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Lecture 11: What are the Parts that Make Up the Whole?. Professor Christopher Bradley. Wedding Crashers (2005) Written by Steve Faber & Bob Fisher. Previous Lesson. Writing the End Revelation Climax and Resolution

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lecture 11 what are the parts that make up the whole
Lecture 11:What are the Parts thatMake Up the Whole?

Professor Christopher Bradley

Wedding Crashers (2005)

Written by Steve Faber & Bob Fisher

previous lesson
Previous Lesson

Writing the End


Climax and Resolution

Writing Exercise # 9

Raging Bull (1980)

Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin.

this lesson
This Lesson

Constructing the Scene

The Principles of Construction

  • Techniques for Construction
  • Writing Exercise # 10

Life as a House (2001) Written by Mark Andrus

constructing the scene
Constructing the Scene

Lesson 11: Part I

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) Written by Aline Brosh McKenna Based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger

writing the scene
Writing the Scene
  • Writing the scene is the fun part of screenwriting, the reward after all the hard work of inventing characters and putting together the plot.
  • Here the characters and story come alive and the screenwriter’s vision is realized.
  • I never works to skip the preliminary steps and get right into writing scenes.
sticking to process
Sticking to Process
  • There is no set formula for writing a screenplay, and everyone must find his or her own best method for working.
  • But jumping into a scene before the characters or plot is established can be disastrous.
  • Scenes are structured action – interconnected pieces – each one developing the drama and our knowledge of the characters. You can’t do justice to the pieces without understanding the whole.
sticking to process continued
Sticking to Process (Continued)
  • No matter how good a scene is, if it doesn’t relate to those before and after, it cannot be successful in the context of the screenplay.
  • You might have to eliminate a great scene if it’s not working in the overall story.
  • Writing a good scene is an art and it takes practice. As in all art, there are principles of composition, technique and a craft for execution. You might want to think of your scenes as “music.”
units of action
Units of Action

A scene is a unit of action – a single event or exchange between characters, with unity of time and place.

It propels the plot forward, toward the climax and resolution (and has a climax and resolution of its own).

Think of plot as the blueprint, scenes as the basic building blocks, and theme as the mortar that holds everything together. The whole should match the original blueprint as well as possible, but stay loose!


action as movement
Action as Movement

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Written by Quentin Tarantino

Think of the action of a scene as movement. Thescenes move the action and the conflict of the story from the beginning to the end.


the action of a scene
The Action of a Scene
  • The action of each scene must accomplish at least one of 3 goals:
    • Advance the flow of events (the plot) toward its inevitable conclusion (climax/resolution).
    • Advance the audience’s understanding of the characters by illuminating them through behavior.
    • Advance the audience’s understanding of the story by providing expository information through conflict.
the action of a scene continued
The Action of a Scene (Continued)

Scenes are stronger when they utilize a combination of the first two goals, both advancing the story and advancing the understanding of characters.

Remember, all exposition should come through conflict, and conflict/exposition that forwards story and character development will make your story stronger still!

If scenes fail to achieve one or more of these goals, the plot will crumble. Keep it strong!


the principles of construction
The Principles of Construction

Lesson 11: Part II

Touch of Evil (1958)

Written by Whit Masterson (novel) and Orson Welles (screenplay)

change within the scene
Change within the Scene
  • Within a scene, a character begins at a definite place or with a definite understanding of the dramatic situation.
  • At the end of the scene, that character or another is in a slightly different place, or has furthered her understanding of the conflict.
  • Whichever it is, by the end of the scene something has been altered.
film vs theater
Film vs. Theater
  • Like a play, a movie relies on dialogue and actors, but the camera gives the audience a view of wherever it can go.
  • It uses the close-up, approximates realism, and transcends geography.
  • But no matter how interesting the scene is while using these techniques, it must fit into the rhythm of the film.
  • The average length of a scene in a film is one to three pages.
one main point per scene
One Main Point per Scene
  • Every scene has one main point it wants to convey to the audience, with other subsidiary points. For example:
    • To show an incident which advances the plot.
    • To demonstrate an aspect of a character.
    • To make the audience feel something.
    • To cause the audience to empathize with a character, or grow to distrust or dislike a character.
    • To dramatize the emotional impact of actions as the characters move toward their goals.



Citizen Kane (1941)

Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles


stay focused
Stay Focused
  • You risk confusing your audience by putting too many story points in one scene. They may lose track of the story progression.
  • Your scene must multitask – that is accomplish a variety of goals simultaneously – but there is always a main point.
  • Create separate scenes for each important story point to illuminate each idea separately.
visual actions
Visual Actions
  • It is a screenwriter’s job to consider what is visually interesting and exciting in a scene (though, as always, do not tell the director, cinematographer or editor how to do their jobs).
  • Showing characters in movement, doing interesting things is better for film than the talking actors of the stage or the “talking heads” of television.
  • Strong actions are always better than static states. Don’t say what you can show!
example 1
Example 1

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Written by Nora Ephron



Example 2

Harold and Maude (1971)

Written by Colin Higgins

drama through actions
Drama through Actions
  • Dramatizing a story through the character’s actions instead of dialogue deepens audience involvement more effectively.
  • When characters do more and talk less in a scene, the audience must interpret what those actions mean.
  • The writer must drop hints about motivation, but when characters tell too much about themselves or the story, audiences tend to tune out or disbelieve them.
scene progression
Scene Progression

Just as the entire screenplay builds to a climax individual scenes also build to climaxes.

If the significant point is given at the beginning of the scene, all that follows will be anti-climactic and instead of growth, amplification or development in the drama, there will be a letdown for the audience. Once the main point is made, the scene is over.


the button
The Button

Every good scene has a point where the substance or action begins. This is sometimes referred to as the button.

