Screenwriting : How to screenwriting question by Doug Nelson

Doug Nelson

How to screenwriting question

I'm not sure to express this in a script. If I direct it - I know what I want but if I turn this script loose, how do I incorporate it? FADE IN, BLACK SCREEN INSERT "1957" EXT. SUBURBIA - DAY (BLACK & WHITE)

This is the intro scene - setting time/place, introducing the main character and the 'inciting' incident action - his heart attack & sudden death. Yeah it's a light paranormal genre.

I'm just trying to convey my vision to the Director/Editor without stepping on to many toes. Should I include the B & W notation or leave it out?

Jim Boston

Doug, if I wrote something like that, I'd leave out the B&W notation.

Nathan Smith

I would answer that by asking this: Is having it in black and white important for telling the story? If it's a running theme then I'd say include it but if it makes no difference to the overall impact of the plot, flow and structure, might as well leave it out. Odds are it could easily be ignored by a director anyway if they have a different vision of the end product.

Louis Tete

Tricky question Doug but I would leave it out cause the Director/Editor might have another input about it. Maybe try to look for scripts with the similar idea. Is it the all movie in B and W or just that scene?

Christopher Phillips

You can’t FADE IN and have a black screen. Screens fade in from black.

Dan MaxXx

If you're the Writer-Producer ($$$), you label the scene (shot in B &W). Director/DoP/Prod Designer/Costume/Crew/Post Colorist/Editor will know what to do. It's a bit more complex than switching a knob on a digital camera, or swapping film stock.

But all that is filmmaking craft after you have a finished script.

Chaun Lee

Title Card seems to be the best way to convey the date. Similarly, during a webinar I'm currently taking, the instructor said don't use a date in scene headings or title cards if you can convey a time period through your world building. She says great screenwriters know how to do this effectively. Maybe consider a newspaper with the date somehow in the scene description. Or a 1957 Ford sedan the character steps out of... 'Just a thought.

Erik A. Jacobson

One possibility would be to start the film in color, then gradually fade to sepia with the heart attack and then b & w as he slowly dies, losing consciousness.

Tennyson Stead

I'd just go ahead and put a note under the first scene heading, with "NOTE:" in bold to call attention to it. Formatting isn't so important, if you're going to direct the movie on the page... because you're already stepping over the format of the screenplay to do so. Just write the screenplay you want to write, honor the essential tenets of format, and trust your work to speak for itself.

Claude Gagne




Just a thought!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hi, Doug. Agree with Tennyson, adding a (NOTE:) in the description is a simple solution. Write it as you see fit. If someone else takes the project to fruition, that person can and will make any changes as they see fit. You're giving creative suggestions.

Now, if you are directing/producing yourself, just for example, perhaps take a look at the script for Memento. Nolan used B&W and color structurally to separate two timelines. He placed clear direction in the scene headings. From the script: INT. MOTEL ROOM 21 - DAY <<BLACK AND WHITE SEQUENCE>>. He even used italic to separate the B&W from the color sequences. For production, this clear direction makes sense.

As far as your opening, you could have type superimpose over an image. Maybe the script starts with EXT. SUBURBIA - DAY, followed by description with the B&W note, and then a SUPER with the date appears over the image. Or flip it, put the super before the description and note, after the suburbia heading. Or if you wish for that more separate, title-card-over-black element, then, of course, using a TITLE CARD seems appropriate. Hope that helps!

Thomas Hofbauer

Formatting doesn't matter UNLESS you're the person who has to do the script breakdown and schedule and budget the project. If you're THAT person, proper formatting is absolutely important.

Doug Nelson

As I suspected - nobody (self included) has the absolute 'correct' answer. I'm not sure there is one so just let common sense prevail as a couple of you have alluded to by using 'NOTE'.

Since I'll both Produce and Direct this film - IF I can find a functional crew locally - I'll keep it in a clean format; shoot it entirely in Full Frame 4K and deal with the color wash in Editing.

Thanx one & all. Hopefully you new screenwriters out there understand that there are no 'cut & dry', absolute answers for every situation.

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Hey Doug this is a great question because it is a director vs writer kind of question the way it's posed. However there is a simple answer: if you intend the scene to be in black and white for the sake of storytelling then yes it needs to be there. It needs to be clear. And it needs to be a confident choice on the page. Reads like you already did that and your instincts were right. You can also, and this is the long game, not include it and just wait to tell the director if it isn't you.

Just to counterpoint Tennyson Stead and Beth Fox Heisinger Notes are absolutely obnoxious 99% of the time. No need to leave note anywhere in your script if you pick a formatting device that's clear and to the point, which I think you're doing with B&W in the slug. Leaving a note is perceived as more controlling than just going for the choice. It also breaks the fourth wall on the page. Writing visually is always the stronger choice than stopping to explain something. So putting Black & White Sequence, or the like, in the slug is smart, clear, visual choice on the page.

Craig D Griffiths

I have seen “over black” rather than Black Screen.

Derek Reid

CJ: Red-vines might keep me reading. Black licorice or good n' plenty tho and it's the big corner X to that script!

Maria Soriano

OVER BLACK then type in another line what is on the black screen. If you want to insert a legend. Then put SUPER: AND THE WORDS.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Well, I’ve seen note used effectively and quite often—it is an option. I’ve seen similar direction given in scene headings—like the Nolan example I shared. Anyway, happy to hear you do plan to direct and produce your project, Doug. Fingers crossed on finding local crew. Hopefully when work resumes. Good luck!

Claude Gagne

I'd work for free Doug just to gain experience from a pro. In David Trottier's, The Screenwriter's Bible, he mentions Joe Eszterhas, "Basic Instinct" spec script had no Camera Angles, clever DISSOLVES, arty Montages, CUT TO, SERIES OF SHOTS, INSERTS, INTERCUTS and he was paid three million. Go Figure.

Thomas Hofbauer

Want to be a screenwriter? So does every valet parker, waitress and movie theater popcorn pusher in LA. So, What are you doing to become a screenwriter? For starters, you should be writing - every day. Make it part of your routine. Second, you should learn HOW to write in proper screenplay format.

I also recommend obtaining screenplays for your favorite movies. Get them in "Screenplay" format (and not reprinted in a non-industry way) and read them. Watch the movie from which the screenplay was made and follow along as the movie unfolds. See how the writer "designs" the page.

Also, you would do yourself a great favor by investing in an amazing screenwriter resource, "The Screenwriter's Bible", by David Trottier ( It's full of samples, tips and "rules" for writing your screenplay in the proper format. It's WELL WORTH the investment.

Dan Guardino

Doug. I would just leave it out.

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