Grab your free RESOURCES TOOLKIT and more screenwriting awesomeness!COUNT ME IN!
FREE RESOURCES TOOLKIT

blog

How To Write A Phone Conversation In A Screenplay: The Definitive Guide

The Top 3 Methods Used by Professional Screenwriters

SIGN UP & GET A FREE RESOURCES TOOLKIT PDF

We'll also send you the very best screenwriting tips, hacks and special offers on the web.

GET IT NOW!
Featured In
August 15, 2017 16 comments
script dialogue writing

How to Write a Phone Conversation In a Screenplay: The Definitive Guide

Confused by how to format a phone conversation in a script? 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 screenplay
How 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 isn’t recommended:

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 voiceover (V.O.) is the correct format.

“how

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 the 80s and 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.

Just stick to one style throughout and make sure 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.

###

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. You will also find our full range of Script Coverage Services here.

“how

More posts on how to write good dialogue…

♦  HOW TO WRITE SCRIPT DIALOGUE: The Ultimate Screenplay Dialogue Audit To Ensure Your Characters Are Never “Just Talking”

♦  HOW TO WRITE DIALOGUE BETWEEN TWO CHARACTERS: The Ultimate Theory Hack

♦  HOW TO WRITE COMEDY SCRIPTS WITH LOL DIALOGUE

♦  HOW TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY FOR A MOVIE: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide

♦  THE SIMPLE TRICK TO MAKE YOUR DIALOGUE SOUND LIKE REAL MOVIE DIALOGUE

♦  ON THE NOSE DIALOGUE: The Very Best Way to Eliminate It

16 Comments
  1. Stanley K says:

    What about Skype calls? How do you format those?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Pretty much the same. You’d just want to indicate that the character is on Skype, not the phone.

  2. Fran Collins says:

    Do people use landlines anymore? Feel like this post should be more about cell phone, VR, Skype, texting etc

  3. Reeza says:

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

  4. Lorena Barron says:

    I’ve been embroiled in a debate over formatting voicemail over a speaker. Some insist it’s V.O. But I had a Pro-reader tell me it should be O.S.. Can someone please settle this.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      The correct format is V.O. as O.S. would mean the person on the other end is actually in the house, apartment, office or whatever but off-screen.

  5. Badmus AY says:

    Thank you so much for this article, goes a long way, but can you kindly drop your mail, there are stuff I may need your help on. I’m working on a screenplay presently and I keep having to come to google. I will really appreciate this. Thanks a lot.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi, yes if you sign up to our newsletter we have a forum in there for asking anything you like. Cheers.

  6. Nagi says:

    I usually take a step back a bit and cover the idea of writing cinematically first before tackling the basic formula of how to portray such a scene within the confines of screenwriting format.

  7. Francoise Lampey says:

    Excellent, thanks for posting Script Reader Pro!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the shoutout, Francoise!

  8. Karen R says:

    Is formatting a phone call in a script the same with landlines and mobile phones?

  9. Linda Green says:

    I feel I know much more now about how to write a phone conversation in a screenplay. Thank you thank you thank you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad the post helped, Linda!

  10. Jerred North says:

    Perfect! I just ran into this problem last night and was scratching my head. Thanks so much for this post. Very helpful.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good timing – thanks Jerred!

Leave a Reply

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

SIGN UP & GET A FREE RESOURCES TOOLKIT PDF

We'll also send you the very best screenwriting tips, hacks and special offers on the web.

GET IT NOW!