My question concerns the use of character names in screenplays, specifically, should they be capitalized throughout the script wherein they are actually in a scene, or should they just be capitalized when they are first introduced?

This is really driving me crazy as the screenplays I have read adhere to the capitalization throughout, the logic being that the actor can see at a glance that their character is in a scene if the name of the character is in capitals. Indeed I was taught this as well in a University Degree in screenwriting. But I have had feedback from some producers who say this is wrong. –Brendan

In stage plays, the characters’ names are generally capitalized throughout. In screenplays, characters’ names in the scene description are capitalized only when a character first appears in the script. (And by capitalized, I mean in all caps, like MIKE or BOB.)

Yes, I’ve seen exceptions to both rules, but I think the conventions make sense and should be followed. Here’s what it looks like:

Bartender BOBBY DENTON is 29, with a mullet haircut and pit stains. If your drink takes more than two kinds of liquid, Bobby’s not your man.

Subsequent mentions of Bobby, in this scene or later, would not be capitalized. One possible exception (which came up in BIG FISH) is when a character’s age changes so much that it obviously involves another actor. In that case, you might capitalize YOUNG BOBBY the first time the five-year old version is introduced.

I can’t tell you with any certainty how stage plays and screenplays evolved to do things differently. One theory might be that in a stage play, it’s very important that an actor enter a scene at exactly the right time, thus the rampant capitalization to make it more apparent. (In fact, stage plays often use "small caps," which are a point size smaller than the regular typeface, just to make it more readable.)

In movies, on the other hand, it’s often very important to know in what scene a character is first established, particularly because scenes are often filmed out of sequence. Thus, his or her name is capitalized only that one time.

The Script Police are not going to arrest you if you decide to capitalize your characters’ names all the time, but it does make for a messier page, considering the other things that need capitalization: sounds, sluglines, scene headings and such.

So forget what you learned in university. Leave the caps to Shakespeare.