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Home » Archives » June 2006 » There used to be harp music for this kind of thing
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06/15/2006: There used to be harp music for this kind of thing

I was on a certain studio lot today, where I had to pass the Building of Unpleasant Memories again. That building is the one wherein lies the writers' room of doom. Everything about the place takes me back to those unhappy days of toiling on that specific staff. It's just like the way the Radford lot still makes me unreasonably joyous-- that's where I entered my first writers' room, at "Dinosaurs". (Yes, the one with the puppets -- fun!)

The writers' room was also the showrunner's office. The amazing Bob Young acted as his own writers' assitant, typing the script himself as we all pitched. We could watch what he was doing on a TV that was connected to his computer screen. Gee, it's almost like I'm back there now…

We see a ridiculously young-looking Jane. She plays nervously with a pen, obvious to the ink marks accumulating on her fingers and chin...

Did'ja see that? That's a flashback. You don't really need to do much more than title the scene with that header. And the little "young-looking" reminder in the stage directions clues in anyone who missed it.

If you're using flashbacks in your spec, I'd first make sure your show does that kind of thing, and then try, if at all possible, to check how they do it. It's possible that a show might develop a special non-standard technique for this, so make sure you do whatever they do. But in the absence of other information, I'd do it the way I just did.

And for a flashback within a flashback? I would use the same kind of header, but then add a stage direction:

That's right. This is a flashback-in-a-flashback. Twenty-year-old Jane slices furry bits off an enormous block of cheese.

For something like this, clarity trumps elegance. I saw a brilliant Simpsons recently with a whole series of nested flashbacks, and they actually had a character make a comment. Something like: "Wait, in the story you're telling me, someone is going to tell another story?" You know that line was put in just to assure the audience that they were following what was going on. Clarity. Because confusion is the enemy.

Lunch: Int./Ext. Burger, animal style, and a Dr. Pepper. Mmmmm.


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