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 the 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.

  • 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 17:10

8 Answers 8


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

The script that the actors use during filming contains 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 effect on the actor's performance while on set.

The reason the word 'screenplay' is not used much in live theater 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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 21:54

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).


A screenplay is a preproduction tool, whereas a script is a production/post production tool.

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.

  • So scripts are snippets of screenplay? Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 16:39
  • 1
    @PraveshParekh, maybe a better way to clarify would be a script is a production tool, whereas as a screenplay is a development tool. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 17:24

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.

  • 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? Commented Feb 20, 2014 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.
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 21:59
  • A film has a screenplay. Some people will call the screenplay a script, or a shooting script, or some other variation. They are interchangeable. They are all screenplays. The formatting is somewhat arbitrary, but screenplay formats tend to be more strict in terms of industry practice. Also see JohnAugust.com for suggestions on screenplay format
    – lowell99
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 15:52

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.


There is a major structural difference between a script and a screenplay. The script is a document having a clear narrative, story, characters, and the event which leads to an end. It is sort of a literary work, in which the writer places the dialogue right in front of of the character's name ( this type of script called double column format). In the other type of format, the character's name is always on the top and the dialogue must be placed under the character's name. In this type, slug arrangements are made for a single column type of script.

In any sort of script, the writer is not supposed to include any kind of direction, transitional device (like cut, fade, or dissolve), or any kind of TV & Film language, shot division, or directorial commands. When a director inserts all these things, s/he converts the script into a screenplay. This process is called Audio and Video spacing. It is a complex and creative process in which the director converts a simple written document into a working manual in order to execute it for a TV or film production.

  • How is your answer different from the one Kirasha provides? Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 9:48
  • I like to judge answers on their own and this one did answer the question in a reasonable way. It's similar to the one @Galastel references because there isn't a lot of interpretation in a question like this. It's not a copy of the previous answer. And given how many answers allowed to stand here are fragments or worse, I think this one is just fine.
    – Cyn
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 15:26
  • Also, take a look at SAH's profile...we've got a professional joining us. Welcome to Writing.SE, Shakeel Adnan Hashmi. I look forward to your other contributions. I did an edit on your post to fix grammar and punctuation since you're writing in what I see is not your native language.
    – Cyn
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 15:29

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.


a script is a document written for the actors on set. It contains only the dialogues. This allows the characters to learn when the lines should be spoken and in which order. Screenplays are written to carry every detail of the set, such as the dialogues between characters, how to deliver it, instructions of where and how lighting should be and the surrounding atmosphere of the play.

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