Texting in the Movies

I am frequently asked how to format text messages and email messages while maintaining the script’s “readability.” There are several methods depending on your dramatic purpose. All of the examples below are correctly formatted.


by David Trottier

In the first example, Sharon receives a text message from someone that she (Sharon) wants to show to Cynthia.

INT. SHARON’S ROOM – DAY

Sharon displays her iPhone for Cynthia to see. The text message reads: “I’m engaged!”

It’s important to put quotation marks arphone_set_01_ai10-1113vv-vound anything you want the movie-going audience to see and read. If the text message is misspelled, show the misspelling. If you want to emphasize the message so that the reader doesn’t miss it, then you might use the following approach:

Sharon displays her iPhone for Cynthia to see.

ON THE IPHONE SCREEN

the text message reads:

“I’m engaged!”

BACK TO SCENE

As you can see, you should indent the text message just as you would dialogue. Handle email conversations in the same way. Here’s an example.

Sharon reads the email on her laptop.

ON THE LAPTOP SCREEN

“I’m engaged!”

BACK TO SHARON’S ROOM

The following is a correct revision of the exact same situation:

Sharon reads the email on her laptop.

ON THE MONITOR

“I’m engaged!”

BACK TO SCENE

As an alternative to the heading BACK TO SCENE or BACK TO SHARON’S ROOM, you could focus solely on Sharon’s reaction to reading the email, as illustrated below.

(Incidentally, if you decide to use a character’s name as a secondary scene heading, keep in mind that, in so doing, you are communicating to the reader that you want the camera on that character until the next heading appears. In other words, if you want to describe something happening elsewhere in the room, you will need to indicate that new location in a new scene heading.)

SHARON

jumps joyfully from her desk, grabs her iPhone, and starts texting.

ON SHARON’S IPHONE SCREEN

“Guess what happened?”

BACK TO SHARON

who suddenly becomes aware of her blaring TV set.

ON SHARON’S TV

A NEWS REPORTER holds a paper in his hand.

NEWS REPORTER
This just in. Alice is engaged.

As you can see from the above examples, you can use the same format for emails, text messages, and TV announcements, and you can use a variety of styles. Here is an additional example.

Sharon glances at the email on her laptop. It reads: “We’re engaged!”

Sharon jumps joyfully from her desk, grabs her cell, and starts texting.

INSERT – SHARON’S IPHONE, which reads:N

“Guess what happened?”

BACK TO SHARON’S ROOM

Girl Receiving A Text MessageOr you could end with BACK TO SCENE or BACK TO SHARON

In the above example, I inserted the INSERT, but I could just as easily have written the following:

Sharon jumps joyfully from her desk, grabs her iPhone, and starts texting: “Guess what happened?”

As you can see, in formatting, there is often more than one way to skin a cat, depending on your purpose, the amount of space you have, and how readable you want your script to be. Use the method or methods that best suit you, and keep writing!

* * *

And incidentally, if you’re wondering how to indent messages (as described above) using Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft, please follow the instructions below.

If you use Movie Magic Screenwriter, select the “Action” element. Then click on “Format” on the top toolbar and then “Cheat” and “Element” (F3). Select the margins you want (2.5 on the left and 2.5 on the right).

If you use Final Draft, make sure your ruler is visible at the top of the document. If not, click “View,” then click on “Ruler.” Select the “Action” element. Select the paragraph you want to indent. Then, with your mouse, grab the little square bottom of the hourglass at the left of the ruler and drag it to 2.5, and grab the margin marker on the right and move it to 6.0.

If you’d like to keep this new element for future screenplays, follow these directions: Click on “Format” and then “Elements.” You’ll see a list of elements. Below that, click on “New.” At the top left, name the element; for example, “Special indent.” Under the “Paragraph” tab, under “Indents,” select 2.5 for your left margin and 6.0 for your right margin. Click “OK.” To save as a permanent template, click “File” and “Save as.” You should be able to find your way from there.

-David Trottier

[box]
Dave TrottierDavid Trottier has sold or optioned ten screenplays (three produced) and helped hundreds of writers break into the writing business.
He is an award-winning teacher and in-demand script consultant, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, and friendly host of keepwriting.com.

[/box]

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *