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Formatting A Spec Script: What Needs to be in ALL CAPS?

March 2, 2015

Last week I briefly touched on a few of the differences between spec scripts and shooting scripts. Today I will talk about what should and should not be put in all capital letters in a SPEC SCRIPT. A shooting script will have words in all caps littered throughout the entire script. Often times they may appear to be randomly placed. A spec script has a very limited number of words that should be in all caps.

In a spec script, the first thing that should always be in all caps, is FADE IN:. You will also see that in a shooting script. Next comes the slugline, or scene heading. In both spec scripts and shooting scripts, sluglines should always be in all caps. I describe exactly what should be in a slugline in a previous blog. Now let us discuss action lines.

What words should be in all caps in the action lines? This is where spec scripts and shooting scripts differ greatly. Most of what you’ll find online will be shooting scripts. Shooting scripts are more of a production document than they are for reading. There is really only one thing that should be in all caps in a spec script, and that is character names. Even then, the character name should only be in all caps once: when the character is first introduced. At no other time should the character name be put in all capital letters in the action lines. In the character line, when you type the character’s name just before you type their dialogue, the name will always be in all caps. In parentheses next to the name, voice indicators such as (V.O.), (O.C.), and (O.S.) will be in all caps, too.

It is perfectly acceptable to put sounds in all caps in the action line. An example would be: “The car’s tires SQUEAL as the getaway driver speeds away from the crime scene.” The “squeal” is the sound that the car’s tires make and that sound may need to be added into the film later. Think of the show The Duke’s of Hazzard. Their tires were always SQUEALING… even on the dirt roads. Those squeals were added during post-production. Now, although it is acceptable, that doesn’t mean that sounds NEED to be in all caps. Just keep in mind; if you put one sound in all caps, you must put all sounds in all caps. The only exception being human sounds. A person screams, they don’t SCREAM. A crowd cheers, they don’t CHEER. You get the idea. If you want to be safe, don’t put any sounds in all caps. Speaking of human sounds, that brings me to dialogue

Often times new writers want to put certain words of dialogue in all caps in order to show that the character is yelling REALLY LOUDLY. This is not necessary. A simple exclamation point will do the job perfectly. And just use one exclamation point. There is no need to follow a shout with 3 to 5 exclamation points. That just makes your script look like a used car ad and makes you look like an amateur. Some people also like to put song lyrics in all caps when being sung by a character. I won’t say that this is wrong, but I will say that according to The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, “If you wish to emphasize a word, do not place it in CAPS, italics, or bold; instead underscore it.”

What else should be in all caps? Inserts should be, but only the word INSERT and the object after it, nothing else. For example, if you want to insert a note, it would look something like: INSERT – THE NOTE, which reads:. Then you’d format the next line as dialogue and put the contents of the note in quotation marks. Montages should be formatted as scene headings and everything that follows the word montage should be in all caps, as well. Example: MONTAGE – SUZY AND FRANK HAVE FUN. And of course when we return back to the scene: END MONTAGE. Finally, at the end of your script, FADE OUT. should be in all caps, too.

One other thing that can be in all caps in a spec script is words that are meant to be seen and read. For instance: Joe looks down at the newspaper. The headline reads: “STATISTICS SHOW THAT TEEN PREGNANCY DROPS OFF SIGNIFICANTLY AFTER AGE 25”. There may be some other things that are acceptable being in all caps, but if it doesn’t NEED to be; make it easy on yourself. Don’t put it all caps. Until next week, happy writing.

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