Every movie you’ve watched and every script you’ve read has used transitions to move the story forward. Sure, there is the standard transition cue used in screenplays, “CUT TO,” but there are a host of other transitions available to enhance and progress the script. While these cues are essential to tell a story through a script, they must be created to enhance how the story is perceived. Just like traffic cones and lines on the road aid in traffic transitions, screenplay transition cues guide the audience through the highway system of your story.
Creating effective transitions requires knowledge of their purpose and how they can amplify and detract specific story elements. Much like highlighting a portrait with white paint, transitions highlight the personalities and objectives of characters.
Magnifying Screenplay Themes:
Perhaps one of the most effective ways of using screenplay transitions is to utilize their visual cues to magnify the overall script themes and moods. Screenwriting is unlike any other form of storytelling as you must use not only your words, but also all human senses. Scripts ultimately tell their story visually. Therefore, you must write the story not according to words but according to sight.
Scene transitions, when appropriate, amplify the overall atmosphere of your film by highlighting specific moments within the story. Visually, when the scene suddenly cuts to a different scene audience members are left scrambling to piece together the last scene while absorbing the new one. Although this is a very specific example, it perfectly showcases how the use of transitions keeps the attention of audience members while maintaining a feel of mystery surrounding the story.
Never provide your audience with all the answers. Keep them guessing. Shifting gears through scene transitions provides the unpredictable nature viewers crave. However, it must be carried out so information found within the previous scenes are not lost or diluted but rather highlighted and purposefully glossed over.
Don’t Overuse The Same Transition
Strive to use the same transition no more than two times within a film. This, of course, does not include the standard “CUT TO” transition that many scenes require. I’m referring to the more visually dynamic transitions such as: “FADE TO BLACK” ; “DISSOLVE TO” ; and, “TIME CUT,” which refers to a specific passing of time.