Unlike some of the other rules of traditional screenplay formatting, the rules of capitalization are not written in stone. While each writer's unique style will influence their individual use of capitalization while they're screenwriting, there are 6 general things that you should capitalize in your film script.
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What to Capitalize in Traditional Screenwriting, According to Experts and the Writing Community
As you've probably already discovered, for every rule in traditional screenwriting, there's an expert or a member of the writing community who will tell you that rule is wrong. From beginners to professionals, all screenwriters question if they're "doing it right" when it comes to formatting, and industry trends change. If you have industry access, you can always run your screenplay by a trusted advisor or friend who can tell you if your capitalization makes sense.
However, if we look at what these experts have to say about capitalizing certain words in traditional screenwriting, it seems like most agree with the following industry-standard recommendations for a feature script (television scripts can differ depending on whether it's a single-camera or a multi-camera show).
1) First-time character introductions in your script. Later, only capitalize the first letter of their name.
The first time a new character is introduced, whether in scene description, character description, or action lines, they should be capitalized if they have lines of dialogue assigned to them. This helps casting directors quickly understand what characters must be cast, and helps directors understand when a character first appears. If someone else introduces a character then their name will stay lower case but if it’s your own introduction then make sure to put all caps on the beginning of their name. All mentions that come after should capitalize the first letter of the name as normal grammar rules dictate.
The man reaches down and picks up the feather. His name is FORREST GUMP. He looks at the feather oddly, moves aside a box of chocolates from an old suitcase, then opens the case.
2) Character names above their dialogue
Character names are capitalized in the script before the dialogue begins, throughout the entire screenplay.
I could eat about a million and a half of these. My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
3) Screenwriting CAPS in scene headings and slug lines
Scene headings and slug lines are usually all caps. You want the reader to understand something that is changing in the scene, so caps will draw attention to it.
Int. - Country Doctor's Office - Greenbow, Alabama - Day (1951)
4) Character extensions for "voice-over" and "off-screen" in traditional screenwriting
When a script calls in a voice-over or "VO", it is capitalized to give the reader an indication of where the character is talking from. You'll also want to call attention to anything that is said or is happening "off-screen," so that extension should also be capitalized.
Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest...
5) Traditional Screenwriting Transitions, including FADE IN, CUT TO, INTERCUT, FADE OUT
You need to use all caps in your script for anything from FADE IN:, FADE OUT:, CUT TO: to any other type of transition. This helps call the reader's attention to the way the film will move from one scene to the next.
Ext. A Savannah Street - Day (1981)
A feather floats through the air. The falling feather.
6) Integral sounds, visual effects, or props that need to be captured in a scene
What about capitalizing sound in a script? Do you capitalize props? Integral sounds, visual effects, and props should be capitalized to indicate their importance to a scene. Not every sound is essential to a scene, and neither is every prop.
The ROAR of approaching planes is deafening. Forrest looks up in fear. Three planes dive down toward the jungle. They fire napalm as the jungle EXPLODES with massive fireballs.
Of the six uses listed above, #6 ("Integral sounds, visual effects, or props that need to be captured in a scene") is by far the most disputed among the screenwriting community. Keep in mind that not every sound, visual effect, and prop needs to be capitalized. The number one priority is that your script is as easy to read as possible. Ask yourself, "Does capitalizing this word enhance the reader's experience?" If the answer to that question is a thundering "yes," then capitalize. However, if your answer is "maybe" or "no," it is best to not capitalize. Keep your use of capitalization for this scenario limited to a minimum. NO one WANTS to read AN ENTIRE SCRIPT that IS PLAGUED with CAPITALIZATION. Less is more!
There are a number of great blog posts and forum strings on this topic. Check them out here for more!:
What are you thoughts on capitalization? Feel free to share in the comments below!
Cheers to writing!