Hmm. Scene headings are ugly.
He types some more, growing increasingly, but gorgeously, irritated.
Do I really really need 'em?
Good question, fake courier-12-point me. Like most of the regular readers of this blog, I write a good deal of script. Now, I'm still an emerging writer (love that phrase - I can't control whether that conjures images in your head of emerging from a cocoon, or emerging from some bushes, and I like that danger). And as an emerging writer (it's bushes for you, isn't it?!) most of what I write is designed to be read first, made (hopefully) later. For a script intended primarily to be read as a story rather than as a blueprint, by people wondering 'should this be made' rather than necessarily 'how the hell do we make this', a lot of the conventions of the screenplay format are at best meaningless, and are at worst in the way.
The 12-point courier thing, as a rule of thumb, makes a screenplay work out to be about a page per minute of action. But, as anyone who's ever operated an iPhone in a hurry can tell you: thumbs can be inaccurate things. Particularly with shorter scripts, I find it the page per minute thing can be way off. And of course, anyone can film a script as sloooowly as they like (particularly directors). But, even so, I would keep the 12-point courier and the spacing as they are. But scene headings? I would change them like a shot (pun intended).
How would I change them? I'd get rid of EXT and INT, and probably DAY and NIGHT too. Is this craziness? Possibly. I'm bound to be on to a loser trying to change things: the film screenplay format has been pretty much the same for fifty years or more. William Goldman writes scripts dispensing with the uglier slug line conventions. But he's William Goldman; and even he couldn't persuade anyone else to follow his lead.
So, we are stuck with INT and EXT, but what do they give us? They are ultimately a tool for line producers to budget scripts within a studio system. For anyone outside such a system, and even for a lot of Hollywood films, they are wildly out of date: an interior shot of a house is very likely to be shot on location, where an exterior scene might be filmed against a green screen in a studio. And for a story to be read, INT and EXT convey nothing that can't be covered in the location or scene description. If you're in a living room, you're inside. If you're in a field, you're outside. If there's any doubt, rewrite it until there's no doubt; that's got to make for a better script and a better writer.
What about DAY and NIGHT? Well, they're mainly queues for lighting, but outside of a shooting script they can be useful to show the passage of time. Again though, this can be used as a crutch. When I was a less experienced writer (a few weeks back!) I lengthened and lengthened my scene headings with extraneous detail: not only was it DAY in this scene, it was LATER, no sorry: MOMENTS LATER. THE SAME DAY. CONTINUOUS. I went hog wild, making sure people would get it. I wasn't necessarily wrong either, as plenty of pro film scripts use all of these. Someone somewhere must like them, but more and more I think they're unneeded, except for the first scene or if a major change has occurred. If the script has been written right, it should be obvious how much time has passed from the scene description and character behaviour.
If it isn't clear whether a scene's in or outdoors, or at night or in the day, you're better off not trying to address this in the scene heading, as I'd wager that most of the people reading your script will skip the scene headings anyway. We all do it, don't we? I certainly do, even with my own scripts. Because scene headings aren't very interesting. So, why not drop all these annoying things, and concentrate on what everyone's interested in: the story? As follows:
STUART'S OFFICE - DAY:
Stuart sits and types.
Stuart's son walks to the office door.
Get off Twitter and do some work, Daddy.
Why not? Well, it's usual reason: The Fear. The fear that an overworked script reader will think "No EXTs and DAYs - amateur - reject!" and put your script in the green crayon pile. Now, this fear is probably unfounded; or, if not, then you could use the argument that, if they're noticing stuff like that, then your script's lost them anyway. But if there's even the slightest chance that it could make a difference, why rock the boat? So, I'll be leaving all the EXTs and INTs and DAYs and NIGHTs in my scripts, and crossing my fingers. But, every so often, I'm dropping out a DAY or an INT here and there, to see if anyone notices, trying to bring down the system from within.
What about you? Do you hate these things too? Or am I over-reacting? Are they useful in some way I haven't considered? Or have you dropped them from your scripts altogether? Has anyone noticed? I'd love to know.