Intercutting between scenes is a potent cinematic technique used by masterful screenwriters to elevate the pace, suspense and atmosphere of integral sequences in a film.
But the intercutting screenwriting method goes beyond just rapidly changing between scenes. Used strategically and sparingly, the intercut allows writers to blend multiple scenes together into seamless, parallel movements that captivate audiences through the power of contrast and well-timed storytelling cadence.
Let’s explore what exactly an intercut aims to achieve, when to lean on this advanced technique, how to write effective intercuts without confusing your reader, and study memorable movies that demonstrate top-class intercutting executed with precision.
Understanding Intercuts for Screenwriting
At its core, an intercut refers to editing between two or more scenes, typically in quick succession to one another. This creates sequences where the writer cuts back and forth rapidly between concurrent events happening in different locations.
This switching merges the scenes together into interwoven story movements, while allowing you to stitch contrasting visuals, emotions and dialogue together for dramatic effect. The rapid cuts generate palpable tension, urgency or anxiety within the audience when done right.
Skilled screenwriters incorporate critical visual cues, actions or dialogue in scene A that inform the stakes and movement of the intercutting scene B.
This builds anticipation by cutting away just before an important moment, with the parallel action in the other scene eventually providing narrative context.
Artful intercutting requires you to maintain this delicate narrative balance across the complex sequence without losing the audience.
Master screenwriters achieve this through purposeful visual linkages, well-placed sluglines, concise action lines, and consistent pacing between cuts.
Let’s explore common situations where intercutting between scenes can be especially effective:
Heightening Emotion and Suspense
Cutting quickly between a terrifying event and the emotion of characters responding to it elsewhere can instantly amplify feelings of shock, horror, and suspense.
For example, intercutting between a graphic attack sequence and a mother unsuccessfully trying to reach her child on the phone can wring out greater visceral emotion.
Contrasting Imagery and Ideas
Bouncing between two visually stimulating scenes linked by a common theme can be compelling. For example, cutting between violent riots and peaceful protests makes for forceful social commentary. Matching image composition between the contrasting scenes takes this technique a notch higher.
Urgency and Anxiety
Intercuts are often utilized to manufacture a rising sense of urgency between characters trying to solve problems across scenes.
Writers might cut back and forth between someone attempting to diffuse a bomb and specialists trying to talk them through the process remotely. The tension ratchets up with every cut!
Underscoring Critical Narrative Moments
Cutting across scenes right as major revelations happen creates intrigue and allows writers to underscore critical narrative momentum.
For example, intercutting between a whistleblower sending secret documents just as the antagonists realize what’s happening.
Overall, thoughtfully interleaving scenes add pace and visual interest to scripts by taking advantage of the contrast between them.
Short, punchy intercuts are used to shock and thrill audiences. Extended intercutting builds nail-biting tension. Either way, it remains an essential tool for enterprising screenwriters.
Writing Intercuts for Maximum Impact
While intercutting can no doubt elevate vital story sequences, there remains an art to incorporating rapid-fire edits between scenes smoothly into a script without bewildering your reader. Here are some tips for seamlessly writing effective intercuts:
Establish Clear Sluglines Upfront
To start, clearly introduce the multiple locations using succinct sluglines where the parallel action occurs. For example INT. BANK VAULT – DAY intercutting with EXT. GETAWAY CAR – DAY. This grounds the reader before whisking them back and forth.
Maintain Logical Sequence and Flow
Every scene needs a mini-arc, with intercuts forcing you to move multiple story threads forward together. Ensure narrative logic flows within both settings’ timelines. Also, use visual cues (see below) to link scenes intuitively across cuts.
Link Scenes Through Framing, Color and Sound
Matching the composition of shots between scenes draws invisible parallels for the reader. Using color symmetry, audio matches like a phone ring continuing across cuts, and mirrored actions likewise blend choppy sequences for the reader.
Write Lean Action and Description
Rapid cuts mean conveying a lot of visual information succinctly between sluglines. Use crisp, lean lines to describe critical actions and let the sequence work its magic for the reader without overwriting in dense blocks.
Avoid Disorienting the Audience
Whiplashing readers without narrative breadcrumbs between settings can lose them quickly. Similarly, crucial revelations happening off-screen can frustrate audiences if poorly timed. Ensure logic and momentum remain coherent.
The upside? Writing water-tight intercuts well showcases your screenwriting chops. When a character’s urgent phone call in a hotel room demanding evidence segues seamlessly into a detective stealthily retrieving those documents in an office through artful cross-cutting, readers instantly recognize they’re in capable hands.
Common Intercut Variations
While typical intercuts involve cutting back and forth between two concurrent scenes, some alternative techniques that leverage similar concepts include:
- Crosscutting – Intercutting between more than two scenes with multiple strands of action. Allows ramping tension across expanded narratives.
