A scene heading is an instruction from the screenwriter given to everyone involved in the movie production. This instruction tells everyone “where and when” a particular scene is to be shot.

Scene headings also called slug lines have got three major elements, and these elements are:

  • Either interior or exterior (INT. or EXT.)
  • Location/scene.
  • The time of the day. (DAY or NIGHT)

Examples:

  • INT. CAR – DAY

The instruction from the screenwriter to everyone involved in the movie production based on the scene heading example above is that the scene should be shot inside a car during the day.

  • EXT. HOTEL – NIGHT

The instruction from the screenwriter to everyone involved in the movie production based on the scene heading example above is that the scene should be shot outside the hotel at night.

If your scene heading or slug line doesn’t have the three elements mentioned above, what you have written isn’t going to be called a slug line.

QUESTION:

Should what is written below be called a slug line?

  • Ext. Hotel – Night

If your answer is, yes, you’re wrong, but if no, you’re correct. The simple reason is that a scene heading or a slug line should only be written in capital letters.

There will always be confusion in the heads of the actors and production crew members whenever a screenwriter writes a scene heading like this:

  • INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – DAY

The confusion will be; which place in Richard’s house does the screenwriter want us to shoot this scene?

There wouldn’t be confusion anywhere if the screenwriter writes:

  • INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY

Everyone will know that the screenwriter wants this scene to be shot inside Richard’s living room and it should be shot during the day.

Like I mentioned earlier about a scene heading having major elements, they also have minor elements and these elements are:

  • CONTINUOUS
  • MOMENTS LATER
  • LATER
  • SAME
  • FLASHBACK
  • BACK TO PRESENT DAY

And so on.

Read: Plot Structure In A Screenplay.

These minor elements are written behind the major elements, but minor elements like Continuous, Moments Later, Later and Same are written differently.

For a scene heading to use minor elements like Continuous, Moments Later, and Same,  the major scene heading must have been established.

CONTINUOUS: The movement of a character’s action from one scene to another without interruption in time.

Example for CONTINUOUS:

INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – DAY

RICHARD (30s) lies on the bed; there’s an aggressive KNOCK on the door as he gets up and walks to the living room.

INT. LIVING ROOM – CONTINUOUS

Richard opens the door to see LANDLORD (50s).

From the above, you’ll notice that the major scene was established in the bedroom, and then Richard walks to the living room.

QUESTION:

Why wasn’t the continuous scene written like this?

INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY – CONTINUOUS

ANSWER:

There wouldn’t be a need to write either “RICHARD’S HOUSE” or “DAY” again in the slug line because it was already established and whoever is reading it will know that we haven’t left Richard’s house, and it’s still day time as the definition of continuous says.

These “little things” go a long way to telling the reader if the screenwriter is a novice or a professional, so choose wisely.

To see another CONTINUOUS example, download the pdf.

Read: How To Write Action Description.

MOMENTS LATER: This is the passage of a short time period.

Example for MOMENTS LATER:

INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – DAY

RICHARD (30s) dresses up for work; he wears his shoes and picks up his car key as he walks out of the bedroom.

INT. MAX OIL – RICHARD’S OFFICE – MOMENTS LATER

Richard goes through the documents on his table as SECRETARY (30s) walks into his office.

From the above, you’ll notice that:

  • DAY wasn’t included because we had already established the time of the day at Richard’s house, and since MOMENTS LATER is the passage of a short time period, it means it’s still daytime.
  • Richard left his house to another location and scene which is his office.
  • For clarity’s sake, the name of the company (location) was mentioned and the particular place in the company (scene).

LATER: This is the passage of a long time period.

Let’s use the above example on Richard.

INT. MAX OIL – RICHARD’S OFFICE – MOMENTS LATER

Richard goes through documents on his table as SECRETARY (30s) walks into his office.

INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – NIGHT – LATER

Richard walks into the living room and drops himself on a couch.

QUESTION:

  • Why did you add NIGHT?
  • Why wasn’t the scene written like this?

INT. RICHARD’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – LATER

ANSWER:

  • There wasn’t an establishment of a night scene.
  • If the slug line is written that way, there isn’t specificity because LATER can still mean a long time passage during the day, but NIGHT was added to be clear.

SAME: This is used when two or more events are taking place at the same time.

To get a clearer understanding of how “Same” works, I’d suggest you download the pdf.

FLASHBACK: This is used whenever a character wants to remember a past event.

BACK TO PRESENT DAY: This is an indication that a character has finished remembering past events and he/she is back to reality.

To get a clearer understanding of how “Flashback” and “Back To Present Day” work, I’d suggest you download the pdf.

Read: Screenplay Structure.