ASK DR. FORMAT: A Crash Course in Scene Headings, Part 2

Dave Trottier, "Dr. Format," continues answering readers' questions about scene headings to help you format your screenplay with confidence.
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Dave Trottier, "Dr. Format," continues answering readers' questions about scene headings to help you format your screenplay with confidence.

NOTE: Script published “A Crash Course in Scene Headings” where I invited the reader to submit their questions about scene headings (slug lines). I have chosen four questions which seemed most representative. Before reading further, consider reviewing the original article .

1. Question About Special Headings 

In my script, one character, EJ, recalls an “Amish” sequence. Is this right?

THE TRAFFIC LOOKS IMPOSSIBLE. EJ GETS DISTRACTED WITH HER WILD IMAGINATION.

DREAM DISSOLVE TO:

DREAM – THE AMISH

AN AMISH HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGE CLOMPS DOWN THE SAME PARKWAY.

BACK TO EJ’S CAR

ANSWER

Don’t write narrative description (action) in all-CAPS and omit the DISSOLVE. You also have to decide if this is a FLASHBACK, a DREAM, a DAYDREAM, or just EJ’s IMAGINATION. I assume it is the latter, but the formatting would be same regardless; only the heading would be different. Here is my suggestion:

Bumper to bumper traffic. EJ looks distracted.

scene headings 1

Or, it could be BACK TO SCENE.

If the above were a flashback, you’d write: FLASHBACK – AN AMISH CARRIAGE

2. Question About Spacing Before Scene Headings

I’m a big believer in the old-fashioned technique of allowing an extra blank line before a new scene heading, rather than the normal single blank line. Do you agree?

ANSWER

Actually, the old-fashioned technique of spacing is one line of space before and after scene headings. Final Draft introduced the two lines of space before a scene heading. Either method is correct, and I agree with both methods.

However, I think secondary scene headings (if you use those) look better with just a single space prior to them because they feel like part of the action. In fact, many writers use the Action element for them.

3. Question About Cross-Cutting Between Two Locations

My script flip-flops between two dimensions in my animated script. The B Dimension features the same kind of earth with regular people. So far, I’ve been doing this:

scene headings 2

Do you think that works? I want these scenes to be simultaneous.

ANSWER

Yes, it works. It’s important to keep the reader oriented, and your formatting is crystal clear. As you know, SAME in a scene heading means “simultaneously with the previous scene” or “at the same time as the previous scene,” which is what you want. SAME is the same as CONTINUOUS.

[Script Extra: Shooting Scripts vs. Spec Scripts]

4. The Slash in Scene Headings 

On occasion, I see something like this in a scene heading:

scene headings 3

Is that correct?

ANSWER

No. The slash means the camera can be at either location at the director or editor’s discretion, which is why it is used with INTERCUTS:

scene heading 4

We also use the slash in car scenes to indicate that the camera can be inside the car or outside the car at any moment at the director or editor’s discretion.

scene headings 5

To show a hierarchy of locations, use a dash. In your example, JIM’S HOUSE is the master (primary) location and the KITCHEN is a secondary location that is part of the INTERIOR of JIM’S HOUSE; thus:

scene headings 6

Whether you are slashing or dashing, remember to keep writing!

The new, 7th edition of The Screenwriter’s Bible is available at bookstores, Amazon, and www.keepwriting.com

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