Sunday, August 30, 2009


As promised, we're going to talk about LATER and CONTINUOUS today. I'm also tossing in INTERCUT because several clients have written out scenes the long way recently instead of relying on the trusty and easy-to-use INTERCUT.

So - LATER. I'm going to make this very simple. Only use LATER if you are staying in the exact location where your previous scene took place, and you need to indicate a passage of time.

So, let's say we were in:


Lisa takes a dozen eggs out of the refrigerator.

Now, we don't want to watch Lisa make scrambled eggs. And we don't want to show her saying boring "good mornings" to her children. So we just need to jump time ahead to what we do want to show. The next thing you type is:


Lisa and her two children shove scrambled eggs into their mouths.

That's it. This is the basic reason LATER exists - to indicate the passage of time within the same location/header.

If you wanted to go from this scene to Lisa getting into her car an hour later and heading to work, you could write:


Lisa tosses her briefcase into her car.

A lot of writers try to use LATER or LATER THAT MORNING in situations like this one. But as we discussed last week, your header does not exist for you to explain story details. When you move a location, you almost always just use DAY or NIGHT in the new header.

Of course, sometimes you can use CONTINUOUS. However, I think CONTINUOUS gets overused in a lot of the scripts I read. Again, the writer is trying to make sure that I realize that things are happening one after the other or at almost-simultaneous times. But by relying on CONTINUOUS, writers sometimes forget to make sure that what they’ve written will be clear on screen and not just on paper.

CONTINUOUS, in my opinion, just doesn't need to be used all that often. If you have:


Mike picks up the mail and walks into -


Mike carries the mail to the couch and sits down.

I think this works. CONTINUOUS indicates that there hasn't been a passage of time, just an immediate change in location. You can think of CONTINUOUS as being dependent on a clock. If a clock has jumped ahead in time, CONTINUOUS won’t work.

However, if you are jumping between locations and want to make it clear that the action is simultaneous, don't rely on CONTINUOUS. In general, I would say to just use DAY or NIGHT in the new headers, and then make it clear to the viewer that things are happening at the same time. You can show a clock in both locations or use some other device, such as the same TV show playing in the different rooms.

The final topic for today is INTERCUT. I love using INTERCUT. It allows the writer the most freedom with the fewest headers, and I recommend that you try to use it where appropriate.

In several scripts that I’ve read recently, the writers kept going back and forth between two people on a phone call. During one phone call, they may have changed the header six or seven times.

This just takes longer to read, plus the writer has to remember which character is V.O. under which header. It's much easier to just call for an INTERCUT and write the scene as if you were under both headers. You can also use an INTERCUT for more than two locations.

First, introduce each character and his/her location. Something like:


A miserable Joan looks at candy on a shelf. Frustrated, she dials her cell phone.


John drowns his sorrows in a beer.

His phone RINGS. He answers.


We have to solve this. I'm conferencing in Mike.


Mike bowls out his anger. His phone rings. He answers.


Once you've called for the INTERCUT, you just tell us what's happening in all three locations without any regard for changing headers or using V.O. You write the action for all of them as if you were in their location with a proper header. So you can tell us what they say and do without worrying about camera placement. Basically, you just stay here under the INTERCUT until someone hangs up or you want to change scenes. It's really very easy to write and to read.

OK, that’s it. Next week’s blog will cover something other than headers. I think we’ve said all we can say about them. As always, if you have any questions, post them in the comments section or write me at

Have fun writing!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Scene Headers

Scene headers seem to be a source of frustration for many writers. And I think I understand why.

When you write a spec script, you constantly hear - keep the camera out of it. Don't give camera angles. Don't write camera movement directions. Leave all of that to the director. Just tell us the story.

OK, so when you sit down to write a scene header/slug, your natural instinct tells you to use it to advance the story. You want to describe the color of the sky, the weather, the exact moment of the day and tell us if it's tomorrow or next week.

Only you can't in a properly-formatted header. A header is the one item on the page in a spec that really is more about camera direction than story.

Let's start with why a header isn't about story: An audience never sees or hears your header. Every time you write something in a spec screenplay, ask yourself if it translates to the screen. If you use your header to tell your reader that it's now tomorrow - and that information is vital to someone's understanding of your scene - ask yourself how the movie-theater audience knows that information. The answer is - they don't. A header is just information that a reader gets - not an audience.

