THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

THICK, JUICY SCENES!


So, you've done your outline or just started writing your script and you come to that big scene and... well, what's supposed to be in that big scene anyway? How do you turn that index card or line in your step outline into the kind of big, juicy scene that people will talk about when they leave the cinema? How do you turn that jotted note into 2-3 pages of script?

A scene is a dramatic unit of your story. Most scripts have 45-60 scenes... and all of them need to hold the audience's interest until the next scene. That's quite responsibility for a dramatic unit! Scenes need to move the story forward, and give us new information. Every scene has a purpose in your story. If it serves no purpose, toss it. You want the *best* scenes, the *required* scenes, not filler scenes. Know what that purpose is - that's the most important thing about your scene.

NACHO LIBRE by Jared & Jerusha Hess and Chris White is a silly film about the monk/cook at an orphanage who dreams of being a masked Mexican wrestler. Like SCHOOL OF ROCK, the film is light-weight comedy completely saved by the presence of Jack Black in the lead role. Black is a great physical comedian who can earn a laugh with a raised eyebrow or by sheer force of attitude. As the cook Ignacio (Nacho), the story needs a scene that shows him obtaining the raw groceries that he will cook for the orphans. That's the scene. Okay, do we just show him at a market shopping? That's a couple of lines of script and a couple of seconds of screen time... not much of a scene.

THREE THINGS AT ONCE!

The problem is, that scene is only doing one thing at once... and in film we need to do many things with the same scene. We need to move the story forward. give the audience some information about the characters, and be interesting and exciting. That's three things that every scene needs to do! Even more responsibility for a simple dramatic unit!

What is the story information in your scene?
What does the scene tell us about the character(s)?
What is emotional element in the scene (what does it make the audience feel)?
What is the entertainment value in the scene?
What is the conflict in the scene?

CONFLICT! CONFLICT! CONFLICT!

Conflict is everything. A scene without conflict isn't *dramatic* - it's just exposition.

Scenes also have a beginning, middle and end. Three act structure is hard to escape! Again, think of the way conflict works. We have to introduce the conflict, show the struggle, then resolve the conflict. Just like your story's conflict, the problem in scenes often happens in Act 2 - the struggle part is missing. Scenes run into trouble when your protagonist wants something... and easily gets it. No conflict!

A script I wrote a few years ago was a horror story about a serial killer who is executed... but keeps on killing. A copycat? Or something supernatural and evil?. An early, pre-execution scene has my leading lady, a tough Nancy Grace type TV reporter, interviewing a Priest and a Serial Killer Expert about tomorrow's execution. It's a debate on the death penalty for about 2 pages... but right before they go on the air, our leading lady is told she has been *requested* to attend the execution by the serial killer. So this debate is *really* about how she feels about witnessing a man die. And by the end of the scene we will learn that she doesn't want to watch anyone die - she's scared. As she moderates, both the Priest and the Serial Killer Expert are going to describe all kinds of horrible things that may happen when she witnesses the execution... or what might happen if the killer isn't executed. The two guys debating are two sides of her (even though they are characters who carry through the story... until they are killed by the executed serial killer). I wanted a chance to show that under that tough exterior she is vulnerable, and to build some dread over what might happen at the execution - will some of those horrible things happen?

I used this as an example because it's not a typical conflict scene - it's an *internal* conflict scene that I've externalized. Most scenes have an external conflict of some sort - a character wants something and someone else gets in the way, and the scene is the struggle.

So in NACHO LIBRE Nacho cooks for the orphans and goes out every night to collect the cast off foods in the village - day old veggies and day old tortilla chips and dy old whatever. That's his goal in the scene. Now, the obstacle is that skinny homeless guy Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) who steals all of the food from Nacho. He steals the big bag of chips, and Nacho fights him for it. They rip open the bag of chips, but Esqueleto takes off with most of the chips... Nacho *loses*.

That's another possible problem with some scenes - the protagonist may be winning every time. Things should be getting worse, not better! Indiana Jones may be a *hero*, but look at how many times the scene ends with him on top... very few! In my big two day class I show the opening of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, where Indy goes from bad to worse to even worse! Often writers "protect" their protagonists from conflict, when you really want to do the exact opposite. .Look at your scenes and ask "What's the worst that can happen?" Then have that happen.

