Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

3 Ways to Write a Phone Conversation in a Traditional Screenplay, According to Screenwriter Doug Richardson

When is a phone call not just a phone call? When you have to show it, not tell it. How do you write a phone call in a screenplay? There are at least three different scenarios to consider when you want to insert a telephone conversation in your screenplay. We asked Screenwriter Doug Richardson (“Bad Boys,” “Hostage,” “Die Hard 2”) how he approaches telephone conversations in his screenplays, and he said screenwriters should consider these phone call situations:

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  • Are we seeing and hearing only one character?

  • Are we seeing only one character, but hearing at least two?

  • Are we seeing and hearing both characters?

Give this some thought: It may be important to see both characters, perhaps because they’re doing something that matters to the story.

“Are you seeing both sides of the conversation? Is Phil talking from his kitchen, and Dave, who he’s talking to, is talking from his car? Are you going to be intercutting between the two? Then you need to write a scene for Dave in his car, as well as Phil in his kitchen,” Richardson told us.

Or maybe, we only need to see and hear one character, and their action in the scene speaks volumes on its own. Determine what type of phone call scenario will be strongest in your story.

“Let’s say we’re listening to Phil talk on the phone call in the kitchen, but we don’t need to see Dave in the car,” Richardson said. Perhaps, we don’t need to know where Dave is calling from at all. “All we need to do is hear his voice. Then, you would just stay in the kitchen with Phil speaking on the phone with Dave. And every time Dave was speaking, you would have a parenthetical that would be next to the character’s name that would say (over phone).”

Once you’ve settled on how to show the phone call, learn how to write that scene in a traditional script. And guess what? We’ve got blogs for that! Here are three tutorials depending on your story’s scenario:

Or, read on for a synopsis of each phone call screenplay format and examples below.

How to Write a Phone Call in a Script With One Character

How do you format a telephone call in a screenplay where we only see and hear one character? The screenplay format for this kind of phone call follows a similar format for traditional dialogue. You can use beats, pauses, and action to show when the character that we do not see is talking, and how the character that we do see is reacting. For phone call format, use ellipses, parentheticals, and action description to indicate this.

Example of a Phone Call in a Screenplay Scene with One Character Using Ellipses

One Character Phone Call Using Ellipses Script Snippet

JOHNATHON

(into phone)
Hey, Shelly! It's Johnathon. How's it going?...How about that for timing?...Hey, so I was wondering if you might like to grab a cup of coffee sometime? ...You would?

Example of a Phone Call in a Screenplay Scene with One Character Using Parentheticals

One Character Phone Call Using Parentheticals Script Snippet

JOHNATHON

(into phone)

Hey, Shelly! It's Johnathon. How's it going?

(beat)

How about that for timing?

(beat)

Hey, so I was wondering if you...

Example of a Phone Call in a Screenplay Scene with One Character Using Action Description

One Character Phone Call Using Action Description Script Snippet

JOHNATHON

(into phone)
Hey, Shelly! It's Johnathon. How's it going?...How about that for timing?... Hey, so I was wondering if you might like to grab a cup of coffee sometime?...

JOHNATHON holds the phone to his ear with his shoulder and pours a glass of wine.

JOHNATHON (CONT'D)

You would? Great!...How about Friday at 10?

How to Write a Phone Call in a Script With Two Characters

How do you format a phone call in a script where we hear two characters, but only see one of them? Use V.O., or voiceover, to indicate the character’s dialogue that we hear but cannot see being spoken. If you’re more interested in the audience seeing the reactions and actions of only one character, but you need the second character to help tell the story, this is the correct scenario to choose. This is also a good option if you want to keep the location of the second character a secret from the audience for the time being.

Example of a Phone Call in a Script With Two Characters But Only One Character is Seen

Two Character Phone Call With One Character Seen Script Snippet

INT. - JOHNATHON'S APARTMENT - NIGHT

JOHNATHON nervously pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and dials SHELLY. The phone rings.

SHELLY (V.O.)

Hello?

JOHNATHON

Hey, Shelly! It's Johnathon. How's it going?

SHELLY (V.O.)

Hey, Johnathon. I'm so glad you called. Everything is good here. I just got home from work.

JOHNATHON

How about that for timing? Hey, so I was wondering if you might like to grab a cup of coffee sometime?

SHELLY (V.O.)

I would absolutely love to!

JOHNATHON

You would? Great! How about Friday at 10?

How to Write a Phone Call in a Script Where Both Characters Are Seen and Heard

To format a phone call in a screenplay where both characters are seen and heard, you’ll want to use intercuts.  First, introduce both character’s locations with master scene headings. Then, write out an intercut slugline. An intercut slugline for a phone call between two people could look like any of these three options:

  • INTERCUT CHARACTER 1 NAME / CHARACTER 2 NAME

  • INTERCUT CHARACTER 1 LOCATION / CHARACTER 2 LOCATION

  • INTERCUT PHONE CONVERSATION

Example of a Phone Call in Script Where Two Characters Are Seen and Heard

Two Character Phone Call With Both Seen and Heard Script Snippet

INT. - JOHNATHON'S APARTMENT - NIGHT

JOHNATHON nervously pull his CELL PHONE out of his pocket and dials SHELLY. The phone RINGS.

INT. - SHELLY'S HOUSE - NIGHT
SHELLY

Hello?

INTERCUT - JOHNATHON'S APARTMENT/SHELLY'S HOUSE
JOHNATHON

Hey Shelly! It's Johnathon. How's it going?

SHELLY

Hey, Johnathon. I'm so glad you called. Everything is good here. I just got home from work.

JOHNATHON

How about that for timing? Hey, so I was wondering if you might like to grab a cup of coffee sometime?

SHELLY

I would love to!

Don’t phone it in,

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