If you’ve ever struggled to write a script for a slow-motion scene — or if you’ve ever watched a movie that’s had one — then you know how difficult it is. Slow-motion scenes can be some of the most visually arresting and emotionally powerful moments in cinema, but they require careful planning and writing.
A well-written slow-motion scene can make a movie. A bad one can ruin it.
Why? Because they’re so hard to pull off.
And that’s why we wanted to talk about this topic today. We want to help you write better slow-motion scenes, so your scripts are the best they can be.
In this article, we’ll go over:
- What “slow motion” means in film terms.
- How to plan and write slow-motion scenes in your script.
- Examples of great slow-motion scenes from famous movies and TV shows.
How To Write Slow Motion In A Script
What Is slow motion in a script?
Slow motion is a short effect that is used to show an action in a very slow manner. This can be achieved by manipulating time or by repeating the same action numerous times.
Slow motion shots are generally made by filming at an exposure time that is longer than that used for regular motion, then playing back at regular speed. If a scene is filmed at 60 frames per second and played back at 30 frames per second, everything will be shown in slow motion (so if someone throws a ball, it might appear to take several minutes to reach its destination). Because this technique requires two cameras—one filming at regular speed, the other at high speed—it is seldom done in live action movies. It is more often used for dramatic effect in animated films. An example of a live-action film with a slow motion sequence would be the James Bond movie Casino Royale. The scene where James Bond is driving an Aston Martin DBS in Montenegro (filmed in Croatia) and goes off road between two separated roads played back in slow-motion. In reality the car was going so fast that it took off like a helicopter right into the air
Slow Motion Writing In A Script
Slow motion or slow-mo, is used by filmmakers to achieve an artistic effect. It is the result of playing footage at a lower frame rate than it was captured.
This creates the illusion of time slowing down and the characters appear to be moving at a slower speed.
Slow Motion vs Bullet Time
You may have heard of ‘bullet time’, which is where the camera slowly rotates around the character in slow motion, giving the audience a 360 degree perspective on the action in hyper-slow motion.
This is best seen in “The Matrix” movies during their fight scenes.
Bullet time requires specialized cameras to capture each angle and then stitching them together later using software.
It takes some planning and money to pull off effectively but it can make for impressive shots!
How To Write Slow Motion In A Script
Slow motion writing in a script is meant to be cinematic, so write it like you’re describing a scene.
The best way to do this is to write the slow motion action the same way you would write any other action in your script, but include the words SLOW MOTION and/or SLO-MO at the beginning of it.
This lets the reader know that a slow motion sequence is coming up.
For example, let’s say that you want to write a slo-mo sequence where someone throws a pie at another character.
Here’s how you might write that:
Someone throws a pie at another character.
The pie hits its target square in the face.
Pie filling goes everywhere as the victim yelps in surprise.”
I really wanted to write a post on how to write slow motion in a script. I mean, there’s not a lot of info out there on the subject and I’m sure you’d all love to know how to do it.
As it turns out, writing slow-motion action is something of a technical challenge. You can’t just write ‘They fight’, or ‘They run’.
If you want to write a slow-motion action, you have to break the actions down into small steps and describe them carefully.
This makes your writing look good, but also slows down the action, which is what you want from slow-motion.
So this means that instead of writing ‘They fight’, you have to break it down into smaller parts such as ‘She thrusts’, ‘He parries’ and so on, like a choreographer describing an action scene in ballet terms.
Of course even this is not enough! When you’re writing slow-motion action, it’s necessary to think about the way the reader will experience your words.
Most readers scan text quickly when they’re reading novels and scripts, so if you don’t make it easy for them by breaking your action down into small pieces they’ll breeze right past your descriptions without taking anything in.
Examples Of Slow Motion In A Script
In film, video and video games, slow motion is a shot of an action where the rate of the action is considerably slower than it would normally be played at.
This technique focuses on a specific moment or action (often one of great physical impact), allowing the audience to view it in more detail or for greater length than would be possible in real time. It is also sometimes used for comic effect, since a viewer’s perception of time is distorted by seeing something that would normally be over quickly drawn out.
