Screenwriting : Today's Wish and Creative Tip by Laurie Ashbourne

Laurie Ashbourne

Today's Wish and Creative Tip

When and how to ‘flash’ Flashbacks fall into the screenwriting rule trap more often than not. To the point we’re told to avoid them at all costs. You can use flashbacks for any number of reasons but its primary purpose is to bridge time, place and action to reveal a past emotional event or physical conflict that affects the character. Flashbacks that are most effective, are just that – flashes of a scene… think ORDINARY PEOPLE where we get flashes of the boat accident. Think about it, when you have a memory, it is a snippet in your mind. Pages long scenes with a lot of dialogue are not really flashbacks, but non-linear storytelling. And there is nothing wrong with this, just realize that is the device you are using and use it consistently. When getting in and out of a flashback, consider the ‘present’ reason for the scene and if it only exists to frame the flashback. If it does, then find a better way to reveal the information or craft a better segue with the scenes before and after. I’ve had quite a few scripts come across my desk where the very first scene is a flash forward. Don’t do that. How the hell can you flash forward from FADE IN? In short, there is nothing wrong with flashbacks when used in the right way for the right reasons. Many times, a writer throws a flashback into the screenplay because he or she doesn't know how to move the story forward any other way. Sometimes, the screenwriter decides to show something about the main character that could be better stated in dialogue, and, in that case, the flashback only draws attention to itself and becomes intrusive. Happy Humpday.

Richard "RB" Botto

This is an excellent post, Laurie. Actually came up in conversation the other day with a writer who received just this note from an executive through the Happy Writers. She was upset because a large part of Act II involved two flashback scenes. One ran 4 pages, the other 7. The exec - and he is a great one with 9 producing credits on major features to his name - made the point that (and suggested ways to) she could have accomplished much more through dialogue and setups in Act I. He wasn't against the idea of flashing back in snippets (exactly your point), but believed that 11 minutes of flashing back mid film would bring things to a halt and take the audience right out. She fought this tooth and nail the day I spoke with her. I asked her to sleep on it. She came back to me with a fresh perspective and agreed to give it a shot. The exec has also agreed to read the rewrite for free, which is cool. Can't be precious. And much like voice over, a little goes a long way.

Laurie Ashbourne

Yep. Happens a lot, where writers make flashbacks a vignette. It does require stepping away...

David Levy

Even for TV one needs to be careful on how they use flashbacks or flash forwards. If used right, it can be a great plot device.

Dan MaxXx

Deadpool was flashback for half the movie. Batman V Superman has a dream forward flasback inside another flash forward. Anything is possible

Laurie Ashbourne

Deadpool was a stylistic choice in non-linear storytelling. B v. S >> don't get me started.

Richard "RB" Botto

Some of my favorite have VO as well. But, for novice writers, devices such as VO and flashbacks are used too often as a crutch. When used effectively...lights out. But that's an acquired skill.

Dan MaxXx

richard- when I was a Reader, I used to stop reading when I saw a script begin with VO. of course my attention/biased agendas changed if the script was written by someone known Voice Over by nobodies- automatic pass

Dan Guardino

Dan M. If you really did that you were ripping off the company that was paying you.

Dan MaxXx

dan G- take away Scorsese movies, Deadpool.. how many great scripts/movies have Voice Over beginnings? more failure than success. lets do math, life of a Reader at agency (pre-Internet, before email, google, etc) 50hr++ work week, then a minimum of 50scripts a week. 24 hrs in a day x 7 days(168hrs). minus 50hrs for work, 7hrs to eat, shower, shit. 42hrs to sleep. so i have 69hours left to read a minimum of 50 scripts. stuff like binders, funny covers, wrong paper, wrong font, etc.. all the amateur stuff , those scripts never get read. every Reader has his/her biases. I just didn't like VO

Bill Hartin

I rarely speak out here on S32 but Dan is right. But for a VO early in a script, a writer's hopes and dreams are relegated to the circular file, you questionable, justifying math notwithstanding..

