What Is a Two-Column Script?

By Michael Cox

With modern compact video cameras and tools like iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, it's possible to make good-looking movies on a small budget. A well planned production will help you to shoot your movies and video quickly and smoothly, and the best way to plan both the dialogue and visual details is with a two-column shooting script.

Script Types

The most common script formats are the single-column "master screenplay" format and the two-column script. The master screenplay format is also known as the "drama" format because it's used for dramatic movies and TV shows in which the visual action is planned with storyboards rather than written instructions. The two-column script is often used for non-dramatic TV as well as music videos, commercials and industrial films, for which schedules are tight and clients must often sign off on the visual aspects of the script. The two-column format is also suited for documentaries, for which much of the footage may be shot prior to scripting.

Two-Column Content

The left-hand column of a two-column script includes all the visual aspects of the production, including the content of each shot. Abbreviations describe the type of shot, such as "CU" for "close-up," "MS" for "medium shot," "INT" for "interior" and "EXT" for exterior. The visual column also includes descriptions of any special effects. The right-hand column contains the audio portions of the production, including dialogue, sound effects and music. The content of the columns should be synchronized, so that the dialogue in the right column matches the shots in the left column.

Using Word

To make a two-column script in Microsoft Word, add a two-column table to a blank Word document. Then add the visual cues to the left column of the table and the audio to the right column. As you add text, the table will flow into subsequent pages. Optionally you can add a table row for each shot or scene so that the audio and visual instructions remain side by side without requiring multiple paragraph breaks. Use Word's Header and Footer function to place the title and page number at the top or bottom of each page.

Best Practices

To help the production move through the script smoothly, be as detailed as possible with your instructions. Often you or others will want to revise the script before shooting, either for content or for time. When you revise, cross out the unwanted text with the strike-through function so that if the revision is reversed you can either remove the strike-through or indicate on the printed script that the dialogue or scene should be used. When you add camera instructions, it's helpful to format them in bold type so the cinematographer can quickly set up the shots.