Okay, so the scene where Nacho collects food has this conflict: the skinny guy Esqueleto. That struggle between them keeps the scene going... but there's so much more to this scene! See, it's part of the big picture, critical to the story.

This scene:
1) Shows why the meals at the orphanage is so bad - it's day old cast offs.
2) Sets up Nacho's goal to find better ingredients for the meals.
3) Shows us Nacho in action as a wrestler. He can't really wrestle in the orphanage, so this is where we can show him in action.
4) Introduces the skinny guy Esqueleto... who also wrestles well... and will become Nacho's sidekick (eventually - the two have some more confrontation scenes before they decide to work together).

So this scene does those 4 things *for the story* - and it's funny, too.

SCENE GAGS LIST

Once you have your scene and know what the purpose is and what the conflict is, make a list of things that might be fun to have happen in that scene. Of course, your definition of "fun" will change with genre. In my horror script, opening the refrigerator to find a bunch of severed human tongues is "fun". For my death penalty debate, I made a list of the worst things that could ever happen at an execution. I let my imagination run wild and did some research. I wanted to horrify the audience. Then I made a list of terrible things that would happen if this guy *wasn't* put to death. I tried to feed whatever paranoia the audience might have - mostly that the serial killer might escape and show up at their front door.

In NACHO LIBRE the chip fight has a bunch of "gags" that include the fight on the scooter gizmo and using chips as weapons. Basically, make a list of ideas for things that happen in the scene... and that's going to help you flesh out that scene. You want to come up with enough ideas that you can select the best ones. So, what could happen in that fight? What weird and funny ways of fighting are there? How can the food be used in the fight? The scooter? What elements of character can we show in the fight? Let your imagination run wild and come up with a huge list... the better to pick the great ideas from. One thing the fight shows is the skinny guy jumping on and off a wall... and that's kind of like jumping on and off the wrestling ring rope. Scenes are a great place to plant behaviors or information that will come into play in *later* scenes.

I usually come up with my scene ideas right before writing the scene - it helps me focus on what the scene is about (after spending the morning doing something else... like writing script tips) and kind of kick starts my creative side. If I write the scene right after brainstorming all of my scene ideas, my brain is still in that wild creative mode and I often come up with more great ideas while I'm writing the scene.

You don't want to pad your scene with "gags" that have nothing to do with your story. Always dig deeper into the story to find a new level of information for your scene.

Details are another thing that help create thick, juicy scenes. What can you show us about this world or this character with a little detail? In one scene Nacho asks the pretty nun Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera) he has a crush on if he can stop by her room, later... and have some toast. Toast? What a strange (though logical) excuse to meet with her. If he had said, "Can I stop by your apartment for a drink?" that would be something we've heard before... which is why it's not the best line. We want something original, something that could only come from *this* story... and that makes it toast. When we get to that scene... they are eating toast. And it's crunchy and loud. The scene is kind of a first date scene... but the toast makes it different. Find the detail that makes it different!

Nacho's sidekick Esqueleto seems obsessed by corn. It's not just stealing the corn chips, once he gets some money he seems to spend it all on corn-on-the-cob dipped in mayonnaise with chili-powder sprinkled on. He's eating it in almost every scene. A great detail... later used as a weapon in a fight scene (talk about weird). A great way to find the interesting details in your scene is to visualize the world of your story - close your eyes and imagine it. Once you've imagined all of the basic things, imagine the little details that bring that world to life.

Also think about your character's ulterior motives in the scene. Though their goal in the scene may be one thing, they may have a larger, secret goal. Every scene with Nacho and the Nun has both a story goal and Nacho's secret goal to make her fall in love with him and give up her vows and marry him and have children. So what is your protagonist's *secret* goal in the scene? Are they trying to impress someone? Are they trying to make peace? Are they trying to hurt or insult the other person? Are they in love with the other person? What is going on between the lines?

Last, think about how the end of your scene leads you to the next scene. The end of your scene needs to shoot you into the next scene, so the story keeps moving forward. You don't want a herky-jerky script, you want one that flows from scene to scene.

Every scene has a lot of responsibility. You don't want skinny dry scenes, you want them thick and juicy!

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