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Screenplay Format 101: Flashbacks

flashback

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When used correctly, flashbacks can be a powerful tool to add depth and complexity to your story. But if you don’t use them correctly, they can be confusing for the reader. For this reason, it’s important to know how to format flashbacks in a screenplay properly.

Writing flashbacks in the right way will allow readers of your script to easily follow what is happening and understand why certain events have occurred or led up to other moments in the story.

Method #1 – The Quick Flashback

Adding a flashback to your script is actually very simple. All you need to do is to add the word FLASHBACK to the end of your scene heading.

EXT. PARK – DAY

Jeff sees the basketball court.

EXT. PARK – BASKETBALL COURT – DAY [FLASHBACK]

Jeff stands alone under the basket leaning against the pole, pager in hand.

SUPER: “Summer 1994”

For extra clarity, you can add brackets or parenthesis around the word FLASHBACK to help set it apart from the rest of the scene heading.

In this example, we used a superimposed title card to announce the flashback to both the reader and the viewer, but this is completely optional and a choice of the writer.

Method #2 – Flashback Montage

Another common method for flashbacks is to use a flashback and a montage at the same time.

EXT. PARK – DAY

Jeff sees the basketball court.

FLASHBACK MONTAGE – JEFF SELLING DRUGS

— OUTDOOR BASKETBALL COURT – Jeff stands alone under the basket leaning against the pole, pager in hand.

— OVERPASS – Jeff shakes hands with a homeless man.

— STREET CORNER – A BMW rolls to a stop at the curb. Jeff hustles out to greet the car.

END FLASHBACK MONTAGE

EXT. PARK – DAY [present]

Jeff shakes his head.

In this example, we indicate the beginning and end of the flashback, and each mini-scene therein is marked with two dash marks and a short scene heading in all caps.

Method #3 – Flashback Sequence

When you have an extended flashback that carries over several scenes and/or locations, then a flashback sequence could be the best format.

EXT. PARK – DAY

Jeff sees the basketball court.

BEGIN FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

EXT. PARK – BASKETBALL COURT – DAY

Jeff stands alone under the basket leaning against the pole, pager in hand.

The pager vibrates. Jeff looks at the small green LCD screen and smiles.

INT. CLUB – NIGHT

Mr. Franks sits alone in a booth. Jeff and Chris approach slowly.

MR. FRANKS

Chris.

CHRIS

Sir.

MR. FRANKS

This him?

Chris nods.

Mr. Franks looks at Jeff long and hard. It starts to get awkward.

Mr. Franks nods and then waves them away.

END FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

EXT. PARK – DAY [present]

Jeff shakes his head.

Can You Write a Flashback Within a Flashback?

Sure! Why not? As always, the primary objective is to convey your story and ideas in a way that is clear and consistent. You can utilize any of the techniques above to layer flashbacks as necessary. Just be sure to keep the reader in mind because once you’ve lost them, they won’t be coming back.

Wrapping up

Using flashbacks in your screenplay can be a great way to add depth and complexity, but only if they are used correctly. Knowing how to format them properly is key to helping the reader understand what is happening in your story.

We’ve gone over three different methods for formatting flashbacks: Quick Flashbacks, Flashback Montages, and Flashback Sequences. You can even layer multiple flashbacks within each other if needed. When writing out these scenes, always keep clarity at the forefront of your mind so that you don’t lose readers along the way!

With these tips under your belt, you should now have all the knowledge you need to create an engaging script with effective flashback sequences.

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