Ask the Expert: INTERCUT – Conversations and Actions

QUESTION #1 – PHONE CONVERSATIONS

What is the best way to cross cut a telephone conversation that cuts back and forth between two characters.

ANSWER

Simply establish the two locations and write out the telephone conversation as follows:

INT. MARY’S KITCHEN – NIGHT

Mary paces nervously, then punches numbers on her phone.

INT. DARIN’S CAR – SAME

Darin drives through the rain, looking depressed.  His cell phone rings.

INTERCUT – TELEPHONE CONVERSATION

MARY

Come back.

DARIN

What?  Now?

MARY

Yes.  Please.

DARIN

Give me one good reason.

MARY

You forgot your casserole bowl.

DARIN

I’ll be right there.

Here’s an alternate way to handle this.

INTERCUT – MARY’S KITCHEN/DARIN’S CAR

Mary paces nervously, then punches numbers on her phone.

Darin drives through the rain, looking depressed.  His cell phone rings.

And then write out the dialogue.

QUESTION #2 – ACTION

In my screenplay I have two scenes that take place at the same time but in different locations, and I switch back and forth between settings.  Should I just keep switching back and forth between the locations, or should I type the following:

INTERCUT BETWEEN FOOTBALL FIELD AND HOSPITAL OPERATING ROOM

ANSWER

Use the INTERCUT only if you’re sure the reader will not get confused.  The following is correct format:

INTERCUT – FOOTBALL FIELD/HOSPITAL OR

The players huddle on the field

Surgeons huddle around the operating table

If these are quick shots, consider using a MONTAGE instead

MONTAGE – FOOTBALL GAME/SURGERY

FOOTBALL FIELD – The players huddle on the field.

HOSPITAL – Surgeons huddle around the operating table.

If neither the MONTAGE nor the INTERCUT seem appropriate, just cross-cut between scene headings:

EXT. FOOTBALL FIELD – DAY

The players huddle on the field

INT. HOSPITAL OR – SAME

Surgeons huddle around the operating table.

8 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: INTERCUT – Conversations and Actions

  1. NealWiser

    How would I format intercutting between multiple people? For example; In a scene I’m working on, multiple people are giving testimonials into a camera at different times (this is not a conversation) and we’re jumping (rapid-fire) between them (note that their actual location is irrelevant).

    Could I just use the modified INTERCUT slug, then follow with the name of each character, like this?

    INTERCUT BETWEEN THE FOLLOWING…

    LARRY
    LARRY
    Could I write it like this?

    MOE
    MOE
    Why’re you asking me? You yo-yo.

    CURLY
    CURLY
    Hey, don’t talk to him like that.

    MOE
    MOE
    I’ll talk any way I want, numbskull.

    SHEMP
    SHEMP
    Say, why don’t you ask Dave Trotter.

    CURLY
    CURLY
    Yeah, he knows everything bout
    screenwriting. WO-wo-wo-wo-wo!

    LARRY
    LARRY
    What do you think?

  2. pius mabula

    Hi, i’m young Writer from Tanzania-Africa, my dream is to become the great script writer/producer from africa, today i learning unknown things never learned it before, oh my god…! Be blessing Dave but i need to learn more how to use DISSOLVE, the different between CUT TO and CUT OUT, FADE TO and FADE OUT etc!

  3. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Thanasi,

    I think most readers will be fine with what you’ve written. However, the word “perspective” might not be the right word. If I understand you correctly, what we see is only imagined; it doesn’t really happen. That isn’t clear when you use the word “perspective.” In addition, the INTERCUT is not needed UNLESS you are trying to show bits of each’s perspective at the same time, alternating back and forth. In view of the above, I think the following will be cleaner and clearer.

    The lights flicker — the elevator shifts.

    Charlie looks nervously at Hector.

    CHARLIE’S IMAGINATION

    Hector SLAMS Charlie against the wall.

    …And so on. Also note the little changes in punctuation and the elimination of all-CAPS where not called for. Now if I misunderstood what you’re trying to do, you know that the next reader could as well, so some adjustment to your approach will need to be made.

    Keep writing,
    Dave Trottier

  4. Thanasi

    Hi, Dave. I’m writing a scene in response to a prompt for my USC application, and was wondering if using the intercut device within the same scene was at all possible. I want to show the differing perspectives, and therefore, scenarios between two people who enter an elevator. It is a cerebral mind-bender of sorts that touches on paranoia. Both individuals have done something terrible, and fear that either person is “out to get them”. I’m aiming to show the perspectives, or rather, imaginings they each have of the other, all while never leaving the elevator. This is an example of how I’ve written it so far (I have the slugline and setup in the screenplay preceding this):

    The LIGHTS flicker – the Elevator shifts.

    INTERCUT BETWEEN CHARLIE’S PERSPECTIVE AND HECTOR’S PERSPECTIVE.

    CHARLIE’S PERSPECTIVE:

    Hector SLAMS Charlie against the WALL.

    HECTOR (CONT’D)
    She was just a kid!

    Hector pulls out a KNIFE – Charlie is TERRIFIED.

    CHARLIE
    Oh, Geeze – Oh, God. You’ve got the wrong guy!

    HECTOR
    Shut up!

    CHARLIE
    You’ve got the wrong guy!

    The LIGHTS FLICKER – the elevator SHIFTS.

    HECTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:

    Charlie’s GUN in Hector’s CHEEK – eyes remain locked.

    CHARLIE
    You shot two cops!

    HECTOR
    It wasn’t me, man! I swear to God!

  5. Michael Lopez

    Dave, of all the “helpful hints” articles I’ve read over the years, this has got to be one of the best, most practical articles I’ve read. It tells you how to actually do something and not just share antecdotes that don’t apply to the issue at hand. Thank you again.

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