How to Write Phone Calls in a Screenplay: Examples & Tips

how to write phone calls in a screenplay

Phone calls can be an essential component of a film’s narrative, driving the plot forward, and creating opportunities for suspense, humor, and conflict. Writing a telephone conversation in a screenplay may seem challenging, but with proper formatting and style, you can effectively incorporate phone calls into your script.

In this guide, we’ll break down the key elements of writing phone calls in a screenplay, from formatting to different scenarios and techniques.

Phone Call Screenplay Format Matters

Formatting is crucial in screenwriting, and it’s no different when it comes to phone calls. Proper screenplay formatting not only ensures clarity but also helps convey the intended emotion or information to the audience. Let’s dive into the essential aspects of writing phone calls in a screenplay.

How to Write a Phone Call Script

Use Action Descriptions

Some phone scenes involve only one character, where the audience doesn’t hear the person on the other end of the call. To create curiosity and maintain clarity, you can use action descriptions to set the scene.

Here’s an example:

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[Character 1] answers the phone, looking concerned.
CHARACTER 1 Hello? Yes, I understand.

This format allows for dialogue and action descriptions, even though the other person on the call isn’t heard.

Writing a Phone Call with Voice Over

In scenarios where the audience needs to hear the other person on the call but not see them, you can indicate their dialogue as voice over (V.O.) or “Off Screen” (O.S.). Here’s how it looks:

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CHARACTER 1 Hello?
CHARACTER 2 (V.O.) Hey, it's me. Listen, we need to talk.

Both (V.O.) and (O.S.) serve the same purpose of indicating dialogue from someone not physically present on screen. Choose the one that suits your style.

Intercutting Two Characters

Sometimes, you’ll want to show and hear both characters involved in the phone call. This can be achieved by intercutting between the two characters in different locations. Here are two ways to format this:

  1. Using Sluglines: Establish the locations of both characters, then use “INTERCUT – PHONE CONVERSATION” to indicate the interchange.

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EXT. PARK - DAY [Character 1] sits on a bench, talking on the phone.
INT. OFFICE - DAY [Character 2] paces nervously, also on the phone.
INTERCUT - PHONE CONVERSATION CHARACTER 1 I can't believe this happened.
CHARACTER 2 We'll figure it out together.

  1. Combined Slugline: Alternatively, you can combine both locations under one slugline starting with “INTERCUT.”

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INTERCUT EXT. PARK - DAY / INT. OFFICE - DAY
CHARACTER 1 I can't believe this happened.

CHARACTER 2 We'll figure it out together.

Choose the method that best suits your storytelling needs.

Writing phone calls in a screenplay doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s about choosing the right format and style to effectively convey the conversation’s purpose and emotion to your audience. Remember, while these are common methods, screenwriting offers flexibility. The key is to be clear and consistent throughout your script.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to write phone calls in a screenplay, you can add this dynamic element to your storytelling toolkit.

Remember, the format should align with your storytelling goals.

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