Dan MaxXx

Bill- all good. let's get back Laurie's excellent thread. Flashbacks (like everything) is hard to execute in moving pictures. A Writer has to be in hip pocket with a Director, from development to production. (before Internet boom), I read "Stay", by Benioff. one of the 'hottest' paper scripts circulating . Script reads fantastic. flashback/forward/dream sequence Intro. Everyone loved the script. The movie tanked.

Al Hibbert

Doesn't it depend on what kind of story you're trying to tell? For example, in "Godfather II", half the movie was about The Godfather's early days in Italy, and of course, the rest was set in the more recent past. Would you consider that a flashback? And voice overs. As Bill pointed out--some of the greatest movies, and TV shows of all time have used the voice over- Remember "The Waltons?" How about "The Wonder Years?" Somebody advised me not to use voice overs--I looked up some of their own work, very first thing I see has a voice over.

Dan Guardino

Dan M. Things may have been different back then and I appreciate the fact that you may have been over worked at the time. However a Reader really should not impose their own personal biases when reviewing screenplays. You can't tell how much experience a screenwriter has just because they used a VO in their screenplay. I can remember three screenplays in which I used VO in the beginning of the scripts and I am not a new screenwriter.

Laurie Ashbourne

Couldn't agree more, Jim -- on all accounts. Al, it does to an extent -- but at some point, where a film uses flashback consistently throughout, and the scenes in the past progress the plot as much as the scenes in the present -- that's a different style of storytelling. The issue where it fails, when it fails, is when the story is flowing along nicely in the present and then all of the sudden a lengthy flashback or two are thrown in as a random crutch, derailing the story.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hi Laurie, - Flashbacks and flashforwards are nothing else than non linear storytelling devices whatever their length, just like loops, mise en abîme etc. Actually these are the basic of non linear storytelling. So making the distinction between them and nonlinear storytelling is just a nonsense. Or would you make the distinction with Longback and Longforward? - Inception opens on a flashforward (In the linearity of the plot, it IS a flashforward). - Pulp Fiction opens on a flashforward (this is the only sequence which needs to be related to its following, the epilogue, to make sense) and is built on reciprocally flashbacks/flashforwards. - Citizen Kane is built on five looong flashbacks (unless these are separated by short flashforwards?). - The Grand Budapest Hôtel is built on two levels of short and looong flashbacks. - Vertigo is sliced with a big flashback (the revelation of the murder) and includes a long speech telling the story of Carlotta Valdes ("show, don't tell", ... remember? Why not a flashback?). - Forrest Gump is a series of looong flashbacks. - Titanic is built on a two periods plot in which loooong flashbacks tell the story of young Rose DeWitt Bukater. - The Bridges of Madison County is told in a looooong flashback, - Love Story is a loooong flashback, - The Legend of Bagger Vance is a loooong flashback, - A River Runs Through It is a loooong flashback, - Cinema Paradiso is a loooong flashback, - Amarcord is a loooong flashback, - etc... Actually, flashback is one of the most classic narrative way, as well in litterature as in cinema: each time a narrator is shown in their own time telling something which happened earlier, they make a flashback... Unless there is an other word I don't know to refer to "long flashbacks"

