Writing Plays/Screenwriting/query


Hi Barry,

My set of questions are:

1. In final draft software, where we should type technical jargon like 'Beat' ' Beat Change' which are related to characters behavior.

2. Should we write time duration with slug line or write separately in action paragraph?

3. What is the basic difference between 'Cut To' and ' Dissolve To'? Please explain with example.
Rohit Sharma.

Hi Uttar,

Here's the succinct answers to your questions (please note that the AllExpert answer platform messes up the formatting) :

1. Typically, you would use "beat" in dialogue only, as follows:

         Do you have any conception of what
         the security is like there?
         (a beat)
         Stop looking at me like that!

2.  Separately in action.
As for scene headings, the proper format is as follows:


In the heading, use ONE hyphen with a space before and after, followed by one of the four times of day—DAY, NIGHT, DUSK, DAWN. Never use a hyphen elsewhere in the scene heading; use a comma.

3.  Basically there is a difference in pace. 'Cut To' is fast, but it has restrictions of use (see excerpt from my book HOLLYWOOD SCRIPT FORMATTING MADE EASY below).

' Dissolve To' is slow. It's typically used before a flashback, or during a montage or a series of romantic scenes.

The following is my book excerpt on the subject of transitions and shots:

Transitions – CUT TO: and DISSOLVE TO:
These are useful transitions for indicating edits within a scene.

Avoid using these to move from one scene to another, unless the transition is necessary, such as to indicate a lapse of time with a dissolve. (See below)

At some point during the writing of dialogue or narrative you will need to use a…
In full screenplay format, you place transitions at the RIGHT HAND SIDE of the page.
Avoid beginning a new page with a transition.
Transitions look like this:

         CUT TO:
         DISSOLVE TO:
         FADE OUT

CUT TO: is often used before a SHOT such as INSERT and POV, but it's not mandatory, and I advise you not to use it unless you need it to clarify.
You can use CUT TO: within a scene to indicate a later time in the same scene and location, as follows…

         CUT TO:

Use transitions sparingly.

Especially DO NOT use them to "beef up" the length of a short screenplay. Readers are the savviest people in the world about formatting. You will get busted.

Do not use CUT TO: between scenes. When you put a scene slug in your script, it's implicit that there is a cut before it; therefore, you don't need a CUT TO:

Using CUT TO: between scenes is totally redundant and cluttering.

12.    SHOT

An element in most screenplay formatting programs. Useful to the Director and crew in that it helps them to keep track of particular shots that they need to provide to the editor: a point of view of somebody or something, for example, or an insert, etc.

The Shot heading is in caps and placed at the left margin.
Typical shot headings are POV, INSERT, SUPER, etc.

Example of how to format a shot heading ( in this case, it’s ERIKA'S POV) in all caps.

A slash of light across the floor as the bathroom door flies open and Erika runs
out in shirt, bra, and panties.

She steps back against the wall.



Nick rolls toward the weapon, but the Thug grabs him,drags him back.

Point of view. Usually a SHOT representing a specific character's point of view, but it can also be the point of view of a collective of persons, i.e. the crowd's point of view.

You can also designate Visual and Audio items as shots. When the production crew preps the movie, they need to isolate parts of the screenplay that pertain to their specialty (i.e. the camera department, sound department, etc.)

If the writer has a commercial formatting program, he or she can be helpful, by applying the program element "SHOT" to items such as...


Shot headings should always be in caps, on a line by themselves, followed by a colon, with one line space above and one line space below. (Formatting programs will space SHOT elements more generously.)

Note that the "transition" FADE OUT does not require a colon.

Example 1 (how to format shot headings):

         The two of you thought I'd blow my
         cover – let you in on De Luca –
         well it's not gonna work that way.

Kagel throws the bag at her, tries to make a run for it, but she rams the umbrella
tip into his gut.



Turner steps back.

Example 2 (multiple shots):





The hatch lifts and flips open, letting a shaft of light flash in on:

Chinese workers crammed together like sardines.

Do not end a page with a shot heading. For example...

Do not do this:
---------------Page Break----------------
<Page number for example>          37.

The hatch lifts and flips open, letting a shaft of light flash in on
Chinese workers crammed together like sardines.

Important note about formatting shots:

If you are formatting with Final Draft or any of the other commercial formatters, make sure not to format a shot as a…


Let's say you put in a TRANSITION, like:

         CUT TO:

in order to lead into your shot, which is, for example:


…and after CUT TO: you hit "enter" or "return".

Final Draft will automatically format the line as a scene heading, even though you are about to write your shot there (i.e. THEIR POV: MR. MAN) , and you'll end up with your shot being in your screenplay as a scene heading, not a good thing as you'll learn below.

To get the right format, you will need to select THEIR POV: MR. MAN, then go to your element box on the toolbar to the left of the view size box and select "SHOT" from the drop-down menu.

Leaving the SHOT formatted as a SCENE HEADING, screws up the formatting.

