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There is usually a lot of confusion when it comes to these two terms. Some sources say that there is no (practical) difference between the two while other sources talk of various kinds of differences. However, I have not run into any authentic source that answers my question.

My question is as follows: In context to a film/TV show etc. what is the difference between a script and a screenplay? (There ought to be a difference because the credits always have different sections for script and screenplay).

Further, in context to the theatre, is there any difference between the two words (I have not come across anyone using the term "screenplay" in context of the theatre)? Are the two interchangeable? If not, what is the difference in the writing style for both.

P.S: If it be so recommended, I will split the question into two (one for the words and the other about the writing style). Thanks!

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I find many film credits confusing. What does the ownership credit mean?(A George Lucas Film) what does the best boy do? key grip? gaffer? – hildred Jan 6 at 17:10

7 Answers 7

The main difference between the terms script and screen play (or screenplay as one word) is that typically people think of a script as for theater whereas a screenplay is clearly for the film industry. However, since a script can also be a screen play, it is interchangeable in that way.

Screenplays are also usually subject to a script formatting rules. There are many examples of this and it is easy to find. Industry people who would read your screen play tend to be very particular about proper formatting. Bad formatting is clear evidence of a beginner.

Theater scripts are not nearly so fussy about format. Often unpublished theater scripts look like screenplays in format while published plays look very different. This is because script writing software tends to use the screen play format but publishers of plays use a tighter format to save paper and costs to publish. This can be confusing because a writer will use the publishers tight formatting scheme thinking it is a generally accepted format.

See for a detailed discussion of formatting.

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A film has a script too. In fact a film or a TV serial usually has a script and a screenplay. In that light, your answer does not hold. Or have I got it wrong? – Pravesh Parekh Feb 20 '14 at 17:38
Note, theater scripts (specifically meant as director's handbook, not a fancy format novel for reading) are bound by limitations of the scene: decorations, space limitations, audience unable to see small detail (e.g. read text on paper) etc. Movies can rapidly shift focus, change scenes, have whole cities explode, zoom in on detail etc. – SF. Feb 21 '14 at 16:25
Stageplays are meant to abide by the same formatting rules as a screenplay. Official stageplays purchased from Samuel French or Dramatists Play Service will be in the correct format. If you are in a play and not using the official stage edition from the publisher, you're in an illegal production and no royalties are being paid to the writers/owners. – Xander Jan 5 at 21:59

The primary difference between usage in the terms "screenplay" and "script" is the function of the document.

The script the actors use during filming is primarily dialogue with minimal stage direction. This is similar to the 'spec scripts' given to agents and producers to generate interest in the work. The primary focus here is on telling the story, the word and actions that convey the message. What sound effects or lighting effects that are important to the actor's performance are noted. But, anything not directly impacting the performance are generally left out.

The screenplay is the extra layer with everything that was left out of the script. It may very well be the 'shooting script' in most cases, which is less of an actor's tool and more of a director's tool. The screenplay includes those aspects of filming that are outside the actor's purview, things like camera angles and cut or fade instructions, effects that the audience will see but have no affect on the actor's performance while on set.

The reason the word 'screenplay' is not used much in live theatre is because there are no special instructions for producing the work on a screen or in a film medium. The performance on stage is the entire performance. There are no camera angles or editing rooms. There's nothing extra that needs to be added to the script to make the final performance work for the audience. A screenplay is something that practically only has any value in a film medium.

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A script should never have stage direction. It's seen in some stageplays, but is usually ignored by the cast and director. In film, the action is dictated by the director and the actors and never written into any form of the script unless they're the director's private notes (they are sometimes drawn out in storyboards). – Xander Jan 5 at 21:54

From the filmmaking side, being on set, we refer to the printed copy as a script. The script is a tool that the actor and rest of the crew use while on set at a particular location, and is often only a portion of the entire screenplay.

Directors, actors, continuity directors, script supervisors, and film loaders (clapper/slate operators) often make notations on their own copy of the script.

The screenplay would be the entire thing, in its original form. You might submit a screenplay, but you wouldn't submit a script.

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So scripts are snippets of screenplay? – Pravesh Parekh Mar 26 '14 at 16:39
@PraveshParekh, maybe a better way to clarify would be a script is a production tool, whereas as a screenplay is a development tool. – Marcus Adams Mar 26 '14 at 17:24

A screenplay is a script written for a screen, whether television or feature, but it's only used when the specifics of what's being worked on might be in question.

Formatting is very similar for both types of projects, the difference has to do more with pacing, the number of locations, acts and scenes than actual formatting differences. Also a stageplay has only one edition of the script (unless it's a musical, in which case there's a second book for lyrics) where as a screenplay has editions for each technical role. Originally, the screenwriter prepares a 'writer's draft', but the director and/or cinematographer then produces a 'shooting script' which has more information that pertains to their jobs (such as what locations they're filming at, how often, how long, what's needed at those locations, etc).

Depending on the complexities of the script, there may be several versions created for different departments and even cast members.

The bottom line is a screenplay is a script and the most readable one, the one a screenwriter produces, is the writer's draft (though that term is rarely used).

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While I am not in the business, I would imagine that the screenplay is the original finished creative work, and the script, sometimes called "the shooting script," is what people use on set or on stage to actually film or perform the thing.

So the script is the living, working, occasionally minorly changed piece, which might have additional stage directions or lighting notes for people executing the words.

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It's miss understands. Script is a complete version but screenplay is more importence gave the dialog part of the scene

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IMO: A script is verbal language only. It's WHAT is said. The screenplay is HOW the script is said. It's all the things that lend to how a script plays out on screen, from location to mood to staging and lighting.

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