A few lines of dialogue or a few seconds of visuals may set the scene, but once hit, the action (struggle or conflict) starts.

A button functions like the inciting incident in a plot; it gets things moving, sending the line of action toward the main point.


scene beginnings and ends
Scene Beginnings and Ends

A good rule of thumb: Start late, end early. Leave out chit-chat. The characters should already be into the meat of the scene when they first start talking.

You can facilitate the flow of your screenplay by having the beginning of a scene built into the scene preceding it and the end of the scene built into the following scene.


  • Using more than one scene to illustrate a focused action is an example of a sequence.
  • Sequences are groups of scenes built around a single idea, incident or event in which the locations change but the focus of the action remains the same.
    • The climactic revenge/power-grab scenes in The Godfather
    • Most chase scenes


sequence continued
Sequence (Continued)
  • Often whole sections of short films are built by grouping scenes around the development of a single idea that shows its progression.
  • A scene sequence in a short film is a way to avoid an overly episodic or incidental feel to your story.
  • Characters reveal themselves slowly over a number of scenes, which adds suspense to the unfolding of their character arc.
  • One scene sequence makes up the entirety of many short films.


techniques for construction
Techniques for Construction

JFK (1991)

Written by Jim Mars and Jim Garrison (books) and Oliver Stone & Zachary Skylar (screenplay)

Lesson 11: Part III

writing a scene
Writing a Scene
  • Before writing a scene, spend a little time thinking about it:
    • Who is in the scene?
    • What do they WANT (GOALS)?
    • What do they NEED (the subtext) in the scene?
    • What is the relationship of the characters?
    • What is the setting?
    • Character Business
    • Humor
    • Economy
1 who is in the scene
1. Who is in the Scene?
  • Be careful to avoid clichés and subvert stereotypes.
  • Additional characters in a scene, beyond the primary ones can also be valuable.
  • The main characters can play off the minor ones for comedic or dramatic purposes.
  • Minor characters can provide a counterpoint to the main characters or reinforce them.
2 what do the characters want
2. What do the Characters WANT?
  • In every scene, the characters have their scene goals and objectives, though a scene objective does not have to be exactly the same as the overall story objective.
  • The characters should have conflicting goals.
  • Remember, the conflict often involves more than just the protagonist and the antagonist.



3. What do the Characters NEED?


  • Remember, a character’s conscious wants often conflict with their unconscious needs. This can be a source of conflict within the scene!
  • What the character needs in the scene usually relates to the subtext. This is what is going on beneath the surface words and actions.

4. What is the Relationship of the Characters?


  • Who really has the power in the scene? Who has the upper hand?
  • Does the power one character has over the other come from a personal agreement between the characters such as marriage or friendship? Or is it governmental or about employment, such as Police Officer/Arrestee or President/Chief-of-Staff or Shop Foreman/Factory Worker?
5 what is the setting
5. What is the Setting?
  • Be creative with your setting! The setting itself can be a source of conflict in the scene, such as a child who is terrified of water being taken to a birthday party at a water park, or a woman whose daughter was killed in a drive-by shooting ending up at a gun show.
  • Giving a character scenery to connect to or physical props to put into his hands enlivens the scene and increases its level of reality.



Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Written by George Lucas

6 business
6. Business
  • In a scene the personal actions of a character are referred to as business.
  • These are specific actions such as pouring a drink, eating an apple, fixing a meal, smoking a cigarette, and so on. Day to day activities help create a sense of reality on the screen.


6 business continued
6. Business (Continued)

The Caine Mutiny (1954) Written by Herman Wouk (novel) and Stanley Roberts (screenplay)

  • Business can also:
    • Lend physical movement to a scene
    • Help define the characters
    • Help the characters hide emotions
    • Be funny and visually interesting
    • Provide foreshadowing
6 business continued1
6. Business (Continued)
  • Some examples of how business might add to the conflict in the scene:
    • Taking a wedding ring on and off.
    • Constantly re-setting a watch
    • Forcefully cutting vegetables
    • Applying make-up
    • Picking the lima beans out of Vegetable Succotash


7 humor
7. Humor
  • Anywhere humor fits organically into a screenplay, regardless of genre, a writer should consider using it.
  • Even the darkest tragedies benefit from comic relief to relieve emotional intensity and give the story some balance.
  • There is almost no situation in real life where there is no humor. Humor makes your story feel real.
8 economy
8. Economy
  • Films must move! Every scene must advance the action, every line be purposeful.
  • Be economical in your writing, whether it’s dialogue, action, or description.
  • One way to do this is to, again, enter the scene at the latest possible moment and leave it as soon as its goal is accomplished.
  • Say more with less.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Written by Tony Gliroy and Scott Z. Burns

and George Nolfi.

Based on a screen story by Tony Gilroy

Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum

Lesson 11: Part IV

e board post 1
E-Board Post #1

Watch the short film from the lesson, Love and Respect, and analyze one scene from the movie. How does the scene build and what is the main point of the scene?


e board post 2
E-Board Post #2

Discuss one of your favorite scenes from a feature film in terms of some of the concepts for creating scenes we’ve discussed in this lesson. Now that you understand more about how scenes work, use this understanding to explain why this scene works so well.


writing exercise 10
Writing Exercise #10

You should now be in the rewriting stage of your screenplay. Choose one scene and rewrite it in terms of the concepts we’ve discussed in this lesson. You might inject humor, give your character bits of business, make the subtext more evident and so on.


end of lecture 11
End of Lecture 11

Next Lecture: The Search

for the Perfect Line

Casablanca (1942)

Written by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch

Based on the stage play Everyone Come to Ricks by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison