Written by Jason Hellerman from No Film School
Intercutting scenes in your screenplay can show a distinct handle on your storytelling abilities and help you save page length. Here’s how.
Perhaps you’ve gotten to a part in your screenplay where you have a ton of scenes or action happening at once. You hate writing a dozen sluglines and you feel like you’re wasting page space just writing back and forth.
Enter the intercut, a useful tool to handle simultaneous action in any screenplay. Let’s walk through how to intercut scenes in your screenplay. We’ll go over script format, ways to use intercutting, and look at a few famous examples of intercutting in movies.
When a screenplay alternates from one scene to another scene, which take place at the same time, this is called an INTERCUT. Instead of writing scene headings over and over, you can write one scene heading for each location and then indicate that the scenes are INTERCUT together by placing that INTERCUT atop the page to the right.
Common Uses of the Intercut:
Phone calls, text or DMs, chase scenes, alternating life scenes, and scenes of preparation.
What does an Intercut look like in a screenplay?
When formatting a script, you want to clearly define how things are intercut. You need to give proper scenes headings once, then on the left side of the page indicate things are being intercut.
Check out this helpful sample page from John August.
Now that you understand the formatting of the intercutting, let’s talk about some creative uses of them inside film. This also applies to TV, but I tried to find the most famous examples.
Let’s start with the obvious (and best) one: The intercutting during The Godfather’s baptism scene.
The intercutting here is done for a specific effect. We are seeing Michael Corleone reject Satan, as murders he has ordered take place around him. He’s doing so to protect his family, the way a good Godfather should. It’s just costing him his soul as that of his godson gets baptized.
Here, the intercutting shows us that Michael also used the baptism as his alibi while people get killed all over.
For something more traditional, check out the Clint Eastwood western A Fistful of Dollars. In this Sergio Leone classic, we intercut between the Man With No Name and his nemesis as they make their way toward each other.
This intercutting juxtaposes bad and good as they work toward an ultimate standoff. This idea makes you question the amount of violence that’s happening for money and solidifies the moral of the film.
Speaking of morals, what about some intercutting from a galaxy far, far away? In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the most meme’d intercutting happens at the end of the movie. One man descends into the dark side, while the love of his life births two Force-strong children — Luke and Leia. As you can hear in the video below, George Lucas originally wrote these scenes separate but found the intercutting in the edit. That happens all the time. But if you are imagining your movie in your head when you write it, try to get your intercuts out first.
What’s next? Practice!
Brainstorm your next story. Come up with as many ideas as you can (and say “no” to as many as you can, too).
Brainstorm for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, choose your favorite story and offer a short explanation about why you like it. Then, post your list and explanation in the comments section.
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