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How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay

The Definitive Guide

 

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how to write a phone conversation in a screenplay

Confused by how to write a phone conversation in a screenplay? In this post we’re going to take a look at the three main methods you can use to format a screenplay telephone conversation.

As well as other do’s and don’ts surrounding formatting screenplay phone call dialogue, such as whether to use “beat” when someone’s listening to the other end of the call.

There are three main ways to write a phone call in a screenplay. Let’s kick off with the simplest method.

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay #1: One Character Only

This is formatted pretty much just like normal dialogue and is best used for short phone conversations.

How to write a phone conversation in a screenplayNote how you don’t have to put a parenthetical under the character name saying “on phone” or “into phone”. As long as you’ve indicated the character’s picked up the phone it’s not needed.

Another thing to avoid is filling one-sided conversations like this with a “beat” or “pause” parenthetical every time the character listens to the person on the other end, like this:

How to write a phone conversation in a screenplay

Likewise, this is not necessary as it just takes up valuable real estate in your screenplay. And besides, actors generally hate being told when to pause during a phone dialogue conversation like this.

Parentheticals can come in handy, though, during one-sided phone conversations when a character is dealing with other things in the scene while talking on the phone. Here’s an example:

How to write a phone conversation in a screenplayHow To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay #2: Voice Over (V.O)

This method is the same as the above, except we hear what the character on the other end is saying via the use of Voice Over.

Here’s an example:
How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay

In spec scripts this method sometimes results in the use of (O.S.) or (O.C.) instead of (V.O.) which is wrong:

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A ScreenplayThe character on the other end is not off-camera in the same scene — they’re in a completely different location and therefore Voice Over (V.O.) is the correct format.

How to write for TV

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay #3: Intercutting

This is perhaps the most common way to format longer phone calls — but also the one that seems to cause the most problems in spec scripts. This technique simply inserts an INTERCUT in order to jump from one location to another and show both ends of the call on screen at the same time.

The easiest way to format a two-sided conversation like this is to simply establish one character in one location, establish the other character in the other location, add an INTERCUT — PHONE CONVERSATION, and then continue the conversation as normal, as if they were in the same location.

Here’s an example:

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A ScreenplayAnother option is to establish both locations at the same time with an INTERCUT in the opening slugline, like this:
How To Write A Phone Conversation In A ScreenplayFinally, there’s nothing wrong with adding a slugline before every location, but this feels cumbersome and we’d advise you stick to adding INTERCUT to the slugline or some variation of when the second call kicks in:

INTERCUT — PHONE CONVERSATION
INTERCUT phone conversation
INTERCUT with Emily in Central Park
INTERCUT with:

Another variation on this format of seeing and hearing both characters during a phone call is to use a SPLIT SCREEN instead of an INTERCUT. This adds a little more stylistic flair, but is best used sparingly. The technique was popular in 80s, 90s and perhaps early 00s television, but has always remained fairly rare in film.

Here’s the simplest option for formatting a phone call in this way.

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay

The most important thing to remember is to not get dragged down by the smallest details. In most cases it really doesn’t matter if you use a dash or not, or place information in the slugline or in the scene. The most important thing is that you stick to one style throughout and that it’s as clear as possible what’s happening.

In fact, it’s become fashionable in recent times to tell aspiring screenwriters to try and eliminate phone conversations from screenplays altogether. The theory is that they should always be replaced with face-to-face interactions instead. However, this should depend on the story, not what some screenwriting guru tells you. If you need a phone call in your script, you need a phone call in your script. Just make sure you’re confident you know why it’s there.

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Got any other ideas on how to write a phone conversation in a screenplay? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also, if you want us to check the formatting, spelling, grammar on your screenplay, be sure to check out our Proofread/Formatting service.

2 Comments

  1. Stanley K says:

    What about Skype calls? How do you format those?

  2. Reeza says:

    What about Virtual Reality? I have a script in which two people are talking on VR headsets to each other.

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