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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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3 Answers 3

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 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 at 17:24

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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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 http://www.playwriting101.com/ 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 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 at 16:25

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