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Basic Screenplay Glossary

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/22/2010

Here are some basic screenwriting terms that people will need to know when working on their screenplay.

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    The Need for a Screenplay Glossary

    Screenplays and screenwriting is, in and of itself, a very unique writing form because it has a standardized screenplay format that is common among the industry because it has to be read and interpreted by a lot of different types of professions and individuals. This means that the screenplay format and screenplay structure is going to be much more common between different screenplays than other literary forms, which allows screenplay terms to become much more common and used. When you are working on screenwriting you are going to need to address many of the common screenwriting terms so that you can keep in mind the standards set for both the screenplay format and the screenplay structure that is often followed. Here is a basic screenplay glossary, outlining different screenwriting terms that you are going to need to know when working on your screenplay.

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    Beat

    A screenplay beat can actually refer to a couple different things. First, a beat in a screenplay can indicate a literal beat in the dialogue. What this means is that you have placed the word BEAT in between two lines of dialogue to indicate that a little time has passed between these moments and that there has been a little bit of a shift, or beat.

    The other type of beat that would be indicated in a screenplay glossary would be the story beats that would be in a screenplay. This would indicate the main beats that would happen a few times in a story that indicate action moments that mark moments in the script.

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    FADE IN

    FADE IN is a specific line, and format, used in your screenplay to indicate a literal fade transition. This FADE IN is display in all capitals and is only really acceptable at the beginning of the opening scene as you would not normally indicate these kind of visual elements.

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    CONTINUOUS

    In the opening slug line of a scene in your screenplay you are going to have an indication of DAY or NIGHT, which is in line with the screenplay format. Instead of this you can put CONTINUOUS if it is a scene that is continuing directly from the previous one. You could actually use this device on several scenes that run into each other, such as in a chase scene.

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    EXT / INT

    In your slug line you are always going to indicate if it is in an INT, or interior location, or EXT, an exterior location. These abbreviations are always included and cannot be left off because it will help the production coordinator to know what they have to prepare for.

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    FAVOR ON

    What FAVOR ON means in the screenplay format is that in a scene the camera is supposed to favor a specific character more than others. Only indicate this if it is absolutely necessary as you are not going to want to be including directions that the director or the director of photography would be giving in the production situation.

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    V.O.

    V.O. simply means voice over, and you may want to note that a specific series of lines are in V.O. This will often happen for a narrator or someone who is talking over a series of images, but not indicated to actually be in the physical space where those images are coming from.

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    CUT TO

    CUT TO is a transition direction that means a direct cut from one shot to another. This can happen more often than the FADE IN in the screenplay if you need to indicate that a certain shot is important to come after another.

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    Insert

    The insert is a type of shot that is going to be the direct view of the camera even though it may not be indicated by the scene as a whole. These inserts will likely be shot outside of the pattern of the regular film coverage, and may be a specific look on a face or object. For example, if you are writing a scene where two people are arguing about a cell phone you may want to put in an insert of a cell phone. Only include the insert if it is vitally important to your screenplay.

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    Parentheticals

    A parenthetical is a device that is permissible in the screenplay format that is included in the dialogue. It is a direction to the character of how to say the dialogue, and is included only if the reader may not be able to decode the intent of the line.

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    SUPER

    SUPER means superimpose and is going to indicate that one image is to be superimposed onto another, if that is the intent as listed in the screenplay. Superimposing images is not the most common filmic device, so its inclusion will likely indicate a visual theme you are trying to establish in your film.