Monday, May 10, 2010

The simple things

A couple of exercises out of the rewrite course made me think about the things you try to improve individual scenes. Sometimes it ain't rocket science. The 'homework' in question was to take a descriptive heavy scene and turn it into a dialogue heavy one; the other, to convert a dialogue scene into a descriptive one.

The former, I chose a single character scene where the protagonist searches through her mother's old belongings and makes a surprise discovery. To add dialogue I had to introduce another character (a soliloquy didn't seem appropriate!) but there is already an 'unseen character' - the long dead mother. So in the reworked scene there's a beat between father and daughter as they vocalise their loss. Somewhat oblique so as not to be 'on the nose', it added a nice element and some foreshadowing for later.

The latter was literally a scene between two people who can't talk to each other. Taking out the confrontational dialogue and letting the actors convey the characters' frustrations and anger worked perhaps even better. The reworked scene felt a little flat energy wise though so I upped the ante with some physicality which I thought might be a touch melodramatic. But to my surprise when I shared the scenes with my director he liked this one best. He then said he finds melodramatic dialogue more problematic. Amen.

Another exercise was to take a description heavy scene and cut it in half and it's amazing the clarity you can obtain when forced to do such 'drastic' editing. In fact, our instructor believes every scene, sequence and script can be trimmed by ten percent. It's all about being ruthless and cutting to the essence of the scene.

Other things I've been known to try include re-assigning lines of dialogue between characters which can change the thrust of the scene in unexpected ways. Then, of course, there's the swapping of gender, perhaps the most notable in film history being Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies who was originally written as a male character. This can add whole new layers to a scene, or in that case, an entire franchise.

The point of the exercises is not being afraid to try different things to make a scene better ... and have some fun with it. A different approach may yield a surprising result. And I for one, love surprises!

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