How would you go about writing two scenes in a script that run at the same time in split screen, but don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other? Basically like a scene from the movie Timecode.
That’s a real challenge to do in standard screenplay format. While someone watching a movie can follow the action happening in multiple sections of the screen at once, the reader simply can’t. Reading is a left-to-right, top-to-bottom process. So you’re going to have to figure out another way to communicate the same idea.
Your approach depends on how crucial the split-screen timing becomes. For instance, in an earlier draft of the first CHARLIE’S ANGELS, there was a chase sequence between Alex (Lucy Liu) and the Thin Man (Crispin Glover), in which they were both trying to get to the roof of the building in order to reach the satellite dish that Eric Knox was using. The chase started with the two characters on opposite sides of an iron fence, which formed the dividing line down the middle of the screen. We then followed each character on separate, sometimes overlapping paths, as they fought their way to the roof. Finally, Alex kicked the Thin Man “through” the center dividing line.
In this example, the exact timing of who-is-where-when was important, so I chose to write the action as two parallel columns on a horizontal page. It was a pain in the ass to format, because Final Draft couldn’t handle it, so each time I printed out the script I had to make sure to leave blank “filler” pages in which to insert the properly-formatted side-by-side pages. Still, it was a fun challenge.
Ultimately, the split-screen stuff was dropped and the sequence became about Alex and the Thin Man kicking the crap out of each other.
For TIMECODE, Mike Figgis apparently didn’t work off a traditional screenplay at all. The entire movie was rehearsed and reshot more than a dozen times. To figure out who-is-where-when, Figgis used musical score sheets.
For your script, since the two sides don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other, I would recommend writing the scenes out straight. If it’s important to indicate to the reader that certain scenes are playing side-by-side, just put a note in parentheses in the first line of a scene’s description. It’s not a perfect solution, but in most cases that’s as straightfoward as you’re going to get.
(This article originally ran September 29, 2003.)