and feelings about what is happening in the movie.
Here is an example from the screenplay for Thelma and Louise :
INT. MOTEL ROOM – LATER
What makes me do this? What makes me go out and kill somebody? I don’t know.
Maybe I was mad at myself because I couldn’t be with you anymore, or maybe it was because I had a good feeling that you didn’t want to be with me, but whatever it was, my head just went crazy.
And I did something terrible; something that’ll probably haunt me for the rest of my life…You can see how we don’t really need to see what they are doing while they are having their thoughts because we already know what they are doing -they are sitting in a motel room discussing why they killed another person — so all we need to hear is what they are thinking which is VO or V.O..
What Does CUT TO Mean In The Screenplay?
CUT TO is an editing term used in writing screenplays, and it’s a command for the editor to cut from one shot or scene to another. These are also called cuts or transitions.
The transition from one shot to another can be done by cutting from one angle to another, or it can be as simple as freezing the frame on one shot, then starting the next shot on a different model.
When someone says “cut”, that’s what they’re talking about.
You’ll see this instruction a lot in screenplays. It’s used after dialogue and action is finished so that the editor knows it’s time to cut away from the current take and get ready for the next shot.
The editor will know when to cut based on how many lines of dialogue you have in a particular section.
CUT TO: INT. — BAR — DAY (2 YEARS AGO) The bar is empty except for Jack drinking at the corner of the bar and OLDER MAN sitting at a table with newspaper in front of him reading
CUT TO: INT. — BAR — NIGHT (2 YEARS AGO) The bar is now filled with people drinking and having fun
What Does DISSOLVE Mean In The Screenplay?
A dissolve is a transition that occurs when one scene fades out, while the next scene fades in. We see this type of transition in movies all the time.
A dissolve can be used to show a passage of time and they are often used to transition from one scene to another, when there is no natural cut. They can also be used as an alternative to a fade-to-black, but this is a more experimental technique.
TIP:If you want to learn about how dissolves are actually made, check out our blog post on How Dissolves Are Made In Film .Dissolves are frequently employed during non-dialogue scenes such as long shots of characters or scenery, or even flashbacks (or flash forwards).
Sometimes directors will use a dissolve if they want the audience to focus their attention on the dialogue rather than the visuals at hand.Darkness and light are very often used together in dissolves.
The way that darkness is used with light gives us a sense of mood and tone for the scene before us – it often tells us whether we should expect happy or sad things to happen.
What Does FADE IN FADE OUT Mean In The Screenplay?
FADE IN: The beginning of a shot. It is the opposite of FADE OUT, which is the end of a shot.
The beginning of the shot is marked by a fade in, while the end of a shot is marked by a fade out.That’s it!
Fade in fade out mean basically what you’ll see on screen – an image appears on screen and gradually becomes clearer, over time.
A fade out is the exact opposite: an image gradually disappears from screen, becoming more and more blurry until it’s gone.The only other thing that can occur during either a fade in or a fade out is that you can include cuts within the shot.
So, for example, if you have someone disappearing into the distance at the end of a scene and you want to show him walking away from camera, you can cut to him as he’s doing so (using a cut instead of fading out) and then have him fading out in the background.
Fade in/out aren’t their own camera shots though; they’re transitions between shots.
Depending on your software, sometimes they’re labeled “fade”, other times they’re called “dissolve”. They’re still transitions between shots though!
What Does POV Mean In The Screenplay?
What does POV mean in the screenplay? That’s what I’m here to tell you.It stands for Point Of View, and it is referring to who the story is being told from.
You see, movies are not just visual experiences with music, actors and effects. Movies are a storytelling experience.
Telling a good story is very hard because there are so many ways to tell one. It’s a very subjective thing.
But there are certain rules that filmmakers have come up with over the years to make sure the story is told the right way. One of those things is Point Of View, or POV for short.
Most movies tell their stories from one of three different points of view:
Ist Person – This is when the movie is being shot through one character’s eyes, seeing everything exactly as they do, as if you were them. This perspective usually works better in books than it does in movies.
In fact, many times a 1st person POV script will be rejected by studios all together because it can be too limiting for such an expansive medium as film.
2nd Person – This type of POV is exactly like the 1st person except that instead of “I” it says “You”.
APPRECIATED. Good documentation.