questionmarkIn my script, characters quote from several articles and textbooks to reinforce the validity of their discourse.

My question is: Besides in-text quotation marks, how should I go about crediting the books referenced? Are bibliographies fairly common or allowable in the screenplay format? Or is this only necessary in academic-type publications?

I’ve searched myriad style guides but I find little regarding endnotes/references/bibliographies for screenplays. And I’d like to get it right.

— Dave
New York City

Do you hear that? That BEEP BEEP BEEP sound? That’s a metaphorical truck carefully backing out of the wrong alley you’ve driven it into.

Screenplays don’t need to cite references because they don’t quote things. Or at least, they shouldn’t. Remember: a script is really a transitional document on the way towards creating a movie. Is your film going to have footnotes? Will a bibliography be printed on the popcorn bag?

Sure, you could have a character reading aloud from a textbook:


Maybe the enthalpy was increasing?

Todd grabs a chemistry textbook off the shelf. Flips through to find a dog-eared page.


No, see, it says here on page 56 that “exothermic reactions result in higher randomness -- or entropy -- of the system as a whole. They are characterized by a decrease in enthalpy.”

But this would be terrible. Terrible.

In fact, I believe this can be generalized into a rule:

Any scene in which a character quotes from a real or imaginary text will be awful.

I will quickly add the Whedon corollary:

“…unless the unlikely existence of the text is part of the joke.”

Dave, the reason you’re tempted to quote articles or textbooks is that you’re desperately looking for some authority to support your ideas. But the authority needs to come from within your script, not outside. Some examples:

  • In The Matrix, anything Laurence Fishburne says has authority.

  • In Iron Man, Tony Stark’s suit works because the movie says it does.

  • In Up, a bunch of helium balloons can lift a house because it’s charming, damnit.

Cut those quotes. Let characters say what they need to say in their own voices.