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Telephone Calls

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Telephone conversations can be tricky.

Set up the first location with a brief scene, such as the caller dialing the phone, then set up the second location, such as the recipient picking up the phone.  While still at the second location, add the action element, “INTERCUT with,” followed by the caller’s location, all on the same line above the caller’s first speech in the scene.  To clarify that a character is talking on the phone, place the personal direction “(into phone)” under the cue:


Rich punches the buttons on his phone as if stabbing a mortal enemy.

                 (into phone)
           Hey, it's Rich.  You got that
           surveillance report?


Sam's face drops.  He waves Goon #1 out of the room, cups his hand over the mouthpiece.

                 (into phone)
           Uh, Rich... I'm afraid the
           news... it's not good.

INTERCUT with Rich Daniels' office.

                 (into phone)
           She's been boinking him, ain't
           she.  I knew it!

On the other hand, you may not wish to show both sides of a telephone call, but remain focused on one character.  In such scenes, it’s rare in the cinema for us to hear the other party.  Insert a parenthetical “beat” when that character is listening and reacting:


                 (into phone)
           I'm not trying to screw anyone.
           No, I won't abandon him.

If it’s important that we hear both sides of the conversation, then the unseen character’s cue would have a “(V.O.)” extension and the personal direction “(over phone, filtered)”:

                      GAINES (V.O.)
                 (over phone, filtered)
           Leave the kid where he is.

In this situation, the extension “(O.S.)” would be incorrect.  “(O.S.)” is used when an unseen character is in the same location, but just off-screen.

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Copyright © 2008 by Michael Ray Brown.  All rights reserved.
Last modified: November 23, 2014