So, you’ve just sat down to write your script. You have a solid outline for your plot and killer characters. Now, where do you start? The answer is the scene heading!
Script formatting guidelines are strict and adhere to universal industry standards. Incorrect formatting can mean your billion-dollar script is tossed before the end of page one. Believe it or not, thousands upon thousands of scripts pass through Hollywood hands over the course of one year, and those with formatting errors or immediately disqualified.
Correct formatting isn’t just for the benefit of the reader; it can help you as a writer keep up a healthy pace throughout the script, hitting all of those important story beats, and stay focused on conveying as much visual information as possible.
No matter how groundbreaking your story, if the formatting isn’t correct, your script will be dead on arrival. Although the myriad of script rules may seem overwhelming at first, once you’ve learned the language, grammar, and vocabulary of scriptwriting, formatting will become second nature.
Using screenwriting software with built-in formatting also makes a world of difference. This allows you to focus on the story itself rather than having to constantly navigate to a different margin.
Even with the help of seamless automation, you still need to be aware of the conventions and requirements of the screenplay. Learn and practice them as you go. Before you know it, they’ll be thoughtless extensions of your scriptwriting process.
Now, back to INT! The very first piece of formatting you need to get right is the scene heading, or “slugline.” The scene heading titles the scene and consists of several components that tell the reader where they are and when. This sets the proverbial stage for the reader or viewer.
That said, those most crucial piece of information to understand up-front is whether or not the camera is situated inside or outside. INT. stands for INTERIOR, and dictates whether the camera is placed in the INTERIOR of an environment, be it a house, car, coffee shop, or hospital, to capture a scene.
Screenwriting is about concise descriptions and preservation of page space, so simply use the abbreviation INT. instead of the fully-written INTERIOR whenever you’re introducing a scene that takes place inside.
How Do You Use “INT.” In a Script?
To use INT. in a script, keep in mind that this descriptor ALWAYS comes at the beginning of the scene heading. There is no exception to this rule, because regardless of the scene, the first thing the reader, viewer, director, producer, whoever needs to know is whether the shot is inside or outside.
INT. is always written in capital letters in line with the rest of the scene heading. For example:
INT. HOSPITAL WARD – DAY
Here we know that the scene is taking place inside a hospital ward and that it’s during the day. The specific location name and the time of day (in almost every instance, this will be either DAY or NIGHT) always follow INT.
The action and dialogue that follows this scene heading must all take place in the hospital ward. As soon as the action or characters move out of the Hospital Ward, a new scene heading is required to signal a new scene has begun.
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What is the Difference Between “EXT.” and “INT.”?
Of course, not every scene in a film or TV show takes place inside (unless you’re that amazing episode of Breaking Bad). This is where you would introduce EXT., an abbreviation of EXTERIOR. The obvious difference between INT. and EXT. is that INT. indicates INTERIOR while EXT. indicates EXTERIOR.
If the scene moved outside the hospital, for example, you would need a new scene heading:
EXT. HOSPITAL – DAY
There is also the option to change the time of day if relevant:
EXT. HOSPITAL – NIGHT
Like INT., EXT. should always be placed at the very beginning of a scene heading and only at the beginning of scenes that take place outside.
How Do You Start a Scene that Moves Between “INT.” and “EXT.”?
If you were showing action inside and outside of something like a moving car, you would need to include both abbreviations at the beginning of the scene heading, which looks like this:
INT/EXT. CAR – DAY
This can be a great tool to use sparingly within your script. It means that you don’t have to keep jumping between new scene headings every time you want to change the position of the camera from inside (to follow a conversation, for example) and outside (to note the action of the car).
If you have too many scene headings in quick succession with small chunks of action, the script can become stunted, clunky, and difficult to read. Scripts have their own flow and cadence, and adhering to these formatting rules is the surest way to maintain them.
Why is Screenplay Formatting So Strict?
There is a very good reason for all of these writing rules. Film and television are collaborative industries with directors, producers, editors, costume designers, sound engineers, and countless other executives and crew members all sharing the same document. Your script is the first document of any production, a detailed creative blueprint of precisely how the project is going to look on screen.
The script is the project nucleus. As screenwriters, if we all wrote our scripts differently, others would waste huge amounts of time trying to understand and navigate what we’ve written. Industry-standard formatting allows for clarity and consistency no matter your role, perspective, or level of experience.
It shouldn’t curb your creativity in the slightest. In fact, the solidity of formatting like this should increase your creativity. How can you use formatting to your advantage, as a tool to help tell your story? Use this screenwriting language as a key to unlock the visual potential of your idea.
Think of it this way: the person who reads your script will be able to lose themselves in the story faster and more naturally if they know where they are and what’s going on from the get-go. With consistent scene headings across all scripts, that effort becomes thoughtless.
Now that you know how to start your script, your next job is to write compelling and exciting action and dialogue. Or, better yet, learn how to end or finish your script!
The possibilities are truly endless for your scripts, but it always starts with your first scene heading. Whether it’s INT. for an interior shot, or EXT. for an exterior shot, setting up your screenplay for success is all in the formatting. Where you go from there is up to you!