Specific Notations

Sometimes a writer may want to indicate specific information about an upcoming scene to help create the mood for the scene. Everything from what the weather is like to the type of film stock used to shoot the scene can be specified by the simple use of parentheses in the Scene Heading. I call this little nugget of information Specific Notation.

Basic Rules: Specific Notation will almost always immediately follow the Time Indicator (DAY, NIGHT, etc.). The exception to that rule is also shown on this page. As mentioned above, Special Notation will always be enclosed in Parentheses.

Let's look at the most common uses of Specific Notation.

Time Specifics:

Since Specific Notation is almost always found next to Time Indicators, we'll start with Specific Notation that helps the writer narrow down a scene even further with regards to time. Using Specific Notation, a writer can indicate when a scene takes place in areas such as the year, the time of day, the era, the season and more.

Here are some examples of Time Specific Notation:

Time Specific Notation is most helpful if a writer is writing a script that jumps all over the place time-wise (such as a time travel film), and he/she wants to be sure the reader is able to keep pace, but a Time Indicator, such as DAY or NIGHT is still important.

By the way, (BACK TO SCENE) is usually seen after a Dream Sequence, Flashback, or something of that nature.

Film Stock:

Specific Notation may be used to help a writer indicate what sort of film stock the scene's footage should appear to be shot on. For instance, maybe the scene should look like a family's home video, maybe it should be shot in black and white, or maybe it is to appear to be a piece of news footage.

Here are some examples of Film Stock Specific Notation:

(STOCK) means the footage needed is stock footage. This usually won't appear in a Spec Script because the writer wouldn't be privy to the stock footage available to the production house that eventually buys the film.

Film Speed:

If a scene needs to be sped up or slowed down for dramatic or comic effect, it could be indicated like this:

Film Exposure or Quality:

Sometimes the lighting for a scene needs to be overexposed, diffused, or double exposed for dramatic effect. Sometimes a character in a scene will be high on drugs or have poor vision or some other defect that calls for a scene to be shot out of focus or blurred. Sometimes the scene needs to appear as if shot through the lens of a thermal imaging camera or night vision goggles. All these instances can be indicated using Specific Notation that deals with Film Exposure or Quality.

BE WARNED: Much of this should likely be left up to the director of the film.

Here are an assortment of examples:

Weather:

One of the most common uses of Specific Notation is to show the weather conditions of the scene.

Here is how Weather Specific Notations will look:

MOS:

Experts don't always agree where the term MOS originated.

Many believe it is a term created out of the German influence on early American cinema. The story goes that a German director who barely spoke English wanted a scene to be completely silent. He told his film crew, "Ve'll shoot dis mit out sprechen!" or "without sound." The film crew made a joke of adding MOS to scenes that would be muted.

Some experts even go so far as to narrow the German director in question to Erich von Stroheim.

Still others say this origin of MOS is a myth. They believe MOS stands for "Minus Optical Strip." Prior to the 1950's, audio was recorded on optical tracks rather than the magnetic tracks used today.

Whatever the origin, the MOS Specific Notation can be added to any scene in which no sound should be heard (other than, perhaps, a musical score):

Interior Location:

Sometimes a scene will be indoors, but it will be important to indicate the city, state, country, or region where the scene takes place.

In this situation, the Specific Notation will be written next to the Location in the Scene Heading rather than the Time Indicator.

Here are a few examples:

Stacking Specific Notation:

Maybe a scene requires more than one Specific Notation in order to properly nail down a scene's mood. Nothing wrong with that. Specific Notation may be added one after another, separated by spaces:

Special Notes:

But sometimes, no amount of Specific Notation will suffice to completely infer how a scene should look or feel. In such a situation, when a writer wants to communicate a scene's ambience but can't find a better way to do it, as a last resort he/she may dispense with Specific Notation and use a Special Note such as this:

Special Notes are written along the left margin before or after a scene's Direction paragraph.

They should start with NOTE: in ALL CAPS and followed by a colon. Also CAPITALIZE the specifics you want the reader to notice. Special Notations are often enclosed entirely in parentheses, but the parentheses are optional.

BE WARNED: Special Notes should be used only once in a LONG while. Use them VERY sparingly, and probably no more than once or twice per script.