The script I’m writing has a character who is reconstructing past events. In several scenes, we cut away to these memories, always returning to the current scene.

There are several ways to do this on the page.

The first technique is to simply use full scene headers. (This example is made up just for this blog post.)

Roger squints in the glare of light.



ORDERLIES strap Roger’s forehead to the table. A DRILL WHIRRS as a BRIGHT LIGHT swings overhead.



Roger squats down, suddenly reeling.

That BACK TO: is your friend. It’s a reminder to the reader that you were in the middle of another scene, and it’s still happening. Yes, you could just use CUT TO. But it’s ambiguous. Are you still in the same scene, or is this a different place/time?

BACK TO: is also a huge help if the cutaway involves multiple locations — the finale of Big Fish, for example. It’s a signal to the reader that all of the cutting is done.

Doing less

If you’re cutting away to the same thing often, using the full scene header gets annoying. It’s like that guy at a party who keeps introducing himself.

We know who you are, Dave. You can stop.

In the example above, if we’ve been to that examination room scene before, I’m more likely to write it like this:

As Roger squints in the glare of light --

ORDERLIES strap Roger’s forehead to the table. A DRILL WHIRRS as a BRIGHT LIGHT swings overhead.


Roger squats down, suddenly reeling.

Removing the location and the transitions feels like cheating, but it better reflects my intention with the scene. This cutaway is meant to be a nibble, not a meal.

Setting it off with italics isn’t required, but it signals the reader to pay attention — we’re doing something special here. Bold or underline would also work. (If you use special formatting for flashbacks like this, don’t use it for any other narrative device.)

That BACK TO SCENE is also optional, but here I like it as a tiny speed bump to make sure the reader understands that we’re out of flashback mode.

Is it weird to have BACK TO SCENE without a CUT TO? Kind of. You could use a CUT TO: and even skip the italics. But it’s extra lines, and I don’t think the reader is likely to get lost.

In production

When it comes time to make the movie, everything needs a scene number. We generally think of scene numbers going with scene headers, but the reality is that anything can have a number attached, including the italicized action lines above.

There are different philosophies for how to number flashback scenes, but my preference would be to keep the copy room scene as a single scene number (e.g. 34) and group together all of the examination room scenes as a sequence (e.g. A900, B900, C900). This way, the copy room scene doesn’t get divided across a few strips, potentially confusing everyone.

Numbering scenes is a conversation to have with the director, A.D. and line producer. It’s a luxury problem, because it means your movie is getting made.