How do you format a telephone conversation in a screenplay?

There are a few ways to deal with telephone conversations in screenplays.

  • If only one party is seen and heard, treat it like other dialogue, with pauses or beats or actions to break up that character’s dialogue and indicate when the other party is talking.

Clara puts down the bucket and answers the phone.

CLARA

Hello?

She rests the phone on her ear, and dips the rag in the bucket.

CLARA (CONT’D)

This is she.

  • If one party is seen and the other is heard but not seen, indicate the unseen’s dialogue as voice-over (V.O.) and treat it like any other scene.

Clara puts down the bucket and answers the phone.

CLARA

Hello?

A DEEP VOICE is on the other end.

DEEP VOICE (V.O.)

Is Clara Evans available?

CLARA

This is she.

  • If we are cutting between the two locations (called “intercutting”), and both parties are seen, there are two clean ways to handle this. You can use the slugline “INTERCUT — [LOCATION 1]/[LOCATION 2],” or you can establish each location with its own slug and description, and then use the slug “INTERCUT — PHONE CONVERSATION” or some other clear variation.

INT. EVANS FAMILY KITCHEN – DAY

A bucket in one hand and rag in the other, Clara frantically scrubs the blood soaked tile.

The phone RINGS, startling her.

She puts down the bucket and answers.

CLARA

Hello?

INT. WALL STREET OFFICE – SAME TIME

A SHADOWY FIGURE sits behind a large mahogany desk.

SHADOWY FIGURE

Is Clara Evans available?

INTERCUT -- PHONE CONVERSATION

CLARA

This is she.

SHADOWY FIGURE

Clara. Hello.

  • Another option is to have a full scene header between each cut. This can get unruly, but it is perfectly acceptable.

As with all formatting advice, there is no hard and fast rule. Your goal is to be both clear and clean, and to not confuse the reader or take him out of the screenplay.