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How to Write a Phone Conversation In a Screenplay

The Top 3 Methods Used by Professional Screenwriters

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenplay Format
August 15, 2017 23 comments
How to Write a Phone Conversation In a Screenplay

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

Confused by how to write 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 conversation.

We’ll also touch on other do’s and don’ts surrounding 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.

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How to Write a Phone Call In a Script Method # 1: One Character Only

This is formatted pretty much just like normal dialogue. It’s 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, this isn’t needed.

Another thing to avoid is filling one-sided conversations like this with a “beat” every time the character’s listening:

How to write a phone conversation in a screenplay

This just takes up valuable real estate in your screenplay. And besides, actors don’t like being told when to pause during phone call dialogue.

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, it can be used like this:

How To Write A Phone Call In A Script

How to Write a Phone Conversation In a Screenplay Method #2: Voiceover (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 voiceover.

Here’s an example:
screenplay example

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

screenplay exampleThe 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.

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How to Write a Phone Conversation In a Screenplay Method #3: Intercut

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. Then establish the other character in the other location. Then add an INTERCUT — PHONE CONVERSATION and continue the conversation as if they’re in the same location.

Here’s an example:

screenplay exampleAnother option is to establish both locations at the same time using an INTERCUT in the opening slugline, like this:
screenplay exampleFinally, there’s nothing wrong with adding a slugline before every location, but this feels cumbersome. 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. 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:

screenplay example

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.

Should You Even Use Phone Calls At All?

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

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Loved This Post? Read More on How to Write Good Dialogue…

Script Dialogue: If Your Characters Are Just Talking, You’re Doing It Wrong

On the Nose Dialogue Examples and How to Stop It Killing Your Script

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[© Photo credits: Pexels]

23 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!

  11. Nô Brito says:

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    For two reasons: firstly I am afraid my histories are not easy to be supported by Brazilan producers or agents. Secondly, despite speaking English, my skill in the language is not that good to let me confident to write them in English.
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  12. Jamshidi says:

    This has really help me with my understanding how to write a phone conversation in a screenplay. Eternal blessings to you all at script reader Pro.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thank you!

  13. Janice McClough says:

    My script has to many phone calls in it I think.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It depends, it can be a problem if you’re relying on phone calls in situations where it’d be more interesting to see the characters interact with each other face-to-face.

  14. Toni Fredricks says:

    Your articles are very educating, right here in Nollywood Nigeria, studying and applying your skills in my screenplays has really carved a nitche for me, I’m just waiting for the awards to start coming so I can start telling the whole world how you guys helped me

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s great to hear, Toni, thanks a lot and best of luck with your writing 🙂

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