Many thanks to Bang2writer Owen Salmon, who asks this question about sluglines, aka scene headers:
“The “time” of a scene sometimes is a problem. Let’s take, for example, and interchange between Joe in the bedroom and Jim in the en-suite bathroom. It carries on for a minute. So we have INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT. and INT. BATHROOM – NIGHT (or SAME TIME, MOMENTS LATER, whatever) interminably. I have many pages with “MOMENTS LATER” throughout… Is this necessary? I mean obviously changes in “time” need to be reflected, but if there is no change in time, is that not just read in?”
Owen makes a good point here: sluglines/scene headings in spec scripts are often littered with timings, when none are really needed. If I was to take his example here, a scene between Joe in the bedroom and Jim in the en-suite bedroom, I might instead not bother with the notion of “overt time” and write it like this:
INT. HOTEL BEDROOM – NIGHT
Joe tests his single bed. It groans under his weight.
This place is a dump.
Jim checks the bathroom cabinet: no complimentary toiletries. Through the open door, Joe’s reflection switches the light on and blows the overhead light, plunging both men into darkness.
You’re telling me.
Instead of setting up a whole new slugline for the en-suite bathroom then, I’ve just made sure the reader knows we’re in another room, but essentially it’s the “same time”. I’ve seen it written like this in many, many scripts – both spec and commissioned – and I’ve certainly NEVER heard anyone complain about it.
It’s very easy to get “hung up” on so-called “rules” but for me, the important thing re: format is not getting busted. I don’t believe this will “bust” you – as a reader I’ve never remarked on it in script reports and as a writer, no one has ever once said to me, “You know what I hate about your scripts? The fact you don’t ever put MOMENTS LATER or SAME TIME.”
While I’m discussing sluglines/scene headings however, there is one thing that WILL “bust” scribes and that’s overly detailed/overly long ones. Writers often seem very hung up on letting the reader know EXACTLY where we are, to the point of the script’s detriment. For example, this kind of thing:
INT. INSIDE CAR, 1979 BRIGHT RED HONDA – DAY
INT. 119 KILMER ROAD, BOURNEMOUTH, PETER’S ROOM – NIGHT
EXT. CALVIN ROAD, NEAR THE KEBAB SHOP ON THE CORNER – NIGHT
EXT. A HUGE MOUNTAIN RANGE WITH A WINDING RIVER – DAY
The problem with sluglines like these is, they’re quite distracting to the reader and “draw the gaze”. Sluglines/scene headings are just “anchors”, we don’t need all the detail here. After all, what’s wrong with:
INT. CAR – DAY
INT. PETER’S ROOM – NIGHT
EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – NIGHT
EXT. MOUNTAIN RANGE – DAY
The biggest offender I see are addresses in sluglines/scene headings. Writers seem to get really, really hung up on *which* house we’re in and exactly *where*, yet most houses will have bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room. We all know this, ‘cos most of us have lived in a house or at least a flat, which is just a smaller version. Yes, if you have more than one house in your script, then it’s advisable to give a little more information, ie:
INT. PETER’S HOUSE, BEDROOM – NIGHT
INT. KATIE’S HOUSE, LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
But giving the whole address, colours of cars, location details etc – does it matter, REALLY? And if it doesn’t, why bother?
I’ve actually seen sluglines/scene headings go on for as long as three or four LINES. True story. Keep them as your “anchors” and as short as possible, not a sneaky way to shove information in there as the “way” you see the scene.
For more on format issues like this, check out The Format One Stop Shop.
I've gotten used to having to include exact timings on continuing drama scripts. It can be a useful discipline for figuring out if something's going awry with a script [e.g. cutting away from a phone call and coming back to it what must be two hours later, due to all the vents which happen between the two relevant scenes].
Having said all of that, I've just stripped timings off a spec script I'm writing as I found myself obsessing over them when I'd be better off concentrating on the writing. D'uh!
Yes good pt David – produced shows for television can be a whole different ball game to specs… There are no jump cuts in soap and we need to get a *feel* for time (oo er) when it comes to the actual production, especially when so many logistical things can get in the way of filming, such as when actors or sets are available.
but as you rightly say, in spec scripts timings can be an actual hindrance to the writer… And conventionally, they're not "needed", so better to leave it to DAY/NIGHT IMHO.
I remember scratching my head the first time I encountered T/C in a slugline. Asked a bunch of screenwriters before I found someone who knew the answer that T/C stood for Time continuous, indicating that a scene flowed directly on from the previous one. Not that commonly used, utterly perplexing if you run into it on a supplied SxS and don't know what it means.
Yes I've seen some very odd abbreviations over the years, in sluglines and dialogue, some made up entirely by writers. My fave was one I came across yeeeeears ago as a relatively new reader:
dialogue line here
I looked EVERYWHERE for the meaning of TISNR, totally did my head in. I gave up in the end and asked the writer – turns out it was code for his OWN rewrite (which he'd forgotten to remove), "This is shit needs revising"! haha
HA! That's brilliant… I'm stealing it!
The first commissioned TV script I wrote was full of DUSK, EVENING, DAWN, TWILIGHT etc, and I was told to just use:
DAY if it's light.
NIGHT if it's dark.
NIGHT costs more to shoot, so it needs to be clear to everyone at the outset.
If it's vital, put your GLORIOUS SUNSET or whatever in the scene description.
Oooh thanks Michael. Agree 100% – consistency is nearly always better.
I've sometimes used precise times in a script (e.g. INT – SHOP FLOOR – 9.45) to keep track of the course of events. I've then cut them all out and peppered DAYs, NIGHTs and the odd LATER through the script before showing it to anyone though.
Top advice on skipping scene headers. I have wondered about that often, having seen it in produced scripts, but never had the confidence to try it.
What is permissible in established writer's scripts is so often verboten to us speccers.