Screenwriting : Flashbacks by Christine Capone

Christine Capone


Hi Everyone, someone on here brought up a good point, as I have them in my script. What's the best way to write a flashback? In mine, I have a voiceover where the character states that an incident happened "seventeen years ago" and then we go to that year with a song from that era. In the slug, I placed the year but now I think I should have inserted a Super with the year?? Or is this something that is left up to the Director/DP that shows a flashback through the cinematography? In another flashback, her "mind drifts" and again, we go back 17 years and it's a song from that era. I'm not a big fan of flashbacks but I needed them in order for the movie to make sense. I only have three short ones. Any examples/advice is appreciated. Thx!

Eoin O'Sullivan

Hi Christine,

Nothing wrong with the VO - that works for a reader and audience.

An audience can't read the year in a slugline, so a SUPER is clear to both the reader and the audience.

The director and cinematographer can only work with what's on the page - so IMO, you need some visuals to establish the change of year. If it's a location the reader and audience already know, like a house a character grew up in, then highlight just enough visual changes that show the change in the time period.

Christine Capone

Thanks Eoin. I'll see what I can do to show the date. Maybe have a poster of Friends in the background?? She also could be sporting the Rachel haircut : ) Having a Super for present day might work best because in my script, the present day is in 2012. I mean seriously, what else can I show that it's 2012? Not much, so I do it with dialogue.

Christine Capone

Reading it and shooting it are two different things. Isn't it the Director's job to figure out how to shoot it to make it look like a flashback?

Dan Guardino

Obviously you can do it either way but there is no reason to do it both ways. The director is responsible how it will appear on film because that is their job.

Christine Capone

Ok, I guess I'm looking at it from a reader's standpoint. If I just write it in the slug line, is that acceptable? Or would that be strikes against me because I'm not actually showing details from that decade (in terms of pitching the script)? Is stating that it's 1995 enough for the director as well as set production?

Kiril Maksimoski

I avoid using them as much as I can....but couple years back I was doing a draft on my optioned script and I had to....I relied to David Twohy's "A Perfect Gateway", as it was thriller and I think his script is perfect example of doing flashbacks in means of a third act twist.

Christine Capone

Yeah, I'm not a big fan but I wouldn't have been able to tell the story.

Barry John Terblanche

Hi Christine. I don't know your story/script? Maybe consider having your main character narrative (past-to-present exposition) the story as opposed to flashbacks? I always find this as a more smooth easier flowing storytelling format. In the narrative, you'll refer to characters ages to reflect on the date, as opposed to using "supper" Hope this helps?

Dan MaxXx

I read a first or second draft of "The Revenant" screenplay and the writer didn't use any sluglines or named flashback scenes, but on the page it was easy to tell current scenes and flashback scenes.

Also, "The Arrival" screenplay has a genius twist of writing flashforwards as flashbacks on the page.

As for identifying flashbacks, dates, transitions, whatever - personally I don't care. Just don't bore readers. Make us turn pages...Good Luck!

Lindbergh E Hollingsworth

Along with all the points mentioned, for formatting: INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT (FLASHBACK) .... add the parenthetical as it will help tremendously when creating a shooting schedule.

Christine Capone

Dan I'll check those out, thanks! I agree. I guess I was thinking more in terms of pitching/sending the script out. If it's enough for the reader to put the specific year. The reader obviously will know it's 1995. It's up to the director to make it look that way.

Doug Nelson

Christine - I'm one of those dreaded readers (for Agents & a few small studios). Don't confuse me. I look to get into the storyline right from the get-go and want to ride that line right to the end. If you throw me off, I may not get back on. Nothing is obvious to the reader. 'FLASHBACK' is a transition - but it's left justified; next line is 'SUPER' - tell me when. Follow that with a scene header. When you're all done, you need another transition; 'BACK TO SCENE or END FLASHBACK' - again left justified. That makes it easy to follow and that's what works best. You all can argue about it all you want - but that's just the way it is.

Christine Capone

Doug, I like it that way! It makes sense but now I see that I might have screwed this one up. I put in the slug after she makes a comment about an earlier time in her life. So it reads like this:



"....and it all happened seventeen years ago"

Int. Home Basement - 1995



-the character states something that brings us back to current day, which then reads:

Int. Master Bedroom - 2015

It's an easy transition but I didn't put Flashback and End of Flashback because it was kind of obvious with her dialogue and slug line. I think I'll change it to how you suggested it. I hope this makes sense!

Doug Nelson

'...and it all happened seventeen years ago' is an example of expository dialog that may be more impactful if shown rather than spoken. Don't know the story so I really can't say for sure.

Christine Capone

In this situation, I felt that it had to be stated. The ending is at the beginning, then it cuts to a flashback as to why she's doing what she's doing. haha.

Tasha Lewis

Flashbacks play an integral part in most film projects. The initial approach depends on your short and long term objectives. Create a story board with various scenarios and have the team and screenwriters along with actors, directors and producers provide feedback. That is one option.

Stefano Pavone

I make it clear that it's a flashback in the script using the scene heading itself, sometimes adding a date in the screenplay, too, if the story jumps back and forth in time.

E. Lamoreaux

I gave my thoughts in another thread but to relay what I said there, I state that the character is younger in that particular scene to give readers the impression that a flashback is happening.

Eric Sollars

I've written flashbacks even when many in the industry say to avoid them. I can see their point. That recent movie WRATH OF MAN had tons of flashbacks. So many it was difficult to follow the story. I think some of the movie reviews commented on the number of flashbacks.

Eric Sollars

The project I'm on would be simplified by flashbacks, but I'm trying to do without. More work, more ways to get it done.

A.C. Patterson

The slug is definitely the wrong place for the year... if the protag's V.O. says "seventeen years ago" then that's all you need since the next scene has the feel of the past with older music from that era, etc. In my opinion, even a super showing the year that is 17 years prior would be unnecessary under those conditions. Especially since the action description coming directly after the slug gives you yet another chance to establish that the new scene is in the time 17 years earlier.

Johnathan Burns

Hi Christine Capone . I don't use flashbacks a lot but I have done in 2 particular scripts for the character's background story and I did so using dreams. The dream world flashback allows you to make it obvious it's a flashback and because they wake up, it's then obvious they are back in the story.

Christine Capone

@A.C. very true! I guess I didn't have to include it. I did put Int. Home Basement - 1995 and probably shouldn't have. I'll fix it, thanks!

Dan Guardino

A.S. The slug is not the wrong place for the year. It helps the person doing the breakdown and scheduling. If you just have someone say “seventeen years ago” in the previous seen might work for the reader but since they don’t shoot scenes in the same order it is better to have it in the scene heading. Of course this is just my own preference.

Christine Capone

Johnathan this definitely works. I did use the word Flashback and then used music from that era. I know that the cinematography would change as well to show it's also from a different era. So many factors can play into the flashback.

Christine Capone

True Dan Guardino I'll just keep it. It makes it an easy read. I mean, I'm sure it wouldn't be held against me, right??

Dan Guardino

Christine. Nobody will hold it against you.

Stefano Pavone

I just write in parentheses "Flashback" (without the quotation marks) as part of the scene heading.

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