Laurie Ashbourne

Jean Marie - You sound like an intelligent person, so I’ll assume you know what the word nonsense means and you were just being flippant in a rant that you hoped would prove the entirety of my advice wrong. So, I will give you the benefit of that doubt. If you do decide to read the post in full, you will see that: I never say DON’T use flashbacks. I advise if you are using them as a non-linear story telling device to make sure your style is consistent and continually reveals information that progresses the story. There is a distinction between a non-linear story and one that has very brief flashes of memory – I will point to Ordinary People since that is the example I used in the post. All of the examples you give are fantastic stories crafted by experienced creators, and I applaud them – as pointed out, most inexperienced writers don’t have that ability yet – which is the intention of the post, to help them get where they need to be.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hi Laurie, .. -1. I'm appalled by the way self-proclaimed "doctors", "teachers" (because 99% of them are so self-proclaimed), “teach" screenwriting. This is exactly the OPPOSITE of how literature, music, and other arts are taught by true qualified professional teachers. .. This is the school of mediocrity vs. the school of excellence: . - Screenwriting: don’t do this, don’t do that, it doesn’t work, etc... BE BASIC, . - Literature, music, painting...: take example from great books, great authors, great composers, etc... Use their tools, go farther, DO GREAT. .. NO ART but screenwriting teaches and promotes mediocrity. .. What would you say if literature teachers told your children: - “don’t try to write like Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway,... This is not for you, it doesn’t work... write novelettes, airports novels... this is what works in the business...”. If music teachers told them: - “we’ll not study technique by Gershwin, Bernstein, Brubeck, because it doesn’t work in the business and you’re not smart enough to use it” .. What writers want to know is not how to avoid the use of advanced storytelling tools; this is how to use them. .. Unfortunately, the fact is, THE FACT IS, that screenwriting “teachers”, “doctors” don’t teach feedback, VO, non conventional structure, any of these useful devices, ... because they are UNABLE to do so. They are just able to harp on about the “three act structure” (which is a four act structure BTW), the pace, the flaw, the villain... the grammar school level of storytelling. This is the true reason. And I bet that most of these people never read anything by Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway... or watched Rope, Citizen Kane, Paths Of Glory, The 3rd Man... .. -2. “when I was a Reader, I used to stop reading when I saw a script begin with VO. Of course my attention/biased agendas changed if the script was written by someone known. Voice Over by nobodies- automatic pass.” Nobody acting like this should be allowed to be a reader. .. -3. All the movies I named earlier in this topic are great movies. They were successful and made a lot of money. In most of them, the use of advanced plotting/telling technique - non linearity, external narration, unconventional structure - highly contributed to their uniqueness and success.

Al Hibbert

@Jean-Marie- I agree with you in that there does seem to be a 'conformist' mentality to 'some' (maybe even 'most') of the people who give advice (script consultants). However, there are others, who don't do that. I'm relatively new to screen writing. I woke up one morning with an idea and I've spent going on 3000 hours in the last year working with my writing partner on a TV series that we are getting ready to pitch, called "Eden's Outpost." I can tell you that ALL devices are on the table with our show. When we got to a point where we had written it out to about 20 hour long episodes, the larger 'picture' started coming into view for us. It was a case of having to 'discover' the 'mystery' ourselves and start asking hard questions about our characters and SO MANY different aspects of the show that we needed to deal with in a methodical manner. We were (are) lucky, we met a couple on this site who really threw themselves into our project and went above and beyond the call of duty trying to help us. I'm finding out that there is a definite 'art' to screen writing. There are 'rules' that need to be adhered to. But, there are also times that one needs to do what one needs to do. I think the main point is that the writer needs to know "why" they are going to use a device, and make sure that it fits cohesively with the flow of the story. I think that some people may throw in 'flashbacks' without really thinking it through as to why they need them, etc. In that case, I can see how any literary device could become annoying. It doesn't hurt to have a little 'tough love' once in while, and be forced to 'defend' why you are doing something. I got a degree in journalism 30 or 40 years ago, but didn't work in that field. Before we went to a consultant we made sure that we had 'downloaded' enough of the story, etc. without worrying about the rules, that when we went 'back to school' so to speak, to learn how to write like a screen writer, we weren't hampered by paralysis by analysis. Our new teachers have been awesome, and they they had the right balance of 'good cop, bad cop.' If anybody wants to meet them, shoot me a message.

Laurie Ashbourne

Jean-Marie, I couldn't agree more (on your latest post), and I'm glad you got that out of your system. But again, if you had read the original post instead of using this a general place to rant, you'd see that. The very first sentence mentions the screenwriting rule trap -- nothing in the post promotes stepping into it.

