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The Ultimate Screenplay Format Reference

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This page shows the formatting for flashbacks, flashback sequences and quick flashes. They are not used very often. Their presence in a script does not automatically increase its quality.

 

Flashback

A flashback is used to jump to an earlier point in time. There are several accepted ways to write one:
 

FLASHBACK - <explanation>

or

FLASHBACK - <master scene heading>

or

<master scene heading> - FLASHBACK

or

<master scene heading> (FLASHBACK)

<explanation>

  • doesnít have to be a location, just an explanation. For example: TRAIN ACCIDENT works, too.

A picture says more than a thousand words, so here follow a few examples.

This one is adapted from The Sixth Sense (imdb link), screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan:
 


FLASHBACK - CROWE RESIDENCE

Violent gun shots ring through the bedroom.

Anna rushes across the room to a crumpled Malcolm laying on
the floor. Malcolms hands are clutched at his side.

etc.
 


INT. LIVING ROOM - NIGHT - PRESENT DAY

                     MALCOLM
               (screaming)
         Anna!
 

 

From Constantine (imdb link), screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Capello:
 


FLASHBACK - EXT. STREET - DAY

A TEN-YEAR-OLD John comes out of a corner store with milk in
a bag. He slows, eyes a MAN at a mailbox.

                   JOHN (V.O.)
         Things I wasn't supposed to.

The man looks right at young John as he passes. His face is
distorted and his feet have sprouted roots which are dug into
the ground.

                   WAITRESS (O.S.)
         Coffee?

Young John looks up toward the voice --
 


INT. DINER - NIGHT - PRESENT DAY

John looks up ...


You could just as well write:
 


EXT. STREET - DAY - FLASHBACK

A TEN-YEAR-OLD John comes out of a corner store
...


INT. DINER - NIGHT - PRESENT DAY

John looks up ...


or
 


EXT. STREET - DAY - TWENTY YEARS EARLIER (FLASHBACK)

A TEN-YEAR-OLD John comes out of a corner store
...


INT. DINER - NIGHT (PRESENT DAY)

John looks up ...


or
 


EXT. STREET - DAY (FLASHBACK)

A TEN-YEAR-OLD John comes out of a corner store
...


INT. DINER - NIGHT (PRESENT DAY)

John looks up ...
 


Given this plethora of options itís hard to believe that one might need an even other way to write a flashback scene.

 

Before dealing with sequences of flashbacks, dreams etc. Iíd like to mention that I made mixed experiences when purely applying Trottierís suggestions. Almost every reader - peer reviewer or professional - took offense that the format confused them. Only after I sandwiched the sequence between a BEGIN/END FLASHBACK SEQUENCE-pair did the confusion end. Within the sandwich then everything was sufficiently clear.

Example:
 


BEGIN FLASHBACK SEQUENCE:

EXT. STREET - DAY - TWENTY YEARS EARLIER (FLASHBACK)

A TEN-YEAR-OLD John comes out of a corner store
...

INT. CORNER STORE - DAY (FLASHBACK)

...

...


END FLASHBACK SEQUENCE.


The END FLASHBACK SEQUENCE. should be flush to the right margin.

This remark also applies to all the other sequences like DREAM SEQUENCE, VISION SEQUENCE etc.

Here now Trottierís Ďofficialí recommendations:
 

Flashback Sequence

A flashback that extends over several scenes can be handled with a flashback sequence:

<master scene heading> - FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

<master scene heading> - FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

<master scene heading> - FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

... as many as necessary

Then conclude the sequence with PRESENT DAY at the end or the next master scene heading:

<master scene heading> - PRESENT DAY

The following method is equivalent:

<master scene heading> (FLASHBACK SEQUENCE)

etc.

<master scene heading> (PRESENT DAY)


Putting the FLASHBACK SEQUENCE at the beginning of the line isnít such a great idea, because it moves the more vital scene location half way across the page.

Whatever you decide, itís good advice to be consistent in the use of these patterns.

 

Quick Flashes

A situation where a character recalls a series of quick flashbacks should be handled in the same fashion as a montage or series of shots. That gives us four ways of doing it:

QUICK FLASHES - <explanation>

-- <brief shot>

-- <brief shot>


etc.

or

QUICK FLASHES - <explanation>

-- <location> - <brief shot>

-- <location> - <brief shot>


etc.

or

QUICK FLASHES - <explanation>

-- <master scene heading> - <brief shot>

-- <master scene heading> - <brief shot>

etc.

 

or

QUICK FLASHES - <explanation>

A) <brief shot>

B) <brief shot>

etc.

with

<explanation>

  • short description of what the montage is about (need not be a location)

<brief shot>

  • very few lines of action and/or dialog

Then end the sequence with END QUICK FLASHES or BACK TO SCENE. If the sequence is short a PRESENT DAY at the end of the following master scene heading will suffice.

Needless to say: quick flashes are used very rarely.