Examples Of Slow Motion In Films
The following is a list of notable examples of slow motion in films.
“Titanic” (1997) James Cameron’s epic about doomed lovers, Jack and Rose, has some of the most notable uses of slow motion in modern cinema. The most famous shot from the film is where Rose (Kate Winslet) holds on to the railing as the ship goes down, and her dress billows out around her in a gentle arc.
It’s not just Winslet’s performance that makes this scene work; it’s also the way Cameron shoots it. He chose to shoot the scene at 18 frames per second, which slows everything down, including Winslet’s hair.
“The Matrix” (1999) The first use of slow-motion by director Andy Wachowski since he co-directed Bound with his sister Lana Wachowski was in The Matrix, one of the most influential action films of all time.
This film was a pioneer in making slow motion and bullet time effects popular among filmmakers. “The Matrix” uses both standard slow motion and bullet time effects throughout the film to create an atmosphere of heightened reality.
Bullet time effects are especially prevalent during fight scenes between Trinity and Agent Smith.
Another use for slow motion is when Neo fights Morpheus for the first time on top of a skyscraper.
How Do You Show Slow Motion In A Script?
There are different ways to describe slow motion in a script, depending on what you want to convey. Generally speaking, though, there are two types of slow-motion scenes: those that are meant to be fast and those that are meant to be in real time.
You can use any of these options for either type of scene. For example, you could use the “subjective” version for a scene that’s happening fast and the “objective” version for one that’s supposed to be slowly unfolding.
Objective: Objective Slow Motion
The easiest way to show slow motion is just to indicate it in your action line. For example, this is how it would look if we wanted it to happen during a fight scene:
EXT. PARK – DAY
A boy runs from his friends… he throws a punch at another boy… who ducks and punches him back… The first boy falls down hard!
Everything about this works together to convey the idea of slow motion — the hyphens, the word “falls,” and especially the exclamation point at the end. Everything about this says it should be happening quickly.
How Do You Write Movement In A Script?
Well, that depends on the type of movement you want to describe. There are several types of movement, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on three:
Forward movement is when the action of the story moves forward in time. It’s very simple to write.
It’s just described as a verb followed by the character. Example: “He walks into the room.”
Backward movement is when the action of the story moves backward in time. When writing backward movement, it’s important to place “then” before all dialogue and action.
Example: “He walks into the room then sits at his desk. She walks into the room and sees him sitting at his desk.”
Facial expressions are another form of movement that can be written into a screenplay. They’re also very easy to write and follow the same pattern as forward movement with “then.”
The major difference is that they must be placed before any dialogue or action.
An example of facial expression would be: “The look on her face says she thinks he’s crazy for sitting at his desk then looking at her like she’s crazy for walking into his office backwards with her arms crossed reading a magazine and talking about how her boss is trying to make her life miserable.”
Formatting Slow Motion In A Script
Today, I want to talk about formatting slow motion in a script.
Tristan, who has a background in screenwriting, posted this question on the Screenwriters subreddit:
“What’s the best way to format slow motion? What does it look like? I can’t find anything online.”
I answered him and then I thought it would make a good blog post so people could see his question and my answer. So thanks Tristan for inspiring me to write this blog post!
Here’s my answer:
“Great question! There are a few ways to indicate slow motion in script format. As far as I know, the easiest way is simply to write “slow motion” in a parenthetical at the end of what needs to be slowed down.
If you have something specific you want to say about the timing of the action, you can also write that out. For example, “The main character (John Cusack) kicks his legs back as he falls off a building in slow motion.” This is an example from LOST IN TRANSLATION by Sophia Coppola (2003).
Slow Motion Writing Examples In Screenplays
The purpose of slow motion writing in screenplays is to heighten the emotional impact (and therefore the dramatic effect) of the scene. Slow motion writing can be an effective tool in screenwriting, but it must be used with care.
When used appropriately, slow motion writing can turn a relatively ordinary scene into an emotional tour de force. The most important thing to remember when using slow motion writing is that the story should always come first.