- Match Cut – Cutting from one scene to another where the composition of shots match by framing objects similarly. Helps blend scenes subconsciously.
- Audio Match Cut – Uses identical sounds across two scenes bridged together through editing to smooth the transition. For example, a cell phone ring carrying across both locations.
- Extended Intercuts – Lengthy sequences with rapid cuts back and forth between two scenes over an expanded period. Requires intense focus getting the pacing, performances and continuity right.
Noteworthy Intercuts from Film History
To crystallize these intercutting techniques, let’s analyze some iconic moments from film history that demonstrate brilliant execution:
Psycho Shower Scene
Possibly cinema’s apex example of parallel editing ratcheting tension. Alfred Hitchcock seamlessly intercuts between a vulnerable Marion in the shower with a murderous Norman barging into her room wielding a knife.
This interplay made both bravura sequences immortal. The matching composition, progression of shots, and perfectly timed cuts primes audiences for absolute shock and terror as Marion meets her bitter fate.
The Silence of the Lambs Basement Scene
Watch along agonizingly as Clarice Starling hunts the killer Buffalo Bill soon realizing she herself is the hunted in this nerve-shredding sequence.
As she discovers damning evidence in Bill’s creepy basement, Buffalo Bill stealthily returns above silently sealing her only escape.
The urgent telephone cuts showing her clueless boss still demanding results while Starling unknowingly ventures into grave danger exemplifies intercuts used as a visceral storytelling weapon.
The Empire Strikes Back Asteroid Field Chase
This iconic scene features dashing editing with rapid match cuts and seamless optical effects as Han Solo pilots the Millennium Falcon evading swarms of asteroids and TIE fighters with death-defying twists and turns.
The clean visual links matching asteroid pieces across edits while telling a parallel twisting narrative across pursuers and the pursued remains an exemplary lesson in stellar intercutting technique for aspiring screenwriters.
Inception Snow Fortress Assault
Christopher Nolan leans on effortless match cutting repeatedly in Inception to reflect transitional moments the film’s dream mechanics allow.
This amazing assault sequence features jaw-dropping stunts intercut with architects back in the workshop trying to maintain the stability needed to achieve their mission, with plenty of mirrored imagery bridging scenes.
The urgent intercutting underscores the entire extraction job nearing catastrophic collapse while bombarding audiences with visual spectacle.
Learn to Intercut Confidently Using These Examples
Rapid intercutting when handled with care and purpose can propel vital sequences in your script to extraordinary new heights.
Understanding how to maintain coherence across complex narratives while cutting quickly to build nail-biting tension remains an invaluable skill all screenwriters need in their toolbox.
While it demands precision and patience to get the timing right, memorable sequences leveraging sharp intercuts often leave the longest-lasting imprints on enthralled audiences.
Master the techniques and study the methods used by established writers to lift your own future climactic moments through the strength of seamless intercutting across captivating scenes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is an intercut a shot?
No, an intercut refers to technique of cutting rapidly back and forth between two or more scenes, rather than an individual shot. It blends together these separate sequences through editing.
What is the meaning of the word intercut?
The word intercut refers to abruptly cutting from one scene or shot to another in a film. It involves interrupting one scene with a shot or series of shots from another scene.
How do you write an intercut in final draft?
In Final Draft screenwriting software, you would write an intercut using regular scene headings, also called sluglines. For example:
INT. BANK – DAY Robbers enter the bank firing guns into the air.
INT. POLICE STATION – DAY An alarm sounds as police officers suit up rapidly to respond.
What is a cut transition in a screenplay?
A cut transition refers to an abrupt, immediate change from one scene or shot to the next without using a transition effect. It is the most common type of transition in films and television. Screenwriters indicate a cut by simply starting a new scene or sequence, marked by a scene heading.
What is an example of inter cut?
A classic example of intercutting is the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho. It rapidly intercuts between shots of Marion being stabbed in the shower to extreme close-ups of her attacker, Norman Bates, building unbearable tension.
What is an example of an intercut?
The assassination attempt scene in The Godfather that suspensefully intercuts between Michael at the restaurant, his henchmen planting a gun for him, and enemies taking position is an iconic example of using intercuts to generate thrilling tension.
How do you use intercut in screenwriting?
Screenwriters use “INTERCUT WITH:” when changing between locations and ongoing scenes during the intercut sequence. Maintaining narrative logic between the interleaved scenes via visual, audio or thematic links for clarity while varying pacing and shot length to accentuate emotions remains vital.
What is a synonym for intercut?
Some synonyms for intercut include crosscut, alternate, interpolate, intersperse, intermix, interpose, intersect, counterpoint, interlace, and dovetail.
How do you write a cut in a script?
In a script or screenplay, a simple cut from one scene to the next is implied when the writer finishes describing one scene, leaves an appropriate space on the page, and then starts a new scene with the scene heading like INT., EXT. or EST. to indicate the location.