1. Feature film script should be between 95 and 120 pages in length. Never longer. A script over 120 pages needs editing. Never shorter. A script shorter than 90 pages is too short. The perfect length is 100 pages for comedies, 110 for dramas. Cheat your margins if you have to, but better yet write and cut to the correct length.

2. Do NOT use camera directions. Ever. (Note: Historically, writers used to employ camera directions, but the practice is no longer in vogue.) Do not use words like CAMERA, CLOSE UP, LONG SHOT, DOLLY, PAN, or anything else that refers to the camera. Do not use CUT TO or any references to editing. At the beginning of the script, you may use FADE IN. At the end of the script, you may use FADE OUT. Please use a maximum of two dissolves in the entire script. If any. Dissolves are not generally well-received, disdained by directors and studio readers.

3. Dialogue should generally be one to three lines long. Only occasionally should dialogue exceed four lines. Keep it short and simple. A few monologues may be acceptable, but even they should be broken up with action (e.g. ‘he drags on a cigarette’), so they are under ten lines in length. Long stretches of one character talking are boring and hard to read.

4. Scene description should be kept to a minimum. Many studio executives and readers may actually skip over scene description. If they can’t get the story from the dialogue, some may feel frustrated and stop reading. Scene description should be one to three lines in length, and never more than five lines without a break. When describing significant amounts of action, break the description into logical paragraphs, separated by double spacing.

5. An entire scene – from one slug line to the next – ideally runs three pages or less (it can be as brief as a small fraction of a page). Never more than five pages in length. The average scene should be a page and a half or less. Larger, important scenes can run three or four pages. Please make certain the script keeps ‘moving’ or ‘flowing’ for the reader. If you have a great deal of dialogue or information, experiment with breaking the scene up into multiple locations (e.g. “Let’s get to the restaurant, and I’ll explain…”).

6. Character names should begin with different letters so the reader can more easily distinguish them. Different numbers of syllables can also help (e.g. Stan, Sue, Sam and Sara is far more challenging for the reader than Susan, Drew, Alyssa, Charlie). In particular, characters that talk to one another should have uniquely different names (e.g. not ‘Lyle’ and ‘Kyle).

7. If a particular character has few lines (half a dozen or so) and only appears in one or two scenes, it’s best to refer to that character by occupation (e.g. POLICEMAN, MAID, BARTENDER). This lets the reader know they do not have to worry about this character fitting into the story. Use a proper name only if important to do so or the character has a signficant effect on the story.

8. Do NOT use parentheticals, except when absolutely essential. Typically, a parenthetical is used to introduce a line of dialogue, describing how that line should be read (e.g. angrily, laughing, nervously). Please make every effort to avoid this device and, if you must, limit to four or fewer your use of parentheticals. The litmus test is: is it likely the reader will misinterpret this line (sarcastic: “Sure I will.). Beginning writers often make the mistake of using parentheticals consistently throughout a screenplay.

9. Slug lines – the first line of scene, describing time and place – always begin with INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior). They always end with NIGHT or DAY. Do NOT use ‘Magic Hour’, ‘Late Afternoon’, or any other such departure. Only use ‘Morning’ or ‘Sunset’ if it is critical to the timeline of the story.

10. Character names are capitalized in scene description only once, the very first time that character appears in the screenplay. Sounds are capitalized (e.g. BANG). Please don’t use this often or get carried away with capitalizing sounds (e.g. PATTER, PATTER, PATTER of feet as he SHUFFLED; or the faucet went DRIP, DRIP, DRIP as the kettle WHISTLED). Stick to loud, important sounds. If in doubt, don’t capitalize. Nothing else in scene description should be capitalized.

(Note: Long ago, writers sometimes included lighting effects, props and other capitlaized items, but these are no longer accepted practices).

Author's Bio: 

Gary Goldstein is author, speaker and Hollywood movie producer. The skills Gary brought to bear in climbing the ladder from newcomer to up-and-comer to mega-success in his business can be used to empower any business or career path. Check out our screenwriting blog and start taking your career the next level. Learn creative strategies and exponentially grow your business on his business coaching website.