Telling a story is more important than showing off how much you know about camera angles and editing techniques. If a slow motion moment doesn’t serve the story, it should be re-written or skipped altogether.
The following are some examples of slow motion writing that have been used effectively in film:
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)
“The Departed” (2006), Martin Scorsese
Scorsese’s remake of the Hong Kong action flick “Infernal Affairs” is an excellent example of how effective slow motion can be when used correctly. The most famous use of slow motion in this film occurs in a scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Billy Costigan, confronts his former partner and current mole, Colin Sullivan (played by Martin Sheen).
How Slo-Mo Creates Iconic Moments In Film
Tarantino’s use of slow motion
When used correctly, slow motion can turn an already-great scene into a truly iconic one. The first example that comes to mind is from Quentin Tarantino’s classic 1994 film “Pulp Fiction”. It’s when Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) discuss the merits of their favorite beverages during a car ride in the middle of the night:
The way Jackson and Travolta deliver their lines, combined with the slo-mo shots of their beverages being poured by the waitress really make this scene pop. The use of slow motion highlights both actors’ delivery so that they don’t go unnoticed.
And while this may seem like a small thing, it makes all the difference in making this scene memorable as opposed to just another conversation between two hit men on their way to whack someone.
The same technique can be used for serious moments as well.
Writing Fast Motion Or Slow Motion Or Freeze Image
This is a powerful way to create a series of images that are not just different, but are also highly distinctive. Now I know you can do it manually, with your camera, and I’m sure you have. But there is a faster, more efficient way to convey exactly what you want.
Trying to describe the exact speed of a shot or the duration of a freeze frame in words is difficult at best. Trying to do it with a client on the phone is usually impossible.
So why not do it visually? I don’t mean that you need to go out and buy After Effects or Final Cut Pro! All you need is Photoshop and about 10 minutes of your time.
To make the kind of tutorial I am talking about, all you need to do is hit the “Pause” button on an image editor like Photoshop. Then use your visual effects tools to create your desired effect (fast motion, slow motion or freeze).
Save that as a separate file and send it off to your client for approval. Here’s how:
Hit the “Pause” button in Photoshop.
Select Screen mode from the pop-up menu that appears (see image above).
Click on the image where you’d like to start the slow motion effect
How Do You Write A Slow Motion Scene In A Story?
In the film industry, actors have to do fight scenes. They will have rehearsed or done it before. But for the most part, these are not genuine fights and there is not a real opponent.
The reason for this is the safety of actors, but the other reason is that you can’t have the actor go all out and then have them do it again for the next take. It takes too much energy and is impossible to sustain for more than a couple of takes.
Trying to write a slow motion scene in a story can be just as difficult. Your character will be at his or her peak performance in a fight or other activity, and unless they are a superhero, they can’t sustain it beyond a chapter or two.
The way around this is to first describe how your character performs at their peak performance level. Then take the momentum gained from that and use it in another activity, one which doesn’t require top level performance all of the time.
This could be talking, thinking, walking down stairs, something that doesn’t require 100% capacity but still allows you to build up some steam before you have to have your character’s full capacity once more.
How Do You Show Pauses In A Script?
How do you show pauses in a script? One of the most common questions I get from actors is, “How do you write pauses?” The answer is that there are multiple ways to show a pause on stage.
Telling an actor to pause is not very useful because we’re not mind readers. If you’re directing a scene, your job is to give the actor as many tools as possible to express their character and help them discover the truth of their character’s journey. So how can you help them?
Say your character is speaking and they need a moment to think or respond. Instead of saying, “Pause,” try saying, “Think.” Instead of saying, “Wait,” try saying, “Stall”.
Instead of saying, “Look around,” try saying, “Take a second.” Instead of saying, “Listen,” try saying, “Hear that?” In other words, use action verbs. This will help the actor create the moment instead of just standing there staring at the audience.
Actors also often ask me how long they should pause for. My answer is always the same: it depends on what your character is doing during the pause.