When is a phone call not just a phone call? When you have to show it, not tell it. There are at least three different scenarios to consider when you want to insert a telephone conversation in your screenplay. We asked Screenwriter Doug Richardson (“Bad Boys,” “Hostage,” “Die Hard 2”) how he approaches telephone conversations in his screenplays, and he said there are three things to consider:

Are we seeing and hearing only one character?

Are we seeing only one character, but hearing at least two?

Are we seeing and hearing both characters?

Give this some thought: It may be important to see both characters, perhaps because they’re doing something that matters to the story.

“Are you seeing both sides of the conversation? Is Phil talking from his kitchen, and Dave, who he’s talking to, is talking from his car? Are you going to be intercutting between the two? Then you need to write a scene for Dave in his car, as well as Phil in his kitchen,” Richardson told us.

Or maybe, we only need to see and hear one character, and their action in the scene speaks volumes on its own. Determine what type of phone call scenario will be strongest in your story.

“Let’s say we’re listening to Phil talk on the phone call in the kitchen, but we don’t need to see Dave in the car,” Richardson said. Perhaps, we don’t need to know where Dave is calling from at all. “All we need to do is hear his voice. Then, you would just stay in the kitchen with Phil speaking on the phone with Dave. And every time Dave was speaking, you would have a parenthetical that would be next to the character’s name that would say (over phone).”

Once you’ve settled on how to show the phone call, learn how to write that scene in a traditional script. And guess what? We’ve got blogs for that! Here are three tutorials depending on your story’s scenario:

Scenario 1: We see and hear only one character

Scenario 2: We hear both characters, but only see one

Scenario 3: We see and hear both characters  

Don’t phone it in,

Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach