Is there a hard and fast rule for first time screenwriters correctly writing their slug lines? I understand that it is for the production people to know WHERE and WHEN to shoot the scene. But I’ve also been told on the boards of quite a few screenwriting forums by supposed professionals, that it is NOT part of your story and so you only ever write DAY or NIGHT.
I’m told that if you want readers to know it’s foggy or stormy you tell them as “part of the story” in the action lines below. Yet in many of the spec scripts I’ve seen online, writers use CONTINUOUS, SAME, LATER etc in their slugs. Is it only solicited writers who’ve already been green lighted for production that have the privilege of writing beyond the binary of DAY or NIGHT? I find that hard to believe this when software like Final Draft allows you to be more expressive in your slugs, and still, I’m continually told otherwise.
It would be much appreciated if you could clear up this issue that has confused, infuriated and made me less confident in my writing now for far too long. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Sluglines are there to help production, but they also help readers. If venturing slightly beyond the confines of DAY or NIGHT makes the read easier, do it.
All of the following are legit:
INT. HOUSE – DAY
INT. CABIN – NIGHT
EXT. FOREST – DAWN
EXT. PARKING LOT – NIGHT [RAINING]
INT. BOWLING ALLEY – NIGHT [FLASHBACK]
The first two are obvious and standard.
DAWN is okay, as long as there really is a reason the scene needs to be taking place close to sunrise, rather than just general DAY. For example, if you were following characters through a string of harrowing night scenes, and they bunkered down in an abandoned railway car, it might be important to really note when it’s dawn again. Same case for DUSK or SUNSET. In a vampire movie, that could be crucial.
Space has no day or night. Generally in science fiction there is a sense of what “day” and “night” feel like, however. So feel free to use it on a spaceship, for example, to indicate the daily routines.
I use brackets at the end of a slugline to highlight special conditions. Rain is a big deal, both for story and production purposes. And flagging a scene as a flashback helps both readers and assistant directors.