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Archive for the Category "Scene Headings"

Are You Overusing LATER? May 23

LATER Hater

- LATERAfter reading a few client scripts recently where LATER is actually used more often than DAY or NIGHT in scene headings, I figured it was time to address this issue.

If you’re fond of using LATER in your scene headings, then what I’m about to tell you might blow your mind…

Unless you’re dealing with a flashback, it’s already understood that EVERY subsequent scene in your script takes place later than the one that preceded it.

So expressly telling the reader that your scene takes place LATER is unnecessary… most of the time.

When should you use LATER?

As far as I’m concerned, there’s really only one legitimate use of LATER:

When you’re indicating that we’ve jumped ahead in time, in the SAME scene location.

Let’s take a look at the standard, recommended usage. Say you’ve established a scene heading with some description. For example:

INT. PRISON CELL – DAY

The Brooksville Killer paces back and forth, eyeing the steel bars. A rabid animal in a cage.

Now, suppose you want to jump to a moment that comes later in that same location. There are two methods you could use. 1) Write a new master scene heading:

INT. PRISON CELL – LATER

Or 2) Simply write a secondary scene heading (preferred)…

LATER

… and then write some action lines.

What you do NOT want to do is use LATER if your following scene takes place in a new location. Example:

EXT. PRISON YARD – LATER

There’s no reason to write LATER for the scene heading above. It’s not like the reader is going to get confused and think your character is somehow simultaneously in his cell and in the prison yard. Obviously, he’s moved from one location to the next over some unspecified time.

So you would simply use DAY (or NIGHT as the case may be) for the new location scene heading and then add your action lines:

EXT. PRISON YARD – DAY

The maniac hammers his fists against the concrete wall, over and over again.

Bits of the aged wall crumble in his hands... and an idea sparks in his eyes.

Who So Serious?Why so serious? What’s the big deal?

There’s technically nothing wrong with writing LATER in subsequent scene headings. The problem is if it goes on for too long, it can confuse your reader.

If you keep writing LATER in your scene headings, eventually I’m going to forget whether it was day or night, or wonder if it has since transitioned from one time to the other. You’ve now made it more difficult for me to visualize the scenes.

When you make your reader struggle, that’s a bad thing.

Take this example:

EXT. PARK – DAY

Josephine and Tommy share a hot dog, each nibbling from opposite sides of the bun.

EXT. BAR PATIO – LATER

The lovers share a tropical drink... sipping from straws... gazing into each other’s eyes. If they weren’t so adorable, it would be cringeworthy.

The description is fine, but am I supposed to picture a brightly lit daytime patio or an atmospheric nighttime patio? The LATER throws me off.

One of the key jobs of a screenwriter is to set the scene for the reader. Do yourself a favor and use DAY or NIGHT in your subsequent scene headings to help you with that task.

What about  MOMENTS LATER?

Typically, MOMENTS LATER is used like LATER — when you want to indicate a jump in time within the same scene location. However, in cases where the location has changed, and the context of the scene is such that the reader might incorrectly think the scene takes place long after the previous one (when it really takes place shortly after), it’s just fine to use MOMENTS LATER for clarity.

Here’s an example of it NOT being necessary:

INT. CLUB CRAVEN – NIGHT

Brandon flexes his muscles in a mirror as Lisa sidles up to him.

LISA

My uncle’s on his way. I told him how you cheated on me, and he said he wanted to... uh, talk to you.

BRANDON

(scoffs)

Whatever. It’s not like he’s--

LISA

He’s the UFC heavyweight champion.

EXT. CLUB CRAVEN – NIGHT

Brandon bursts out the front entrance in a full sprint. Races to his car as fast as his cowardly legs will carry him.

It’s not necessary to use MOMENTS LATER in the above example, because the context of the scene already tells us that it takes place moments after the previous scene.

But if you come across a situation that isn’t so clear cut, and it’s important to know that the scene takes place shortly after the previous one, using MOMENTS LATER instead of DAY/NIGHT will help to avoid any confusion. Take the following example:

INT. JIMMY’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

Little Jimmy sits alone in his room, sulking. He stares at the Einstein poster on his closed door.

JIMMY

I loathe all of you imbeciles. I shall never leave this room! Ever!

A warm voice calls from downstairs:

MOM (V.O.)

Jimmy, the cupcakes are ready.

INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY – MOMENTS LATER

Jimmy cracks open his door. Peeks into the hallway. Breathes in the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and frosting. Sighs.

JIMMY

The flesh is weak.

He hustles downstairs.

Using MOMENTS LATER in the above example helps to reinforce the timeline. If NIGHT were used instead, the joke of how quickly Jimmy caves may not be as clear.

Are you a LATER overuser?

Commas in Scene Headings? Aug 20

Comma Chameleon

Commas are great. I’m a fan.

Without them, misunderstandings abound…

Commas - They Save Lives!

But why are so many commas turning up in scene headings these days? Did I miss the memo?

Let’s clarify what I’m talking about. It’s the use of commas in place of hyphens for separating location elements in scene headings. For example:

INT. JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL, PADDED ROOM – DAY

or

INT. PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – DAY

One of my friends sent me his script recently. He’s a pro and one of my favorite screenwriters. When I saw he had used commas in his scene headings, my brain partially exploded.

I’m going to tell you guys what I told him. It’s a bad idea.

It’s highly non-standard

Despite its growing popularity, it’s still a non-standard way to format scene headings. Non-standard formatting = red flag. Too many red flags and your reader may form a less than positive opinion of you or your script.

I’ve never seen a recognized script formatting guide that says it’s acceptable to use commas in place of hyphens. Have you? In my opinion, this isn’t a new, trendy technique — it’s an old mistake that’s making a resurgence.

It’s confusing

Whenever I see a comma in a scene heading, my read slows down.

Why? I now have to stop to think about the intention behind the formatting.

In a master scene heading, that uses conventional formatting, the locations go from general to specific. So, in the example above, the correct way to format the scene heading would be as follows:

INT. JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – PADDED ROOM – DAY

The problem with commas is that I find approximately 50% of people who use them tend to reverse the natural order. They go from specific, to general. For example:

INT. PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – DAY

The even BIGGER problem is that the people who use this technique tend to alternate the order throughout the script. Sometimes they use specific to general. Sometimes they use general to specific.

In the example above it’s easy to comprehend that the JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL is the general location and the PADDED ROOM is the specific location. But what if you have something like this?

INT. DARK ROOM, GUN STAND – NIGHT

Uhhhh… Is the gun stand like a small rack of guns that’s inside the dark room? Or is the stand like a large booth, with a dark room in the back?

Using a hyphen instead of a comma, and the general to specific rule throughout, would clarify things.

It’s unwieldy

What if, God forbid, you add a third location? Sometimes I see things like this:

INT. PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – SECOND FLOOR – NIGHT

or

INT. SECOND FLOOR – PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – NIGHT

Yikes. Just… Yikes.

If you have to use a third location (and odds are you don’t), then just go from general to specific to avoid confusion:

INT. JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – THIRD FLOOR – PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

But even that’s unwieldy. You’re almost certainly better off simplifying things:

INT. PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

If there were things happening in different padded rooms on different floors, you’d probably still be better off with a shorter, single location:

INT. TREVOR’S PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

INT. SALLY’S PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

etc.

Try to keep scene headings as short as possible… but not shorter.

But if some pros do it…

Let’s be honest, when you reach that magical stage in your career where important people are asking to read your scripts, formatting doesn’t really matter.

But until then, why take the chance? Is your love for the way scene heading commas look really worth making the experience of reading your script more challenging?

What are your thoughts on commas in scene headings?

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