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How To Format A Phone Call In A Screenplay

Adam Scott

This article will discuss how to format a phone call in a screenplay. This format is widely used and accepted in today's filmmaking and is employed by many screenwriters as the easiest way to capture a character's voice.

Phone calls in a screenplay have one main purpose: to tell the story.

Phone calls in a screenplay tend to be short. Typically, a phone call is one-half to one minute long.

But there's no restriction as to the length or the placement of a phone call in the script. A phone call could start and end mid-sentence, as well as begin and end halfway through the script.

Phone calls in a screenplay often convey a sense of urgency, frustration, or anger in a character. Many will also convey sadness, fear, joy, and a myriad of other emotions in just a phone call.

In particular, you should always check with your agents or producers if a phone call starts mid-sentence or as the scene opens. These two instances are very common, and they can completely destroy a character's emotional narrative.

So before you go placing any phone calls in your screenplay, make sure you know how to properly do it.

Phone calls in your scriptUgmonk

Let's take a look at the format I use in my scripts to help you determine the proper placement of a phone call in your screenplay.

  • Phone call
  • Story title
  • Scene headings
  • Act 1 Scene 1
  • Key points

As we've already discussed, phone calls are often short. But their placement shouldn't be limited to just a short duration.

A phone call needs to add a sense of urgency or a sense of urgency in a character that's already elevated.

Phone calls are often short, and their placement is usually dictated by their length. But the placement of a phone call can be molded to increase its impact in your screenplay.

A phone call should always raise more questions and stimulate more thoughts and feelings in the viewer. It shouldn't simply serve as a means of delivering an important piece of information to the viewer.

A phone call may simply begin and end mid-sentence. But it shouldn't simply serve as a means of delivering a piece of information.

It should raise more questions and stimulate more thoughts and feelings.

While this format is widely accepted in Hollywood as the easiest way to convey a character's voice through a phone call, many will still try to use the word "line." This is actually not correct.

As I mentioned in a previous post, dialogue only works if you understand who is saying what. Characters don’t even have to sound great.

They just need to say the right things at the right times. You need to describe the scene as if you are the killer, so you should use the dialogue as your guide.

So let’s look at the script for the movie Heat. It has some great dialog and great location descriptions in the scenes.

It also has an apartment complex that is nowhere near Miami, Florida.

“Here is a phone call of interest…”

I am already mentally picturing myself as the murderer in this scene. To make it even more accurate, here is an alternate title for the script: “Here is a phone call of interest… from one character… to another character… in a scene from a different movie.”

The other difference is that I want to leave out the parts where the main character enters the phone booth. All I want to show is the minutes-long scene with the killer and his victim.

I will be making my own scene descriptions with some dialogue that is actually in this movie:

Internal probation

A young thug working in a trailer park gives a call to a person he knows will want to hear a story from his youth. The call will take place in a phone booth somewhere in the trailer park, where the first part of the scene takes place.

After the call, the thug will knock on the door of the guy who paid him to get the story. “It’s about time for your story.”

They will walk to the bus stop. The thug will take his lady friend back to his trailer.

I will be using standard dialogue, just like in the movie. I will be making it as realistic as possible so that the reader can feel like they are listening to a conversation as if they were in the room.

We want the reader to really hear and understand the dialogue. A script is more like a radio play than a novel.

I will leave out the dialogue between the thug and his lady friend. This scene is less important to the story and will get cut before the movie gets released.

The dialogue between the thug and the guy he works for is most important. The guy will give the thug the dirt he wants on a mobster, and the thug will give him the money he wants.

This is the only time I will make the killer sound angry. I am portraying the killer as a cop killer, so I want the reader to hear the rage in his voice.

Interviewing dogMale smiling on the phone.

The killer will be conducting a phone interview with a gangster’s son, who just found out that his dad was murdered by the mob. The killer’s job will be to plant the details about the crime in the son’s mind so that he can find the guy and take him down.

The killer will have a similar question for every character. “How long does it take for a boy your age to learn to walk?”

For the gangster’s son, he will ask, “How many year-old boys are supposed to know how to walk?”

This scene will have a few dialogue exchanges where the murderer asks all the questions and the gangster’s son answers. I will use bullet points to clarify where he is talking.

It will help to keep track of who is talking.

Insecure

When the son goes to a bar, he will have two girls on each arm. It will be a very nice bar.

It will be a popular gay club, but the son won’t care. The killer will ask, “What is it like at the bar?”

He will give the gangster’s son a million-dollar question. He will only allow him to answer in five words: “It’s beautiful.”

Mom’s a hunter

This will be the first time the son meets his mom. She is going to meet the thug at a diner to talk about some business.

She will want to leave early to be home for her son. The killer will ask her, “How often do you come to the diner to eat?”

She will answer, “Oh, not very often.” She will also tell him that she was a very good wife. She doesn’t want to talk about that.

He will then ask, “How long have you lived at your house with your mother?” She will give him a number: “I’ve lived here for 30 years.”

She will then change the subject by asking, “Are you married yet?” He will answer, “No.”

InvisibleMan calling in suit

This is the last scene where the son gets some intel from his mom about what happened to his father. He will talk about the mob boss’s son: “He’s a kid from the mob.”

The thug will start laughing. The thug will say, “Haha, that kid, he’s not a kid. He’s a bad motherfucker. I wanna fuck him up.”

Choose the right actors

If you have two or more actors, use one to film. This could be the actor who is the focus of the phone call, or you could just shoot the actor on an unrelated scene.

Once you have the actor doing a telephone voice, use the audio from the non-star’s scene. Having actors is expensive, so you will want to be very selective.

Tell your cast and crew that they only film the phone part of the scene.

Pick a location

When you go out to a location, look around. Often, you will find a nice backdrop or a location that has a nice view.

But it also might be nice to pick a location that helps sell the tone of the conversation. What do you think?

Conclusion

I like this kind of writing because it is not difficult to do. There are a few extra steps involved, but you do not have to think about them.

You just concentrate on your script. For this kind of writing, it is a piece of cake.

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