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FORMATTING TIP: Superimposed Text + Over Black

So we’ve started a YouTube channel!

Steven Miao created the opening video sting and Mukul Kandara helped with setting it all up. Thanks, guys!

The channel had been in the making for a long time, but I just have been too busy with clients, teaching and workshopping awesome projects. What I was planning on doing in January 2017 has finally come to fruition. Will I be able to keep it up? We’ll see.

In the first video, I talk briefly about the correct way to format audio and voice over on a black screen. So many times I have seen this done improperly in screenplays. Yet it is so easy…

Of course, something went wrong during the filming of that first YouTube video, so you couldn’t see the example I was talking about (you can see it below in this article).

I didn’t want to fix the video.

Why not?

The hunt for perfection had been a curse for too long. An excuse for continued procrastination. It was time to ship.

In a way, your shipping is writing; sitting down to commit words to paper.

If you don’t write, great ideas won’t happen. If you don’t believe me, watch that TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert again.

Okay, back to the formatting class.

Audio Over Black

The example I give in the video is from The Big Sick.

In the YouTube video, you can’t see it. My mistake. But here it is:

Script Formatting - Audio Over Black

As I said above: it is so simple! You just write ‘OVER BLACK’, and then you describe what we hear. At the beginning of a screenplay, this will be printed BEFORE the slugline that introduces the first scene visually.

Easy, right?

Superimposed Text Over Image (Super)

The other thing people often ask me about is how to correctly write a title in the screenplay.

First, you don’t really call this a TITLE. We reserve this for the OPENING and CLOSING TITLES, like you will see in the example.

When you want to indicate where we are (e.g. Paris, Texas), or the time/date (The 18th of December, 2017), you use a SUPER (as in ‘superimposed’).

Mostly I see beginning writers open a scene with the slugline (or scene heading), and then immediately print the Super.

I don’t particularly like this, because the slugline doesn’t give me enough information to visualise the background that the title will be sitting over.

Mostly you will have a shot held for a few seconds before the Super comes in, like in this example from The Disaster Artist:

Script Formatting - Superimposed Text (SUPER)

In the YouTube video, I mentioned that the slugline is imperfect. It should have a full-stop after “INT”, and ideally you also print the time of day at the end of the slugline, e.g. “INT. JEAN SHELTON’S ACTING STUDIO – DAY”.

Then again, my video wasn’t perfect either.

With all this talk about imperfection I may have given the impression that your script doesn’t have to be perfect.

Well, it doesn’t. Until you send it out…

But that’s a different video altogether.

 

About the Author

Karel FG Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media. He speaks more than a handful of European languages, which he is still trying to find a use for in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia.

Comments 8

  1. Can a SUPER be written on an action line? Or does it have to be written as a scene heading only?

  2. Post
    Author

    Hi Jermaine – Good question. In fact, it only looks to be a scene heading, but in fact, it is an action line.

  3. Hi Mister Steve. Question. What do you think of the formatting as follows in regards to how i detailed my super. Should detailing the location of the Super Imposed Text require it’s own line. Or should the text being super imposed start on a new line.

    EXT. BROOKLYN STREET – DAY

    WIDE establishing shot of a Brooklyn BedStuy street.

    ABOVE THE STREET HORIZON – SUPER: Speaker Kids

    CUT TO.

    ECU on Richard’s face as he pedals a bike.

  4. Post
    Author

    Hey Josh – looking at these few lines, I would recommend you study a few good screenplays. They will give you the answers to most of your formatting questions, and help you avoid some of the issues in your short script sample.

    I can recommend the Immersion Screenwriting course (https://screenwriting.courses – I designed it exactly for people like you), which will help you with this without having to go scour the web for the right scripts.
    Avoid camera direction in your action/description. This is really the director’s business.

    But to – finally – answer your question:

    Yes, the SUPER needs its own line.

    If “Above the horizon” is to give us the positioning of the super on the screen, you leave this out as well. Again, this is not a concern for the writer.

    Finally, CUT TO can also be omitted.

    I hope this helps!

    Cheers,

    Karel

  5. Hello Karel
    Is OVER BLACK considered a slugline ? I have an (O.S.) character in my opening engulfed in a one sided telephone conversation. She is never seen but carries on the conversation with pauses for responses as scenes are seen from an adjoining room. I want the scenes to come in at specific points in the dialogue. How do I format the pauses, (V.O.), and (CONT’D) and describe what is happening at specific points with different scenes overlapping dialogue?
    Thanks
    Les

    1. Post
      Author

      Good question. I would have to check Dr Trottier’s THE SCREENWRITER’S BIBLE on this one. But it doesn’t really matter as long as it is in ALL CAPS, which you can achieve by using the Scene Heading format, or just by manually writing it in Description or General.
      If the script opens with OVER BLACK, it will automatically prompt you to use Scene Heading. So the short answer: Yes, probably slugline.
      Your other question is more complex. Would you have a movie clip as reference? I would recommend you just use Description to tell what is happening on the screen during the pauses. You want to make sure that this is interesting. We need at least some tension, and you can use description to establish this. No need for (CONT’D) any longer, as this is going out of fashion rapidly.
      I’m not sure what you mean by “I want the scenes to come in at specific points in the dialogue.” If these are new scenes, they may need a slugline each, or else you’ll need a combined scene heading that covers all the locations.
      I hope this helps!

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