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I want to write a sequence in my screenplay where the same news broadcast continues on different screens in different locations. For example, a bunch of people in a bar are watching the broadcast, then it continues in a family's living room on their TV, then people on the street are watching the same broadcast on a TV in a shop window, etc. How should I format this in a screenplay?

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  • 1
    How quickly do you intend to flip between scenes: a few seconds (little if no dialogue) or a few minutes (obvious changes in point of view switch)? Is it simultaneous viewing (persons x,y,z all remember exactly what they were doing when the shuttle blew up) or real time with just frequent switches in venue? – Stu W Feb 27 '16 at 3:22
  • A few seconds, with little dialogue if any. And real time with venue switches. – TBirdington Feb 28 '16 at 8:22
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If it's a spec script and breaking it down into multiple scenes would be unnecessarily burdensome on the reader, you may simply write:

INT/EXT. - MONTAGE 

TVs around the world, in bars, homes, and storefronts relay the same news story.

         REPORTER

    You join me live at Houston Mission
    Control where we await contact from
    the brave astronauts...

Then relate the story as if it were happening on a single screen.

In a later production draft it might get broken into individual scenes for the sake of scheduling, or it may not. This could be filmed outside the main production schedule, in which case it might have its own documentation and not rely on the script for a clear breakdown.

Expanding a bit now I'm on a proper keyboard:

If you want to add a little more colour into each of your locations, or you want to use any of the cast characters it's safest to break up into different scenes.

INT. BOSTON BAR -- DAY

In a Boston bar, six alcoholics stare at the TV through glassy eyes.

        REPORTER

    You join me live at Houston Mission
    Control...

EXT. HARRODS LONDON -- NIGHT

An old couple hold each other tight watching the same report on a TV in the window.

        REPORTER (cont'd)

    ...where we await contact from the 
    brave astronauts...

Some scripts will use CONTINUOUS as the tag on the second scene. eg.

EXT. HARRODS LONDON -- CONTINUOUS

But in this example, doing that hides the fact the second scene is at night, which is likely to be far more useful for a reader to know. The fact the scene is continuous should be obvious already.

Note you may need to add the "cont'd" manually to the dialogue since your screenwriting software will not do this automatically across scenes.

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According to The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley (2nd Edition, pages 54-56), the simplest way to set up montages is with a scene heading of MONTAGE or SERIES OF SHOTS followed by the content separated into paragraphs. (Or including dialogue as follows):

KEVIN'S APARTMENT - MONTAGE

Kevin makes the bed.

KEVIN (V.O.)
There's something about cleaning that calms me down.

He dusts the bookshelf.

KEVIN (V.O.) (CONT'D)
It relaxes me.

Or, if you don't think that looks very organized, you may include scene headings for each shot.

KEVIN'S APARTMENT - MONTAGE

A) INT. BEDROOM - DAY

Kevin makes the bed.

KEVIN (V.O.)
There's something about cleaning that calms me down.

B) INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY

He dusts a bookshelf.

KEVIN (V.O.) (CONT'D)
It relaxes me.

Notice that the action is indented to the level of the heading and not flush with the left edge. Of course, the dialogue is still formatted the same way as normal.

A note about "CONTINUOUS": Continuous is ONLY used when you are following the character through to a new location. Do not use it when you are indicating something is happening at the same time in a different location. If your character walks outside and we follow, then it is continuous. If he or she walks outside and we stay inside for a moment before cutting to the character, it is not continuous. (This is something that gets misused a lot in screenplays.)

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  • Argh, I was going to say the exact same thing about Continuous but I found an example, I think in Enemy of the State, which is this exact scenario, and I reversed course at the last minute. I believe you are right, and I should have stuck to my guns. – mwo Mar 2 '16 at 14:17
  • Yeah. The thing about all the rules in screenwriting is... they don't matter at ALL if you have a good story. That's why it can be so confusing. . . everyone does it a tad different. – Brent C Dill Mar 2 '16 at 23:10
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Something like this:

INT. BAR - NIGHT

The USUAL CROWD watches NEWS on TV.

            TV NEWS WOMAN
        Breaking News: Mayor Doyle arrested
        for drunk driving after crashing into…

                                            CUT TO:

INT. SMITH FAMILY ROOM - NIGHT

The broadcast continues as the 3 Smiths and Fido all watch the same broadcast.

            TV NEWS WOMAN( CON’TD )
        …into Grant’s Tomb, knocking over the
        150 yr old statue of the General. The Mayor’s 
        car burst into flames shortly after the Mayor           
        was pulled from the wreckage by…

                                            CUT TO:

INT. LAST TV STORE IN AMERICA - NIGHT

Metropolis CITIZENS watch the broadcast through the store window.

            TV NEWS WOMAN( CONT’D. )
        Superman! The Caped Crusader was unavailable
        for further comment. The Mayor, however, called
        a four hour news conference to blame the car maker,
        the bartender, the liquor company and the statue.

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