Don Donahue writes:
How would you format two transitions in a row?
I’m experimenting with a transition where a drone gets shot down in Alaska. Right now I have…
CUT TO STATIC:
FADE TO BLIZZARD:
Is this acceptable? Is there a better way to do this?
This looks awkward. It feels like there’s something omitted between the two transitions. After all, the point of a transition is that you’re transitioning to something. That something is missing here.
It’s important to understand that by “transition” screenwriters are really talking about two distinct things:
- What we’re seeing on screen as we move from one scene to the next.
- The handoff from one idea to the next.
The first kind of transition happens on the right-hand margin, uppercase, often with a colon at the end. It’s unique to screenplay grammar.
In your example, FADE TO BLIZZARD is an example of this kind of transition. It’s strictly cinematic. You’re telling us what we’d see on screen, and giving specific instructions to an imaginary editor.
The second kind of transition happens in all kinds of writing. You see it novels, plays, non-fiction and journalism. I’d argue that at least half of the craft of writing is transitioning smoothly to the next thing.
In your example, CUT TO STATIC is describing what we’re seeing and hearing, but it’s the kind of thing the characters in the scene are probably experiencing firsthand. So I’d leave it in scene description.
Obviously, I don’t know exactly what’s happening in your scene, but let’s imagine it something like this:
Malcolm leans close, pointing to a dark smudge on the screen.
There! What do you think that is?
A bunker? Something’s moving inside.
CLOSE ON SCREEN, a FLASH. Something flies straight for the lens. Bright. Hot.
Shit! A rocket!
Impact! The screen cuts to STATIC.
CROSS-FADE TO BLIZZARD.
EXT. ARCTIC STATION – NIGHT
HOWLING WINDS. The domes of the compound are just barely visible. Yellow work lights wobble.
Fade? Cross-fade? Your call. To me, FADE generally implies that we’re going to black or white.
You’ll notice I put a period after BLIZZARD rather than a colon. Blizzard is the thing we’re cross-fading to, so it feels like a complete thought. I’d give it a period.
The colon makes sense when the object of the transition is in the next line, like this:
I know where he’d hide it.
INT. TRUCK GARAGE – NIGHT
With flashlights, Da’Vonne and Sarah make their way amid the massive semis and trailers.
Here, the CUT TO: is doing the work of both a cinematic transition (a blunt cut to the next place) and a narrative transition (answering the question “Where does Da’Vonne think it’s hidden?”).
Uppercased transitions are a useful tool for screenwriters, particularly when they can do this double-duty. But you’ll read many screenplays that hardly use them at all, and that’s fine too. They’re never strictly necessary.