Script Note: Avoid bloated scene descriptions

B. O'Malley

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logo for Free Script Notes on your first 10 pagesA bloated, uncomfortable scene

The Beach Club by R. Paloma – Read the pages here

Two quick points about your scene descriptions, right up front:

A) Three pages is a bit too long for this sequence.  Being a rape sequence doesn’t help it move with pep, if you get my drift. Condense to 1, max.  We see screenwriters making similar mistakes in our script coverage every day, so don’t panic. Even the best screenwriter can suffer from a bloated scene description every now and then.

B) Starting the film out with a rape is probably not the best idea, but if you must do it, make it more interesting than this.  As it stands, this is a garden variety attack.  What’s different about it?  If it’s supposed to be a garden-variety attack then emphasize the banality of it so the reader gets your intent.  And tread carefully.  Rape is, rightfully so, a very sensitive issue.  If you put it on page one, it’s not giving your reader a lot of time to adjust to your intent and/or context.  In short, if you don’t handle it carefully, it could be circular-filed before the reader even reaches the bottom of page 1.

Flood lights  Floodlights

Now let’s attack some of that bloat and get your scene descriptions down a bit. To start, all of this scene description and action:

INT. / EXT. JENKIN’S TOY STORE – NIGHT

From an outside large plate glass window, we see LINDSEY O’DELL, early-20’s, petite, dirty-blonde at the cash register tidying up. Happy, humming, not a care. Aisles of toys are throughout the store. Various toys and board games are on display behind the  register. O’Dell moves to a back storage room. She has a bounce in her step.

… could be written much more tightly:

INT. JENKINS TOY STORE – NIGHT

LINDSEY O’DELL (22), petite, dirty-blonde hums at the cash register.  She heads for the storage room.

It’s a much tighter scene description, no?

We see Lindsey’s eyes shift from the knife to the direction of attacker.

Lindsey’s eyes shift from the knife to the attacker.

 Having Lawson say “Shit, a rape.” on page 4 makes him thick and puts us, the audience, ahead of these characters.  Not always bad, but in this case, it doesn’t work so well.  We just saw the rape.  We don’t have to have the guy say “Shit, a rape.”

p. 6 The cops finally enter the store.  Make the attack take place on p.1, make the cops show up on p.2. Condense, condense!

p.6 Lawson has a note pad, jotting notes.

It’s clear that he must have a notepad, if he’s jotting notes.  So simply “Lawson jots down notes” is all you need.

The first ten pages end and as a reader I’m not drawn into the story.  It’s a lot of police back-and-forth that we’ve seen a million times. Take the mundane and turn it on its head. Bring us into your movie faster and with more freshness / newness.  Show us something we haven’t seen before, or wow us with  verisimilitude.

Show instead of tell to trim the bloat

Advent by T. O’Hara – Read the pages here

Nix camera directions. Let the director direct.  You write.

(over music) on page 1 isn’t necessary, as it’s clear there’s music, and he’s talking.

Harvey is content.

How do we know Harvey is content?  Show him smiling.  Show him nodding.  Don’t describe what he’s feeling on the inside.  Show it in his action or expression or in his words.

Once we meet the character, no need for all caps.

You fairly render a series of mundane characters and situations in your first ten pages, but you give the reader very little to focus on, think about, or become absorbed with.  A film needs conflict of some sort, and there’s very little going on here.  Hook us.  Let us know what your characters are up against by p. 10 or we’ll check out / glaze over / put the script down.

A good scene brought low by too many words

Three Crying Men by P. Lang – Read the pages here

A sign reading – Welcome to Arizona. The Grand Canyon state. – comes to sight.

SIGN: “Welcome to Arizona. The Grand Canyon State.”

Here’s another example of bloated scene description. All of this below…

INT. CAMPER – MORNING

A ray of sunshine slips in between the blinds waking up SEAN (41). He blocks the light with his palm. Gets up, sloppy and numb. As he plods forward we discover the place: a bed in the back, a kitchen area on one side and a sitting area on the other. He takes a bowl from the sink, pours cereal and milk. Stares blankly while scoops his breakfast. After finishing he turns the tap on to wash out the bowl but it only gives a rattled sound.

SEAN

Shit.

He leaves the bowl in the sink.

He sits down to the table covered with notes, a box full of Polaroid, a camera and a laptop. He opens his computer and thumbs through the photos. The light coming between the blinds draws a grid of shadows on his face.

BUS ROARING (O.S.) catches his attention. He peeks out: a bus passes by on a deserted road. A young boy with a backpack races after it. The distance grows between him and the bus.

JESSE

Hey! Wait! This is not my station!

… could be pared down to just this:

INT. CAMPER – DAY

Sun wakes up SEAN (41).  He plods over to the sink and pours some cereal.

CUT TO:

He tries to rinse his bowl but the faucet only rattles. 

SEAN

Shit.

He sits down at a table covered with notes. A camera. Some Polaroid film.  He thumbs though some pics on his laptop.

A bus roars outside.  He peeks out:

EXT. CAMPER – DAY

Jesse races after the bus.

JESSE

Hey! Wait!  This is not my station! 

More about writing tight scene description can be found over in this article at Script Magazine.

Wrapping up the notes now…

Keep in mind that by this point, we’ve already met Jesse, so we shouldn’t refer to him as “a young boy.”

Pick (o.s.) or (OS) or (O.S.) and stick with it.

By p. 3 we have conflict. Jesse vs. Sean.  This is good!

The rest of the pages are good, but could use a bit of condensing.  What’s important is that you’ve taken a couple of characters and thrust them into each other’s lives.  Now if you can just strengthen their differences a bit, and perhaps give them each a bit more uniqueness, it might help these first 10 pages even more.

Off to a good start.

 

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