Dan MaxXx

Me too :) Write a hit movie and all your future scipts go straight to bosses. Dont believe Interns at Disney are reading specs by Terry Rossio/Ted Elliot :)

Fiona Faith Ross

I hate flashbacks, but I loved Deadpool. Saw it twice. I quite like V.O. With the right voice (actor's voice) it invites the viewer in, gives intrigue and atmosphere. But then, I am only a worm of a screenwriter. What do I know? If I were a reader, I should not penalise a script for having V.O. at or near the beginning. On the other hand, I really don't like "We see...." but again, I've read scripts by top names who happily sprinkle "We sees" throughout their scripts. I do know what I like to see in a film, and I think a writer's instinct can be guided partly from that. It certainly works in long form fiction. As in - writerly test - if you enjoy reading what you wrote, there's a fair chance that you'll find others on the planet who enjoy it too.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

I just made a quick check randomly over the scripts of 11 of the 2016 AA winning movies: - 6 use VO (55%) - 4 open on VO (36%) - 4 use flashbacks/flashforwards (36%) - All were BO successes. I didn't check their structure yet. However, I think it would be of 1st importance that our Doctors begin to teach the use of advanced writing skills instead of always delivering warnings. I totally agree with you Dan, writing a hit movie is the best way to go straight to bosses. And that's easier when you're a fully powered writer.

Dan Guardino

I use flashbacks if they improve my screenplay and don't care what readers think because most readers never even sold a script. If a reader passes because a script has a flashback or voice over they should be fired for not doing their job that they were paid to do.

Dan Guardino

I agree with Dan M but writing a hit movie is not that easy. There are other ways to bypass the readers and get your script in the hands of the decision makers.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hi there, I must revise my previous analysis. I went over 20 of 2015 and 2016 Academy Awards nominee (Carol, The Martian) and winner movies I found the scripts: 2016: - Spotlight (Best Original Screenplay) - The Revenant - Bridge of Spies - The Big Short - The Danish Girl - Room - Ex Machina - Inside Out - Son of Saul - Carol - The Martian, 2015: - Birdman (Best Original Screenplay)- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Whiplash - The Imitation Game (Best Adapted Screenplay) - American Sniper - Boyhood - Interstellar - The Theory of Everything - Still Alice, Searching for the use of some “non conventional” and “highly discouraged” patterns. Here are the figures: - Using V.O. 14 - (70%) - V.O. opening 5 - (25%) - Using Flashbacks/Flashforwards 11 - (55%) - Flashbacks/ Flashforwards opening 5 - (25%) - Using Long descriptions (without dialogue, >= 1 page) 15 - (75%) - Long description opening (>= 1 page) 6 - (30%) - Using Long monologues (>1/2 page) 12 - (60%) - Using Long scenes (>= 3 pages) 20 - (100%) - Using “Non Standard“ structure (3 acts, linearity,...) 5 - (25%) - Long descriptions extend up to 9 ½ pages (The Martian) - Long scenes extend up to 8 pages (Birdman, Room) - V.O. or Long description opening are used 11 times (55%) - Combining Flashback/flashforward opening with V.O. or Long Description opening is used 5 times (25%) -- Non conventional structures are used at least in: - Inside Out (superimposed universes) - Interstellar (loop, superimposed and out of sync times of the same universe) - Son Of Saul (5 acts) - The Grand Budapest Hotel (5 acts + prologue and epilogue) - Boyhood (5 acts) As a matter of fact, things occurring more than 50% of time are usually considered as "standard"; and things occurring at least 25% of time are not considered as "non conventional". And my opinion is that NOBODY serious should stigmatize their use.

Dan Guardino

Eric I have to ask why do you limit your use of slug lines without eliminating scenes?

