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Script Formatting for Animation

by Paul T. Abramson and David D. Williamson

First, a little background on the writers. We first met at an ASIFA Cel Sale in 1985 and found we shared similar interests and goals in the animation field. Since then, we have co-written numerous theatrical and television concepts and screenplays for both live-action and animation.

The first draft of the feature animation screenplay is called the "Writer's Draft" and follows the same basic format as for live-action. This is also called a "reading script." It is extremely simple and not what the motion picture industry refers to as a "shooting script." Do yourself a favor and politely ignore confusing suggestions from non-writers with conflicting views on how to write your first script.

Keep the formatting simple, akin to using an old IBM Selectric typewriter. You turn it on, set your tabs, crank in your paper, and after a period ranging between ten seconds and three hours, you start pecking away. If you are fortunate enough to have a bare bones word processing program sitting on your hard drive, or a script formatting program, take advantage of it. Many offer time saving key coding short cuts that mean, you set your tabs once and leave it at that!

Basic Guidelines for Animation Screenplays
After studying many animation screenplays, most while working as the Gods of the Copy Room at the William Morris Agency, we include here the basic features we encountered most often in animation specs.

Typeface: Courier font, 10 characters per inch.
Avoid distracting, exotic typefaces. They scream "amateur" to industry pros.
TABS and "zones" in Pica (10 CPI) columns (COL'S):
MARGINS @ COL'S 15 (1 1/2 inches from left edge of paper) and 73 (7 3/10 inches from left edge of paper).
ACTION SLUGS between main margins, blank lines before and after.
DIALOGUE fits between COL'S 25 (2 1/2 inches) and 58 (5 8/10 inches), single-spacing within Dialogue.
PERSONAL DIRECTION @ COL 30 (3 inches), single-spacing.
CHARACTER NAME @ COL 35 (3 1/2 inches), single-spacing between Name, Direction & Dialogue.
PAGE NUMBER on line 3 of Header @ COL 75 (7 1/2 inches).
BODY of script from line 7 to line 60.
SCENE TRANSITIONS @ COL 60 (6 inches).

2. Begin your script with "FADE IN:", end with "FADE OUT", and never use scene numbers or "CONTINUED" at top or bottom of each page.

3. When breaking up dialogue across two pages, use "(MORE)" (typed @ Character Name TAB, COL 35) at the bottom of the page and "(CONT'D)" to right of Character Name at top of next page.

4. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SLUGS are preceded and followed by a blank line.

A. PRIMARY or LOCATION SLUGS: Typed at the left margin and in ALL CAPS. For example, the included script page has the transition "CUT TO:" and is followed by "INT. THE BELLS' PANTRY - DAY." The basic format is: Interior (INT.)/Exterior (EXT.), Camera Angle/Distance, Scene Location, and Time of Day.

B. SECONDARY SLUGS: These indicate either cut to new character or camera angle for emphasis in new scene, or a restaging shot of the same group of characters. For example: "ANGLE ON WOLF PACK." You can follow this up with an action as if it is one, continuous sentence:


plummeting earthward, unconscious."

5. Type the names of new key characters in UPPER CASE the first time the character is introduced.

6. A fast group of gags/events is handled economically as...

A) Shot #1
B) Shot #2
C) And so forth...

7. When your character delivers a line off screen...

Dialogue, dialogue, and still more dialogue.

8. When your character's dialogue is interrupted by an action slug, include the term "continuing" in the personal direction when he/she resumes speaking:

(fed up)
Sudden silence.

VOICE (V.0.)
(continuing; with energetic efficiency)
Very well then. Break - time - is
over! If - you are quite ready to

We've included a sample page from one of our most.recent scripts. There are several more formatting basics to cover, but we will touch on them in future articles. See you then!

The creative writing team of Paul T. Abramson and David D. Williamson has been specializing in family films, comedy, and feature animation screenplays since 1987.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.