What are the formatting rules for scripts? Are there significant variations? What differences are there between stage plays, television, and movies?
First of all, read current scripts. You can surmise many formatting rules from examples.
Second, buy The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script. This helped me out when I couldn't get my hands on scripts.
Third, there's so much more to screenwriting than just format. There is style, which can only be learned by reading lots and lots of really good scripts. But note that if you're trying to write a spec script, that the rules for you differ greatly from the professionals. Your script must be big on whitespace and short on description. It's not fair, but it's just the way things are.
If you're a Mac user, buy Scrivener. It's $45, and while it still costs something, it's a lot less than Final Draft.
According to its website:
...its familiar scriptwriting features make formatting a script straightforward. So you can draft your script inside Scrivener using the unique research and structural tools and then export it to industry-standard scriptwriting software such as Final Draft.
It also has a terrific 'notecard and corkboard' interface which allows you to write in snippets and reorder them at will. You can also drag just about anything into it and use it for reference.
If you're a Windows user, there's yWriter. While there's no 'script' mode, you can at least write in scenes and focus on that.
If you are really dead set on only using a word processor, here's info on just the manuscript format. Good luck!
There is a really good free option for Mac users : CeltX
Why buy or use software as opposed to MS-Word or Pages? It does the formatting for you, so you don't even have to think about it and instead, can focus on your writing.
Pretty much what I've heard about script formatting is:
- Buy Final Draft.
- There is no step 2.