The following are a series of concise screenwriting tips.
Quite a simple post today - but an area that evidently needs to be addressed as I see far too many amateur screen-writers getting these wrong.
The SLUGLINE is a simplified format for letting producers know the location of the scene.
The simplified formatting looks like this...
INT./EXT. MAJOR LOCATION - MINOR LOCATION - DAY/NIGHT
Here're some examples.
INT. JOHN'S HOUSE - KITCHEN - NIGHT
EXT. FOREST - STREAM - DAY
You get the idea.
INT. stands for interior. EXT. stands for exterior.
MAJOR LOCATION lets us know the general area, while the MINOR LOCATION gives us a more specific understanding of the immediate environs of the scene.
You don't have to have a major location and a minor location.
If, say, you have a character walking through the woods - it would be sufficient to write
EXT. WOODS - DAY
The purpose of the slug-line is to paint the scene in the most concise way possible.
But you don't want to be too concise with your slug-line.
For example - I often see INT. HOUSE - NIGHT
This slug-line lacks some necessary detail.
Whose house is it, and what part of the house are we in?
When your slug-line lacks detail, the reader goes into the scene searching for clues as to where the location is.
Until your reader KNOWS where the scene is set, they are unable to visualize the scene properly.
A good script consists of word pictures.
Everything you write should be visual. The easier it is to visualize the environment, characters, and the events that take place, the better your script will read.
Some scripts I come away from with a very clear sense of the world the writer intended to create.
Other scripts I come away from and it's like trying to remember a dream from a year ago. You can recall vague notions of what it was about, and sure you might recall an emotion - but all-in-all it's broken and dis-jointed.
The takeaway? - Be specific with your slug-lines - they set up the scene for the reader.
The clearer the setting - the less time the reader spends trying to orientate themselves in the scene.
Sometimes I see INT/EXT. written at the start of a slug-line - what's that all about?
Glad you asked.
It can also be written I/E. But it means the same thing.
This is used when your scene takes places INSIDE something, but it is also important to know that this INTERNAL location is OUTSIDE somewhere.
Here's an example to clarify.
INT./EXT. MARK'S CAR - PARKED/TIMES SQUARE - NIGHT
This slug-line says that the scene takes place INSIDE Mark's car and that Mark's car is parked in Times Square.
The slug-line written like this lets us know that we are INSIDE looking OUT - not OUTSIDE looking IN.
If this slug-line were written - EXT. TIMES SQUARE - MARK'S CAR - NIGHT
It says that we are OUTSIDE Mark's car that is parked in Times Square, looking in.
When writing a location for a vehicle that can move, such as a car, train, plane etc, it's important to let us know if it is MOVING or PARKED - you can also use STATIONARY for things like PLANES etc.
INT. TRAIN - PASSENGER CAR - MOVING - DAY
This lets us know that the train is in motion.
How to use DAY and NIGHT...
I often see - MORNING or EVENING or DUSK written in slug-lines.
I don't often write about RULES in screenwriting - mostly about principles - the difference obvious - but here's one of the few RULES of screenwriting.
Only ever use DAY or NIGHT.
It comes down to budget.
Dusk lasts about 1-hour max. So does Morning light.
It's called the magic-hour - it looks amazing when you shoot the sun either dipping behind or rising from the horizon - but to schedule a shoot to capture that sunlight requires dedicating almost an entire day to having everything ready to shoot within that one hour window.
Filmmaking is an unpredictable art form.
There are soooooo many variables that can and invariably do go wrong that your shooting schedule is almost ALWAYS completely out of whack with how you planned.
When shooting a film - you are always under the pump to get it done on budget.
Most shoots go over budget and over time causing the schedule to be reworked on the fly to better utilize the remaining shooting days.
When you write – DUSK - in your slug-line it means you have to dedicate almost an entire day to get that one scene that takes place at dusk.
Now if there's more than one setup that's supposed to take place at DUSK - you have to dedicate more than one day.
That's uneconomical shooting. No producer that's worth their salt will try to do this.
As a writer, you need to only use DAY or NIGHT, because there're roughly 11 hours of both during any one 24 hour period - depending on where on earth you're shooting.
NEVER USE BOLD IN SLUG-LINES
Another common mistake I see in amateur screenplays is the BOLD SLUG-LINE
I was guilty of this mistake when I started out.
At first, my rationale was that it broke the page up. You could see when a new scene was starting as it was clearly labeled in bold.
I slowly came to understand that when you have read enough screenplays - your eye becomes trained to look out for the INT. or EXT. that says that a new scene has begun.
I also came to learn that when you have bold on the page it becomes distracting to the eye.
As you try to read down the page - your eye is constantly drawn back up the page to this bold writing.
So here's another rule of screenwriting - never
In your screenplay.
Use INTERCUT when you have a scene that takes place between two locations simultaneously.
First, setup the first location.
INT. CAFE - CORNER BOOTH - DAY
John talks on his cell with Michelle.
No way, I'm not going to turn myself in.
Then you write
INT. MICHELLE'S HOUSE - KITCHEN - DAY
Michelle talks on her home phone.
It's the only way John, you have to.
From here on you write the dialogue between John and Michelle and you don't have to re-write any of the slug-lines. We know that the scene takes place in BOTH the cafe with John and at Michelle's home.
To let us know who the scene ends with - you simply finish the scene by writing about that person.
For example - say that the scene ends with John.
You would write the scene something like this...
John ends the call, looks out a window, sees a police cruiser driving slowly past.
This lets us know that we ended the conversation in the cafe with John, but there was no need to re-establish the location with a new slug-line.