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Every transition a screenwriter will ever need

Here we discuss all things transitions for screenwriting. We cover what a transition is, why we use transitions and what each type of transition is and when to use these correctly.

What is a transition?

A transition in film (and in your screenplay) is a technique used in post production to combined different shots and scenes. The most common transition is "Cut to" - a simple cut to the next shot/scene.

Why do we need transitions?

We need these to help tell the story in the movie and to ensure a smooth transaction between shots and scenes. Transitions were initially used in the script to help the post production team when editing the footage.

Remember to use the big transitions to show an integral moment in your screenplay, when you want the reader to really notice the transition and read in depth the key scene.

Screenplay transition list:
- Cut to
- Dissolve to
- Fade in
- Fade out
- Fade to
- Jump Cut to
- Match cut to
- Smash cut to
- Wipe to
- Time cut
- Cut to

This is the most common out of all transitions. It's a simple transition used to imply a change in scenes.

Dissolve to

Dissolve to is where one scene ends and fades another scene fades into place. It's one of the most difficult transitions to perfect and usually leads to a key scene or shot in the movie. It's definitely an art form and you'll find it used in a contemporary style more often than not.


Fade to/Fade in/Fade out

These three transitions re rarely used now within a screenplay. These have now been replaced by the more complex transition to highlight a key scene or shot. However, anything that you will usually find the fade in at the start of the screenplay and fade out at the end of a screenplay.

Jump cut to

This transition isn't used in the same format as most. It's used to show a jump in time between each jump cut. The shots are usually sequential with one key factor changing in each shot to show the progression in time.

Match cut to

A match cut is a transition in which the two shots are matched together. This is an interesting transition which can help you lead into a key scene with a smooth transaction. This is one of our favourites, it's a really creative transition which can help form your style. A great example of this is -  a character may be holding a specific object whilst transitioning, into the next holding something similar but in a different environment.

Smash cut to

A Smash cut is an extremely technical transition. It's great for creating an unexpected dramatic effect within your film. You can use this perfectly by cutting from one extreme to the other to give the audience an idea of the extremity of the scene they've just witnessed.

Wipe to

This transition is as simple as it sounds. It's a wipe from one side of the frame to the other, transitioning into the next scene.

Time cut

These usually take place in the same location but with different characters to show the difference in time. There are multiple ways to film this whether it's with a montage style, showing the character passing time, or changing the characters in the location. This will give the audience an idea that time is passing.

Tom - www.ifilmthings.com

  • Although... I would say stick to 'Cut To' (or nothing at all) most of the time. The other transitions should be used Very sparingly -- you don't want to be seen as 'directing' the script.
    I'd never use Wipe, Fade or Dissolve, and the others only if I have a very particular idea in mind; but otherwise best to leave those things to the director.

    5 months ago
  • I agree with Paul.

    Inserting transitions from a writers perspective feels like I'm stepping on the directors toes and from a directors perspective makes me think this writers a control freak and could be difficult to work with.

    If you really want a 'match cut' you can find a creative way to portray within your action text.

    I'd only use 'Cut to:' and 'Back to: if I have two scenes playing out simultaneously where you're going back and forth between them.

    5 months ago
  • Instead of 'Back to', I read somewhere to set up the 2 (or more) scenes, then put

    INTERCUT:

    and write it as if it's all in the same scene. The the director/editor can decide what gets shown. Easy! :)

    5 months ago
  • Totally agree, guys.

    As a writer, I wouldn't dream of putting most of these transitions in my spec screenplays. As you've stated, it treads on the potential director's and editor's toes by presuming to do their job for them. Most will just cross them all out. Some will be irritated you gave them the extra trouble to do that. Also, it can be mighty annoying for script readers/development/producers who have precious little time to read your script and will complain that technical details like this "take them out of the story".

    In fairness, I see the OP is a hybrid actor/writer/cinematographer - so is possibly coming from the angle of producing his own scripts. That's understandable if these transitions are effectively creative notes to self across different stages of your own self-contained production cycle.

    But, if screenwriting's your single bow-string (as the post's title implies) and you're writing your scripts on spec - better to leave them out. You're selling your story and your words - not the way they are produced.

    5 months ago
  • As the others have said above - from a writer's perspective, there is absolutely no need to add any transitions to a script, unless absolutely necessary for the plot / tone / flow and even then they should be used sparingly.

    Transitions can be added at a later stage to the shooting script which will be used as the blueprint for putting the film together. And even then, things may still change in post as it comes together. Film making is a very organic process.

    So, as far as screenwriting goes, this should simply be the seed that sets off the whole process. Adding transitions after every scene not only break the flow of reading it, it also adds to the page count. Let the writing put the picture in the reader's mind, and allow room for the director's and editor's creative input too :)

    5 months ago