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Home » Archives » June 2006 » What do Screenwriters Call In 'N' Out Burger? Int./Ext. Burger
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06/13/2006: What do Screenwriters Call In 'N' Out Burger? Int./Ext. Burger

I went to the gym this morning. Finally got up off my expanding bottom and got myself to the gym. I got a phone call from my agent just as I was arriving, so I walked into the gym, still speaking on the phone. By the way, there was nothing of particular import in the phone call. The most interesting thing I was doing was changing locations while talking. Hmm, that reminds me of today's question, sent in by faithful reader Christine in San Francisco. She asks:

"If characters start a scene in one spot, i.e. the interior of a diner, and the cameras follow the characters outside in the same scene, is there a need to start a new scene, or identify the new location? Or is there a way to indicate with stage direction… the fact that we're moving from in to out? Or vice versa?"

Well, yes, there is. Actually, this is one of those areas where the art, as opposed to the science, of screenwriting comes into play, because you get a choice of methods here.

You can, of course, start a new scene, making the location-change super-obvious:

The characters exit, still talking, into…

As they emerge and continue down the street…

Or you can do this. Make it all one scene and head it this way:


Or, if you prefer:


Now, you just use stage directions in the middle of the scene to indicate the transition. If you're afraid the readers won't catch it, you can supplement the stage directions with parentheticals like (exiting) or, more subtly, (fumbling for his sunglasses).

Not only does this kind of location description allow your scene to look as continuous on the page as it would play on the screen, it also saves space.

So why would you ever want to use the first option, to make it two scenes? I do that if the scene is unusually long, especially if the topic changes at some point. It's just a judgment call – does it FEEL like two scenes or one?

I might also do it if the locations are simply too different from one another. For example, this would feel a little strange to me:


Sure, a conversation could conceivably bridge a beam-up. But the transition is more than just incidental to the characters going through it. I would make these two separate scenes.

There are, of course, going to be all kinds of variations on simple location-changes that you will encounter in your writing life. You will have characters in revolving doors and characters who exit vertically, and characters who hallucinate locations, exteriors that are revealed to be interiors and vice versa… The most important thing to keep in mind is that the techniques of screenwriting are flexible enough that you will be able to invent a way to describe whatever it is that you want to describe. There's no need to adjust a moment to make it easier to write down. Remember, the words work for you, not the other way around.

Thanks for the question, Christine!

Lunch: a salad to which I added still-warm chicken. Soothing.


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