Dan Guardino

Jean-Marie. People say it might not be good to do something in a spec screenplay doesn't mean people aren't supposed to do it in a production script. When you do that you are really comparing oranges and apples.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@Eric: It seems like there is some subtext hidden behind your comment. Could it be? @ Dan: My opinion is it's true for some format details, the reference to copyrighted material (songs,...), real people or companies, or whatever could lead to legal issue,... but it's false for storytelling devices as long as they improve the story. I also think this is a trap used to keep outsiders out of the business. -- BTW, 3 scripts among the 5 nominated for 2013 AA Best original screenplay were specs: - Dallas Buyers Club by Craig Borten, (use of V.O., flashback, long description, long monologue) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accolades_received_by_Nebraska_(film) - Nebraska by Bob Nelson (use of long scenes, long description) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accolades_received_by_Nebraska_(film) - American Hustle (earlier American Bullshit by Eric Warren Singer, 2010 Blacklist.) (Use of V.O., flashback, long scene, long description, long monologue) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accolades_received_by_American_Hustle

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@ Tony, And that's told in the movie with less words than you use to tell it: -- "BUD When I was ten, my old man threw a bottle at my mother. I guess I got in the way. LYNN So you saved her. BUD Yeah. But not for long." -- Which is the best way here to explain this special trait of Bud's character, while a FB would not give more useful information and would break the pace. BTW, LA Confidential script is a SPEC: - Brian Helgeland took two years to wrote it on his own initiative against Warner Bross' will (which owned the rights). - He had then to pitch it with Curtis Hanson to James Elroy himself and to Regency Enterprises to get their help for having a chance to make it greenlighted by the studio. - It won the AA of Best Adapted Screenplay. There is no place for flashback in LA Confidential as the plot is too thick and intense. However, it uses V.O., long monologue, long scene, long description, and V.O. opening. The fact that "Tell, don't show" was the best solution here doesn't mean that exposition is always better than FB.

Kevin Little

Would it be fair to say that a FB works if: 1) It doesn't halt the momentum of the story (it usually does) 2) Cannot be done in a "better" way (always subjective) 3) The actual FB, on its own, is engaging and powerful As for the flash forward, my very first script's opening scene was one. I generally hate them when I see them but for my story I just felt it was a great hook that served to instantly engage the reader and make him curious as to what led up to this powerful scene. I am curious though what Laurie specifically means by "how the hell can you flash forward at FADE IN"?