Your autotype will be wonky, and you will thwart three cool functions in Final Draft:

1.  The <SmartType> function under the <Document> menu.
When you use a location more than once, the SmartType function fills in the full description of the SCENE HEADING after you have typed in the first few letters. If your SHOTS are formatted as SCENE HEADINGs, they will keep popping up like rogue CIA agents, not only annoying you, but distracting your writing.

2.  The <Index Cards> under the <View> menu.
Index cards automatically pick up all the SCENE HEADINGS in your script and display them as file cards so you can go to "Card view" and restructure the order of your script quickly and efficiently.

If you format a SHOT as a SCENE HEADING, all your SHOTS will come up as cards and mess up the whole display. You don't want to be looking at a supposed SCENE HEADING card heading that reads: THEIR POV: MR. MAN

3.  The <Reports> function under the <Tools> menu.
The function uses SCENE HEADINGS to sort and report, which is why you won't want shots masquerading as headings.

Reports can be very useful in analyzing your script and helping you see the structure more clearly. If you have Final Draft, consider looking into this function.

Transitions before SHOT
As mentioned above, some writers like to use the Transition CUT TO:  before a shot.

I prefer to omit CUT TO: as much as possible, so if you're using Final Draft or a similar program, the following format would be totally acceptable (however you will still need to format your SHOT description manually as above).

All heads turn toward MR. MAN, who stands at the door.

Then hit "enter" or "return", which will take you to the ACTION element. Go to the element box and change ACTION to SHOT.

Type "THEIR POV: MR. MAN" and hit "enter," then type your next action line:

He staggers a few steps, and collapses.

Don't bury shots in narrative description. You'll make it harder for the reader to visualize, and annoying for the Production Manager or 1st A.D. to break down the script.

For example…
Do not do this:

The Bartender shrugs, and walks away toward the back room.

From Laszlo's POV [this is a SHOT that should not be described in the
narrative action] we see two MEN enter from the washroom
corridor, while Laszlo makes a desperate grab for the
.38 in the bag on the counter.

Do this instead:

The Bartender shrugs, and then walks away toward the back room.


Two MEN enter from the washroom corridor.

Laszlo makes a desperate grab for the .38 in the bag on
the counter.

Hope you find this helpful, Uttar.

If you wish to order my e-book HOLLYWOOD SCRIPT FORMATTING MADE EASY ($2.99 U.S. through PayPal) contact me directly at the e-mail address below.

Also check out my e-book DON'T LET ANYONE STEAL YOUR STORY: http://tinyurl.com/Barry-dlasys  

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Barry Pearson


I`m a credited writer on nine feature films. My latest movie, IRON ROAD, which stars Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill, opened as feature, then aired as a four-hour miniseries on network television. Sun Li, the Chinese star, won the best actress award at the Roma Fiction Fest recently. www.ironroadthemovie.com) I’ve produced more than 300 episodes of television drama, including 13 episodes of Deepwater Black, and 106 episodes of Katts & Dog (Rin-Tin-Tin, K-9 Cop in the U.S.). I've answered over 1200 All Experts questions!


I've been in the business of writing and producing feature films, television series, and MOW's for over 20 years. You can check me out at this URL http://www.createyourscreenplay.com/aboutbp.htm

You can find my books on Amazon. See DON'T LET ANYONE STEAL YOUR STORY (http://tinyurl.com/StoryStealers)which is a stripped-down readable summary of copyright, full of entertaining anecdotes and real-life examples. Read about the true horror stories that clearly show you what you need to do to avoid the misfortune of having your literary material stolen. Find out: * How to take simple inexpensive steps to protect yourself, before, during, and after you write your literary work. * How copyright law applies to writers of literary works. * How literary works enter public domain, and how you can use it to your advantage. * What aspects of literary works are protected by copyright, and what aspects are not protected. * How to create documentation that will prove your copyright entitlement in the event of an infringement on your rights. * How you can protect yourself if you are contracted to write for television. You’ll also get a FREE sample of an Option and Purchase Agreement, a contract used in the acquisition of rights in a literary property—a contract that you and your lawyer can customize for your property. Written by a writer, for writers, Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Story will help you protect yourself against plagiarists and anyone else who might infringe your right of sole ownership. ------------- Also on Amazon, my book of four short stories, THE TWENTY-BUSHEL RACER. A man’s redemption from bitterness enables him to become a loving father. A teenager discovers the importance of his attachment to the people in his life and the place where he is growing up. A man, who has for years considered himself a coward and a betrayer of his comrades, musters the courage to stand up against a pair of would-be assassins. Two young men, who grew up in the same town, meet unexpectedly, reminisce about a girl they both loved when they were boys, and unveil a truth that changes both their lives.

Master of Arts degree (Drama)

Awards and Honors
Among my awards are Best Screenplay, Best Picture, at the International Film & Television Festival of New York for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EDWIN ALONZO BOYD, Best Screenplay, Feature Film, at the 12th International Film Festival in Sitges, Spain for PLAGUE, and a Special Jury Award, Feature Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival for PLAGUE.

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