Screenplay, Teleplay, Stage Play—What’s the Difference?

Screenplay, Teleplay, Stage Play—What’s the Difference?

So you have a great idea for a movie. Wait – don’t you mean a TV show? Or maybe it’s perfect for the stage. When a story comes to you the first thing you need to assess is which medium it is best suited for. Feature films tend to be time-contained stories with a handful of main characters that fit into a definable genre. TV shows usually have more characters and a narrative that can stretch on for multiple episodes, spanning an entire series. A stage play is very dialogue driven and action scenes are confined to what is possible on the stage. Before you start writing you need to figure out which medium best suits your story, which will then dictate which script format you should use.


What is a screenplay?

A screenplay is the document format typically used when writing a feature film. It’s basically a blueprint for a movie and goes through many different drafts and changes before it reaches the screen. The screenplay may even change during filming as actors improvise and directors revise scenes based on their production schedule. It helps to think of your screenplay as a fluid document that will have input from many different places. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and while it all starts with the written word, the script is more like a jumping off point rather than a document set in stone, such as a novel.

Screenplays usually run between 80 and 120 pages (sometimes longer), and contain Scene Headings, Characters, Dialogue and Action. One page of a screenplay equates to roughly one minute of screen time.

With a screenplay for a feature film there are rarely any limits to what you can write. It is good to keep in mind a budget when writing and also understand what genre your screenplay falls into. If you are writing a low-budget horror movie, it is wise to keep the story contained and the special effects to a minimum. If you are writing a big budget superhero movie, the sky is the limit!

What is a teleplay?

A teleplay is the format of script used for television shows. It is similar to a screenplay but contains a few different components.

Shows shot in front of a live audience using multiple cameras such as The Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld, The Conners and Mom use a sitcom-style teleplay format. Single-camera comedies such as Modern Family, The Office and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia use a variation on the screenplay format discussed above.

TV script format reflects its origins in radio: dialogue is double-spaced for legibility; stage directions are formatted in all capital letters to make them easily distinguishable from dialogue; and the pages contain lots of white space for jotting notes. The live audience provides a laugh track but also limits where scenes can take place (street scenes and large crowds tend to be out of the question). The text in the script is spaced out much more so than in a screenplay; a page of a screenplay translates into about a minute of screen time, while a page of a sitcom teleplay translates into about 30 seconds of screen time. The scenes are numbered and the scene numbers are displayed at the top of each page along with the page numbers. The script is divided into acts and scenes, and each division begins on a new page. A list of which characters are needed in each scene appears at the beginning of each scene. The dialogue can contain “personal direction” for the actor (such as “she sits” or “glumly”) within it rather than outside of it, just like a stage play.

Scripts for one-hour dramas such as The Good Fight, Succession and Better Call Saul look more like a screenplay because filmed shows are produced in a fashion very similar to feature films. They’re shot on location or in a soundstage without an audience; they’re shot one scene at a time using one camera (usually); and they often feature many locations which would be difficult or impossible in front of a live audience.

What is a stage play?

The stage play is the oldest of all these formats, and does not have as many rules and guidelines as the screenplay or teleplay.

In the United States, the Dramatists Guild provides guidelines for formatting play and musical scripts. These can be useful for demonstrating to agents, producers, and publishers that the writer understands current trends, but in the world of live theater a writer’s strict adherence to standard script formatting is much less important than it is in film or television. Regardless, Final Draft does contain templates for stage plays as well as screenplay and teleplays that will help you get started.


Final Draft contains over 300 templates for screenplays, teleplays, comics, immersive storytelling, graphic novels, and stage plays.

A template is a reusable document that contains all of the attributes of the script type that you want to write. Final Draft offers a free online template library that is constantly updated to include brand-new templates for today’s shows.

To learn more about Final Draft’s many features and how they can help your screenwriting, click here.

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