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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 54 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

How to Write a Screenplay That’s Unlike Any Other in 6 Steps

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