Towards the end of (nearly) every Scene Heading is an indicator of
time, which serves to help the director determine the lighting
situation, helps a scene move from place to place, or helps keep a reader
orientated when there are sudden time changes.
The most commonly used Time Indicators are DAY
and NIGHT, as they usually serve the purpose
of queuing the lighting to a particular scene most easily. They'll look
something like this:
Obviously a beach looks different at night than it does during the
day, so either of these works to tell us the basics of what the reader
needs to know in regards to lighting.
But let's say the writer wants to get more specific as to the time
of day. After all, throughout the day lighting changes as the sun
moves. These subtle changes can do a lot to change a scene's mood.
Here is the same beach scene, but with more specific indicators as
to the time of day:
All of these examples do a great job of telling what time of day or
night the scene takes place. The possibilities are probably endless.
GLOAMING, by the way, is another way of
saying TWILIGHT or DUSK.
I'm not sure I'd use it, but it is a viable option.
Maybe getting more specific still isn't good enough. Maybe a writer
wants to tell the reader EXACTLY when a scene takes place. He could
write the time indicators like this:
This works well if, earlier in the script, two characters agreed to
meet at a certain place at a certain time. Something like the Scene
Headings above will clue the reader that the agreed-upon meeting has
There is nothing wrong with showing a little color and creativity
when writing Time Indicators. You don't want to overdo it, but a little
flare added to an important scene can be a good thing.
Check out these common, yet creative, examples used in the same
Just so you know, MAGIC
HOUR is a very specific lighting indicator.
In his book The Hollywood Standard, Christopher Riley
describes MAGIC HOUR as a short period of time
just before the sun sets when light is waning. But he warns us that,
"...it's also terribly short and so it isn't practical to shoot
long scenes." Keep that in mind before you get TOO creative.
Sometimes the writer needs a Time Indicator that helps the reader
stay oriented time-wise, such as in a film where time is not
chronological, like a time-travel thriller. Without indicators to tell
when scenes are taking place, the reader can become confused.
Here are a few examples of Time Indicators written to help the
reader stay oriented:
If you have a scene where scene changes occur quickly with no
interruption of time, such as a scene set in a house in which a
character moves from one room to the next, the repetition of DAY or NIGHT can become
not only cumbersome, but unnecessary. The Time Indicator CONTINUOUS tells a reader that no passage of time
has taken place between scenes. Here is one example:
In the example above, we haven't changed locations much,
since we are still in the EXECUTIVE OFFICES,
and no time has been lost from one scene to the next. So CONTINUOUS is a good option.
But it may not be the BEST option. After all, in the example above, the
fact time remains CONTINUOUS is actually a
given. This is a situation in which the Time Indicator need not be
there at all. The writer could have written the elevator Scene Heading
simply as INT. EXECUTIVE OFFICES - ELEVATOR,
and any reader would easily be able to keep pace.
Here is a better use of CONTINUOUS:
In the above example, time is not interrupted, but since the
elevator is a completely different scene location and focuses on a
different character from the scene preceding it, the writer shouldn't
ASSUME the reader will understand the elevator scene is continuity of
the preceding action. CONTINUOUS here
But what if time is NOT continuous, but there is also not a large
passage of time between scenes? Once again, DAY
or NIGHT becomes repetitive and unnecessary
if the time change between scenes amounts to mere seconds rather than
hours. A writer can solve the problem with a Time Indicator such as MOMENTS LATER. Let's revamp the elevator scene and
look at an example:
In the example above, we see Peter enter the elevator on an upper
floor, and then immediately cut to his emerging from the elevator in
the lobby. Missing is the time in between. So unless he was stuck in
the elevator for some time or this is a VERY tall building, repeating DAY only tells the reader what he/she already
knows. The writer could have also used SECONDS
LATER or LATER or something else to
But what if two scenes happen AT THE SAME
TIME? Well, say so!
Some writers will use the Time Indicator SAME in such situations.
The problem with this is many people confuse SAME and CONTINUOUS. To
alleviate confusion, use SAME TIME or AT SAME TIME instead. Let's help
Peter down to the lobby one last time:
And just like that, we've not only shown two characters in different
scenes at the same time, but we've also ended Peter's chances of a
fulfilling love life...at least until the next Act break.
Every once in a while we may come across a scene in which DAY or NIGHT becomes
irrelevant. In outer space, characters will not experience a DAY nor a NIGHT. Neither will characters in underground caverns,
those far below the surface of a deep ocean, nor any characters trapped
throughout the film in areas where sunlight cannot penetrate (such as
in The Poseidon Adventure). In these situations, writers can
feel free to leave a time indicator off all together: