Scene headings are generic location headers that specify whether we are outdoors or inside (EXT. or INT.) and where we are in the screenplay, as well as whether the reader should imagine daytime or darkness (DAY or NIGHT). They also indicate what kind of environment we are in: streets, rooms, etc.
Example scene headings: INT. ROOM - DAYTIME STRUCTURE ON THE FLOOR OUTSIDE NIGHT TIME NO SOUND EFFECTS WHAT SO EVER
Often, the first thing you write after reading through your script from beginning to end is a scene heading. It tells the reader where he or she is in relation to the story and what kind of environment they are in.
There are two types of scene headings: general and specific.
A general scene heading gives a broad indication of where in the story we are located and what kind of environment we are in. These are usually words that describe the main action of the scene, such as "INT. ROOM - DAYTIME", "EXT. STREET - SUNDOWN". There can be more than one general scene heading per script, depending on which aspects of the story are being told at any given time.
A specific scene heading includes additional information about the setting of the scene.
Where is a scenario going? A scene header is a line of text at the beginning of each scene that informs the reader of the scene's location and time of day. Sometimes referred to as a slugline EXT. STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO-DAY, for example. The scene title is usually only one or two sentences in length.
Why do we need scene titles? Scenarios are written as a series of scenes. Each scene has a beginning and an ending, but sometimes there is also a middle. In order not to confuse these various parts of the story with each other, writers divide their scenarios into sections called scenes. These scenes can be added at any point in the writing process, although it's best not to start writing until you have a clear idea of how many scenes there will be. Writing multiple scenes at once is fine as long as they all follow a similar pattern and fit together well with one another. If you end up cutting one of them, no problem - just move on to the next set of scenes.
Scene titles are used so readers know where each scene is going and what time period it is taking place in. They are often included at the beginning of each scene, but they can also appear at the end of a scene if necessary. Since scenes can have their own paragraphs, this extra information can help the reader understand the context of what is happening within the story better.
We've established that scene titles are made up of three components: interior or exterior, location, and day or night. These components define the major divisions of a scene's heading.
An interior scene head is used when the action takes place inside a building. This type of scene begins with a word such as ENTER, INTERSECTION, OR EXIT and ends with a direction such as EAST OR WEST. Examples include THE OFFICE, A LIBRARY, AND AN ENTRANCEWAY.
An exterior scene head is used when the action takes place outside a building. This type of scene begins with a word such as ON EXIT OR OFF INTERSTATE and ends with a direction such as SOUTH OR NORTH. Examples include ON EXIT FROM THE CITY, OFF TO MOUNTAIN LODGES, AND ON COLORADO SPRINGS BLVD. To indicate that there is no specific exit from a highway, a location can be given instead. For example, ON CHEESECAKE LANE CAN BE FOUND AT MUIR BOULEVARD. There are also several words that can be used instead of exit or entrance.
The Fundamentals The camera position (EXTERIOR or INTERIOR), the location, and the time are all components of a scene heading (DAY, NIGHT, LATER, CONTINUOUS, SAME). Keep your location names consistent. For example, if you call this JIM'S HOUSE, you should continue to refer to it as JIM'S HOUSE throughout scene headers. Also, be sure to include the TIME in your scene headings. For example, SUNDOWN would be appropriate after 6 p.m.; DAWN would be appropriate at sunrise.
Beyond that, use your best judgment. There is no right or wrong way to do scene headings; they are simply tools that help organize your story. As long as you are clear about what kind of scene it is and why you're including it, go for it!
Here are some examples of good scene headings: DAY, NIGHT, AFTERNOON, EVENING, MORNING, AFTER-MORROW, NEXT WEEKEND, FALL/WINTER, SPRING/SUMMER, NOW, THIS MONTH, NEXT MONTH, AND SO ON...
As you can see, a good scene heading will tell us something about the nature of the scene, where and when it takes place, and often what's happening in the background. This information allows the editor to more effectively plan how to shoot the scene.