A header, even though we use them in spec screenplays, is really important to the shoot. The INT./EXT. tells the director and cinematographer something about the location of the camera (indoors or outdoors) and whether the lighting should appear natural or artificial. The location that you type after INT. or EXT. tells the exact camera location. And the DAY or NIGHT (and those are the only two designations you generally will ever need) just tells the producer/director/cinematographer more about the lighting.

With that said, always remember that INT. means interior. Don't complicate this. Is your location inside? If not, use EXT. for exterior. That's all. Make sure you are describing the room you are in and not an item that you want to use in a close up. For example, if you write:


You have just asked the director to set up the camera inside a shirt. I would bet there are very few scripts in which that header would really be what the writer meant to say. Here's another one that's physically impossible:


You can't put a camera inside John running. Remember that the words you type after INT. or EXT. have to be a physical location where a camera could be placed.

Now, let's discuss location and why consistency is so important to a producer. If SAM'S ROOM is a location, you should always type it that exact same way. When someone goes to shoot your movie and they pull up all your scene headers to try to arrange a shooting schedule, they should not see:


These are all the same location. Don't confuse a potential producer by changing the way you write your headers. Every new location means more money, so make sure you don't make one location look like three simply by being inconsistent in your headers.

By the same token, don't say INT. CAR to describe three different people's cars. Again, that will look like one location and one car that needs to be on set instead of three. So be sure to say:


After your location, you should generally just describe the way the lighting looks with either DAY or NIGHT. If your scene is inside a room with no windows, don't write anything in this space. So, if your characters are locked inside a bank vault, you could just say:


I'm trying to keep these blogs short and readable, so I'm going to save the dreaded LATER and CONTINUOUS for the next blog. If you have any specific scene header questions in the meantime, you can use the comments section or e-mail me at

Have fun writing!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Query Letters

To blog or not to blog - that is the question. I've decided to give it a shot, since I seem to get the same questions from clients and potential clients each week. I'm hoping this blog will be a user-friendly way to address some of the basic comments and proofreading issues that I see repeatedly. I may even use it to gripe about what is - or isn't - happening with my own screenplay submissions.

This week, query letters seem to be on people's minds. If you've been to lately, you know I've added a query letter service for $25 each letter. At first, I was resistant to reviewing query letters, but then I realized it's silly to proof and edit scripts without offering to look at the query letters. Why? Because even if you've written the best script around, no one's going to read it if your query letter doesn't sell. After all the time you've put into your script, don't shortchange the amount of effort your query letter requires.

So, what should you put in your query letter? Well, I can't really think of an instance that wouldn't call for at least one rock-solid logline. But beyond that, how you draft your query depends on two basic issues:

1. Who are you targeting - a production company, manager or agent?

2. Do you have writing accomplishment that can help you sell yourself, or are your logline and synopsis your best selling points?

A production company generally wants to know about a project that you want them to fall in love with and buy. A manager generally wants to know about your scope of work so they can help you build a career. And an agent - well, that sort of depends. They can represent one project or they can represent you as a writer. Of course, these are generalities. Sometimes, a manager may choose to represent just one script instead of the actual writer.

When I query a prodco, I include one logline, a short (and oh-so-compelling) synopsis and my writing history. When I query an agent or manager, I list multiple loglines and my writing history. I don't include a synopsis for any of the scripts.

Depending on who I am querying, I may also change my tone. For example, if I'm sending a query about one comedy script to a prodco, I may get a little tongue-in-cheek in my letter to match the script's tone.

Of course, if you can make some personal reference as to why you are querying this specific person or company, so much the better. Don't go into too much detail - just let them know that you know who they are and that you chose them for a reason other than that they happened to be included in your copy of the HCD.

One final note - here's why I always include a writing history: If you can show that someone else out there thinks that you can write - either by mentioning a contest placement, prior representation or an option or sale - you seem like less of a gamble. This doesn't mean you can't query if you don't have any of these things to include yet. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if you have something to support your claim that you can write, get it in there. A query letter is a sales pitch, so be sure you've sold yourself to the best of your ability.