Screenwriting : Some Formatting Advice Please: by Ben Johnson Jr.

Ben Johnson Jr.

Some Formatting Advice Please:

I'm writing a scene for a show where two people sit watching a news report of a murder on TV. The dialogue and action drifts between the people in the room and the news bulletin on the screen. In the bulletin there is back and forth interaction between the anchor in the studio and the correspondent at the murder scene. The scene then occasionally goes live to the studio and to the murder scene. How would you slug line that and indicate change of focus between main location - the lounge with the two people, the anchor live, the anchor onscreen, the corespondent live, with the correspondent onscreen. When they're watching from the lounge I feel like I'm in three locations at once.

Erik Grossman

Think about how it plays out on screen... If the characters are watching the news bulletin and it goes to the murder scene - are we still seeing them watch this from their couch? Or are we, the audience, at the murder scene? You could do: ON SCREEN: The news switches to the MURDER SCENE. A run-down trailer park. Red and blue lights flicker. Police mob the scene, a REPORTER stands upright and faces the CAMERA. REPORTER: Just two hours ago, Bob raped and murdered a giraffe. Police are still looking for the body of said giraffe. All that said... you may need to re-work the scene. It sounds like you're trying to deliver a lot of exposition in a tight scene, which doesn't sound visually interesting. Try to find a way you can deliver the information you're trying to get out with more "showing" and less "telling" (which is the main problem with news reports in movies - it's all telling).

Brandon Vega

It depends on what you're trying to say in the scene - what's the information you're trying to convey. Less is more. You don't want the constant cutting to distract from what the focus of the scene is. If the information between the anchor and correspondent is important but the back and forth isn't, condense it to just either one of them. Also decide how important the information on the news bulletin is - then cut it down efficiently, or make it the exclamation point to whatever is going on between your characters at the table.

Ben Johnson Jr.

Thank you, some valid points. This is what I ended up doing. Established Main scene heading INT. JOE'S HOUSE, LOUNGE - DAY The established on screen settings as a possible intercut ON TV SCREEN: INT. TV STUDIO/EXT. POLICE HQ Then just used the sub headings to refer to the TV screen locations INT. TV STUDIO Having read through it seems clear enough. We'll see when the headwriter's notes come lol

Dan Guardino

Ben. Here is another way you might want to try. INT. JOE'S HOUSE, LOUNGE - DAY Joe sits on the sofa a flicks on the television. ON THE TELEVISION Mary sits behind the news anchor’s desk at the television studio. INT. POLICE HEADQUARTERS News Reporter in front of Police Headquarters talks into the Camera. BACK TO THE TV STUDIO Mary talks into the camera. BACK TO SCENE Joe flicks off the television.

Julien Klenn

Why do you have to show this on tv? Does anything change if they read it on the newspaper during breakfast? Why do you have to have the studio? It sounds like you're complicating things for no reason. Just establish the murder scene and put a reporter there. Drop the anchor unless is your main character. Then you can intercut living room to the crime scene if necessary. This way it would flow better and it would be cheaper to shoot. Like the others said, less is more. Try to be economical with every word you put on a page.

Ben Johnson Jr.

Julien, the script is for a TV show in production. You write based on the treatment. You cannot make ad lib changes because it affects scheduling. That's what the head writer sent me and channel has approved, I have to find a way to script it. If I were writing a spec or pilot for my own show I could change whatever I like but as a writer for hire I have to honor the treatment and stick within parameters.

Ben Johnson Jr.

Dan thank you, my primary concern was distinguishing between onscreen and live action. I felt using full slug lines gave the impression of being live so I opted for sub headings. I think I need to look at a couple of screenplays where they do this. I think as long as you convey a clear sense of what is happening where and we understand which is the primary action(in the lounge) vs the supporting action(on the TV screen) we're good.

Joe Fiserano

It doesn't say anywhere that you're writing based on a studio approved treatment. Giving you a heads up. You can establish the scenes and then intercut between them. Those subbheadings+sluglines is definitely out of format and looks weird. Good luck.

Ben Johnson Jr.

My bad Joe, I thought "writing for a show" covered it. I should have been more specific. Sub headings are used in formatting where there are more than one smaller locations within a main location, that's perfectly acceptable. If I establish the main location I don't have to reiterate INT. or time DAY unless it changes. So I'm using that idea in an unusual situation but formatting isn't an "only one way to go this" thing. Dave Trottier often shows 3 or 4 ways of formatting the same thing.

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