Laurie Ashbourne

Kevin - in the first scene of any movie, as the film fades in from black, there has been no time established so one cannot flash forward or backward from nothing. That doesn't mean your first scene cannot take place in a time earlier or later than your main story, it just means you haven't established the time frame of your main story yet so there is no way it can be claimed as a flashback or flash forward. IF your first scene is not the present time of your story then in the 2nd scene you have to establish what that present time frame is. 10 YEARS LATER 2 WEEKS EARLIER whatever it may be.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hi Kevin, Speaking of Flashback/ Flash forward in storytelling (either in literature or entertainment), one way is to consider that the main time of your story is the one of its opening. This is the way Laurie describes it. -- However, the USUAL CONVENTIONS are as follow: 1 - The MAIN TIME of a story is basically THE TIME WHEN THE MAIN PROTAGONISTS ACT together to fulfill their goal, UNLESS SOMETHING ELSE OCCURS... Which means that: -- 2 - With a conventional narration/plot, the main time is the time when the MAIN ACTION takes place; EVEN if an anonymous narrator tells a story in which they are not involved in some way. 2.1- Everything related to this plot is a flashback (in French a "back in time") if it takes place earlier than the moment it is inserted in, and a flashforward (In French, an Anticipation) if it takes place later than this moment. 2.2 - Everything not related in some way to the plot is OUT OF THE STORY TIME and CAN'T BE a flashback or a flashforward. Otherwise, it can be an exposition or a narration (E.G. the anonymous narrator without their own story who tells a story/tale set in another time/place...) 2.3 - However, If a narrator tells a story they were involved in and which took place in their own past, it's part of their own life and considered as a flashback. In literature, the narrator's intervention is told in the present and and the story they tell is told in the past. -- 3 - With a non-conventional narration (Pulp Fiction) or plot structure (Looper, 12 Monkeys, Interstellar, Inception, Mulholland Drive, Citizen Kane, Titanic...), the nature of flashbacks and flashforwards is determined following the most logical/chronological way the story is told. Some examples: -- - THE THIRD MAN (movie) is shown in a conventional narrative way, without flashback or flashforward. In this story, the accident in which Harry Lime died is TOLD by witnesses (but not shown) in 2 different ways, and the truth uncovered later is a third version. If theses different versions were shown instead of being told, they'd all be flashbacks, no matter they are true or not. -- - THE THIRD MAN (novel) is told by a narrator (Major Calloway) as events he was involved in at that time. The main time of the story is the one of today' s Calloway telling the story, and the story is told IN THE PAST in a long flashback. -- - CITIZEN KANE shows a journalist mingling in the past of Charles Foster Kane just after the death of the latter. The main time Is the time of the investigation, and the past of Kane is told in five long flahsbacks. -- - LOOPER tells chronologically the story of a young hitman who kills men sent to him from the future, then his own life when he's older, until he's sent to his young self to be killed and he resists. The main time runs chronologically all along the movie and this is not a flashback, but a loop that reunites the same character at to different ages in his life. The same process is used in 12 MONKEYS, MULHOLLAND DRIVE and INTERSTELLAR; the narration is linear. -- - INTERSTELLAR, however, has a very special opening: - The main time is chronologically the one of Cooper's life, beginning with him on earth as a farmer before he's sent in space over a wormhole to find a new earth. - The opening sequence combines the main time, a flashback and a flashforward: - While the image shows the earth in the main time (first scene), - an elderly woman (Cooper's daughter at the age we'll see her at the end of the movie) tells in V.O. = flashforward ... - ... the story of her father which is then shown when he was a test pilot before becoming a farmer (the three following scenes) = flashback. -- - PULP FICTION's plot is deconstructed and shown in reciprocal flashbacks/flashforwards. Its first scene IS a flashforward, as it must be related to the last one to make sense. The last scene IS a flashback as it must be replaced BEFORE a previous one to make sense. -- - INCEPTION tells chronologically a MISE EN ABIME of several stories occuring one after another and one into another. However, its opening scene IS a flashforward, as it shows an event that will occur later in the movie. It also uses flashbacks each time Cobb's late wife Male is shown. -- - THE REVENANT's script opens on a short flashback showing Glass comforting his son Hawk. This flashback will be used again later in page 26 and in pages 33 and 46 where it will took its sense. -- - TITANIC is also something special as it alternates two stories set in two different times and involving the same heroine, Rose Dawson Calvert previously DeWitt Bukater. It's not easy to decides what one is the flashback or the flashforward of the other. However, as modern Rose is the narrator of young Rose's story, the second is a flashback of the first: If it were a novel about a person telling her memories, young Rose's story should be told in the past (see The Third Man above) while old Rose's life should be told in the present. As you can see with Interstellar, The Revenant, Inception, Pulp Fiction,... a movie can perfectly begin with a flashback or a flashforward. Hope to be helpful. Exercise: What is the main time in The Grand Budapest Hotel?

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@ Tony: The fact LA Condidential is a spec was to repy to DanG. And no doubt that you can find as many movies as you want in which a told is better than a shown, ... and the contrary too hahaha!

Dan MaxXx

Lol who writes/directs better than Nolan, Tarantino, Anderson, Inarritu? Stop comparing yourself to them; 99.999% no one here will come close. No need for a War and Peace essay on uses of FB, Flashforward. This shit is not rocket science. It's story telling

