Screenplay slug line
A slug line is unique to the screenplay and states numerous things about a scene. Often called a Master Scene Heading, it occurs at the start of every scene, and is usually made up of three parts.
Part one states if the scene is set inside (interior) or outside (exterior). The abbreviations INT. and EXT. are used. A period always follows each abbreviation.
Sometimes the action may move from interior to exterior several times within a scene. In the interest of brevity, the writer may choose to use INT./EXT. or EXT./INT.
Part two states the location of the scene, such as JERRY'S APARTMENT, JANE'S CAR, or RESTROOM. If the location needs to be more specific, then a space hyphen space can occur, followed by the more specific place. For example: SARAH'S APARTMENT - KITCHEN. Finally another space hyphen space separates part two from part three.
Part three refers to the time of the scene. Day or Night are normally used, but Dusk, Dawn, Late Night, Early Morning and others can be used if necessary. For example, if a particular scene requires a sunrise, Dawn can be used.
If a character starts inside, and then walks outside during a scene, a new slug line will be needed, but in this slug line, 'Continuous' will be written instead.
'Later' can be used to indicate the passage of time.
Here are some examples of slug lines that show how all the parts fit together.
- INT. JERRY'S APARTMENT - DAY
- EXT. PARK - NIGHT
- INT. SARAH'S APARTMENT - KITCHEN - NIGHT
- EXT. BEACH - DAWN
- INT./EXT. TOOL SHED - DAY
- INT. Jerry's Apartment. Day
- Ext. Park. Night
of Tobias in newspaper.
The slug line in this instance is merely HEADSHOT, which leads into the action line (which is the 'of Tobias in newspaper' part). These variations are used only when they are needed, such as when photos are shown, and sometimes when computer or television screens are shown.
Another variation occurs when a scene takes place in an unusual location. For example, 'Space' can be used in place of the time of day if the scene doesn't take place on a planet:
EXT. FEDERATION BATTLESHIP - HANGAR BAY - SPACE
These offshoots of slug lines allow the writer to shift the action without the waste of space of a full heading. The master scene heading can give the general location:
INT. CONOR'S HOUSE - DAY
Then a secondary heading can be used to indicate that the action is moving to a new location within the house.
The above usage is, however, uncommon. Most writers would assign each new location its own scene heading.
The more common use of secondary slugs is to shift attention to a new area or character within a large single location. In the example below a writer could convey all that's needed in standard lines of action, but the secondary slugs really help delineate the action when there's a lot going on in a busy environment.
INT. BALLROOM - NIGHT
Couples dance to the band. An atmosphere of carefree joy. A lot of punch has been drunk already.
AT THE BAR
Jenny sips on mixed drink.
Mikey keeps playing his guitar, but his attention's not on the band. He's staring at Jenny.
Each slug line begins a new scene. In a shooting script, the slug lines are numbered consecutively. These scene numbers serve as mile-post markers in a script. This allows any part of the script to be referred to by scene number. Do not confuse these scenes with shooting sequences.
Formatting variations are generally accepted as long as the intent is clear, but a few rules do exist:
- Any change of time or location requires a new slug line.
- All slug lines are on their own lines, flush with the left margin, and typed in all capital letters.
- Master scene heading can not be the last item on a page. It must be followed by at least one line of description or dialogue.
- The writer may double or triple space before the slug line, but should always double space afterward.
- Trottier, David. The Screenwriter's Bible, 3rd Edition
- Arrested Development Pilot Screenplay
- Lucas, George. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
- Frensham, Raymond G. Teach Yourself Screenwriting
- Downs, William Missouri and Russin, Robin U. Screenplay: Writing the Picture
- Cole Jr. Hillis R and Haag, Judith H. The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats: Part 1: The Screenplay