How To Write a Split Screen Scene: the Annie Hall Example
Note: These extracts from a full length script are used to illustrate an educational point. Please don’t sue me, I can take it out if it prevents anyone from making millions.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been already two years since I wrote How To Write a Split Screen: the (500) Days of Summer Example. Back then I thought that a follow-up with more examples would come real soon but it turned out that split-screen scenes are not a common exercise in screenplays. And yet, How to Write a Split Screen… is still to this day one of the most read articles on mentorless.
Fortunately, we can count on romantic comedies.
Last week I read the four times Oscar winner Annie Hall* (1977), and was pleased to discover two split-screen scenes in it. The two scenes were written differently and provide interesting information.
*Annie Hall was co-written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman and went on winning Best Original Screenplay.
Split-Screen #1: the Family Dinner
The Family Dinner is the first split-screen scene in the movie. It starts with Alvy talking to the camera and breaking the fourth wall, and moves into a split-screen scene. On paper, Allen and Brickman split the page in two columns, writing the overlapping dialogs from each side of the screen on each column:
In the following section of the scene, the two sides of the screen end up communicating with one another, as if they were indeed in the same room. To achieve the desire effect on screen, the traditional black line dividing a screen for a split-screen is absent. To write it, Allen and Brickman went back to a classical presentation for dialogs:
Here is how it rendered in the film. It is interesting to note that the order of some lines were rearranged and Grammy Hall’s last line before transitioning to the next scene was either cut or never shot:
Split-Screen #2: the Analysts
In the second example we come back to a more classic presentation, in a much shorter scene:
As seen above, in the screenplay, the analysts scene is very short and cuts to a visual illustration of what Alvy is saying to his analyst. Couple of more illustrating scenes follow, there is a quick come back to the split-screen scene with the analysts and the story goes on, back to ‘normal’.
In the movie, as you’re going to see below, the split-screen lasts much longer. All the illustrated scenes have been cut out to only keep what Annie and Alvy are saying to their analysts. Even though the screenplay was 135 pages, which is particularly long for a romantic comedy, a lot of space was left for the comedians to improvise and play with their characters. It is usually specified on the screenplay, but it seems that Allen (who also directed the movie) went for letting place to improvisation in many more scenes. In this case, he went for the tell instead of the show.
Finally, even though it is written in the script that the screen splits in half, you can see that in both instances, Alvy’s side is predominant. The movie tells a story from Alvy’s point of view, so it makes perfect sense that he would take more space; but this is not something that was specified on paper.
I hope you enjoyed it. Annie Hall is quite a remarkable script that contains a lot of useful tricks for screenwriters. I highly recommend it.
To Be Continued…
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