Laurie Ashbourne

I never described the main time of your action as the first scene.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@Tony: Ok, I'll make it as cloying but less pretentious (BTW, I don't disdain being a pain in the ass): -- @ Laurie: I apologize: that's right, you explained that a first scene can be set earlier or later than the main time of the story. What I disagree with is that " in the first scene of any movie, as the film fades in from black, there has been no time established so one cannot flash forward or backward from nothing." 1. There are plenty of ways to establish time in the opening of a story, either it's shown or told (E.G. "Once upon a time"). 2. Even if time is not clearly established in the first scene, the audience will perfectly establish it as a flashback or a flashforward, if required, as soon as you'll give them a marker. 3. And this can be a great way to use FB/FF: hiding for a while the exact time of your opening in relation to the main time of your story can be a great tool to establish suspense or mystery for example. -- There is an easy way to situate action in time that works in most of the cases, wherever a scene is placed in a story: Ask yourself "If it were a novel, what tense could/should I use to write this scene if giving no time indication". - if it should be told in the past => this is a flashback - If it can be told in the present but not in the future => this is your main time - If it can be told in the future => this is a flashforward. -- @DanM: Sorry that you don't understand the importance of mastering so necessary/useful skills, but glad you know where you belong. So why do you write scripts? Nothing more interesting to do in your life? -- @Tony: It seems like you were upset because I said "And that's told in the movie with less words than you use to tell it". Isn't it? If so, I apologize. My purpose was just to agree with you, showing that very few words can convey enough subtext to replace a long flashback. However, I'm responsible only for what I say; not for what you understand.

Laurie Ashbourne

Jean Marie - Let me see if I can make this as clear as possible so anyone of any language or learning level gets it once and for all. FADE IN: EXT. MAIN STREET - DAY (FLASHBACK of FORWARD) those two words in parenthesis that begin with F are what is impossible. I don't care if the scene takes place in another century that time has forgot or is yet to know, you establish the story time in the next scene. Simple as that. No need for eons of research and carpal tunnel.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@DanM: Oh I remember... You were a reader... Some confess things like 'I used to stop reading when I saw a script begin with VO. Of course my attention/biased agendas changed if the script was written by someone known. Voice Over by nobodies- automatic pass' Seems like that kind of readers doesn't read so many scripts actually. Stop reading too often...

Dan MaxXx

Sir Jean leave your ego at home. u suck at working a "room"

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@Laurie: Ooooh Sorry. I missed something there: you were just talking about SLUGLINES... However, you're just responsible for what you mean, not for what I understand of course... Seen from this angle, I totally agree with you.

Dan Guardino

Laurie is right you cannot flashback or forward until you establish a time in which to do so. Dan M is right. Screenwriting is not rocket science.

Dan MaxXx

Laurie posted sound advice to Writers. Take it as notes. Defensive Writers don't come back to rooms.

Kevin Little

Thanks Jean-Marie and Laurie for your replies, very helpful clarification and great examples!

Jennifer Winter

I'm a fairly new writer. I've just finished a pilot for a series with an opening sequence that is a 'flash forward' (i.e. scene 2 starts with "Two Weeks Earlier"). In this teaser, a shot is fired, but the shooter/victim is not revealed (until the scene rolls around again in the fourth act). I've obviously used this as a means of providing an effective hook. Are you saying readers won't continue beyond the teaser because I have employed this technique, and I'm shooting myself in the foot for using it?

Al Hibbert

Jenny- most of the arguments, I mean discussions on this site are about flash 'backs'. If your story works, I wouldn't let anybody talk you out of it who hasn't read it, if you think it's right,

Doug Nelson

The screenwriter's tool box contains all sorts of tools; Flashback, Montage, V.O., O.C., MOS, Fade in/out and many others. What separates the craftsmen from the hacks is how the writer uses them. It's like any trade/profession; the auto mechanic, the carpenter, the dentist, the brain surgeon all have different tools. It's up to you the writer to figure out how to use the tools available to create the best possible story. Use what works.

Regina Lee

Hi Jenny, based on your post, it seems that your opening scene takes place in the Present Day. For example, today is June 11. That is present day. Then Scene 2 might be a Flashback to 2 weeks earlier (May 28), or Scene 2 might not be termed a "Flashback" at all. You may simply be using non-linear storytelling in which you jump in time non-linearly. Terminology might be the confusion in this case, Jenny. Break a leg!

Laurie Ashbourne

Not at all, Jenny. If you read through the thread you will see that is not the advice given. Breaking Bad is a great example of a pilot that does exactly what you are describing very effectively. The key is effectiveness. AND to not to label the first scene as a Flash forward.

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