Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Screenwriting: Formatting Pt. 2 - Scene Action

And... ACTION! Scene Action, that is!

Welcome to the second installment of "Formatting Pt. 2". Guess what we're covering today? If you guessed Scene Action, you are correct-a-mundo!

Scene Action is that oh-so-necessary block of text that fills in the gaps between sluglines and dialogue, describing the events that occur on screen, which characters will be involved, and often mention an important prop or set piece. Too much scene action can make your script clunky and disturb the flow, where as not enough may leave your reader confused and uninterested. Knowing what is necessary to mention and how to mention it is key, and that's what we're discussing in this installment.

Before we move on, I'm going to assume that you've read the previous lessons and have come to understand them. I'm going to assume that you know the basic techniques, structure and rules and we're going to move beyond that. So that I won't sound like I'm beating a dead horse, I won't bother to mention that you shouldn't use scene action to 'direct from the page'. You should have heard me quarrel enough, by now, seeing as how you've read the previous entries. Onward we go.

Three basic things that you should know about when writing Scene Action are:

1. Scene Action is (but is not limited to) where you will introduce characters.
I say 'not limited to' because, in some instances, you can use the first piece of dialogue for a newly introduced character to extenuate the aspirations, motivations, persona or afflictions of the character.


SPIKE, scowling and dirty from the long haul across the desert on his Harley motorcycle saunters into the truck stop.
Who needs a fuckin' Hilton when
you've gotsouthern hospitality
right here by the interstate?

Yes, I used some profanity, but sometimes it is necessary to express a rough and rugged character. Nevermind, that-- its all for the sake of art. The important part, rather, is that what the character intro didn't cover, his very first statement did. It gives us the feel that this fellow, Spike, is a 'wind in my hair' free spirit kind of guy. He'd prefer a down-to-earth and possibly roach infested truck stop over a swanky hotel resort.

(Also, you'll noticed that his name is CAPPED. I'll get to that in sub-lesson A.)

2. Scene Action should be used to mention important props/set pieces that will effect some portion of your storyline.


Laura smiles sweetly at the old lady next to her on the park bench, and then glances at the girthy exposed WALLET bulging from the old lady's purse.
Hey look over there, it's a penguin!

The old lady looks away long enough for Laura to snatch the thick wallet and bolt away.

Notice that we're only mentioning the lady's purse because it is important to what happens in this portion of the scene. Had Laura been interested in hearing a long and educational story from the old lady, we wouldn't have had to mention that the old lady was even carrying a purse. Had Laura not interacted at all with the old lady, but only stopped for a rest on the bench, we may have only breifly mentioned the old lady, if at all.

It's all determined by which direction the story is going in, and based on that, the writer must determine how much detail is enough and how much is too much.

3. Scene Action is where you will express a specific date, should you want it presented on screen, perhaps in subtext.

Some films will specify to their viewers, on screen, that a scene happened in a particular location, or at a particular time. This will be presented in subtext on the screen. As for formatting this, there are a variety of ways. I usually use something like this:


RUSSIA, The year 2052

Gustav is laying, face down on a filthy matress. He snores. Gun fire in the distance wakes him.

Its good to use this technique for two reasons; 1.) It doesn't dictate what the director HAS to do, therefore I am not directing from the page. Should the director have a clever way of expressing this, he can, (for example, maybe showing a hand-made calendar on the wall). If not, then he/she may opt for the good old fashioned on screen text. Either way, the information is there for the reader/viewer and it is concise.

Scene Action: To Cap or Not To Cap?
Many new writers become bumfuzzled and confused when the capitalization within Scene Action technique must be employed. So, here are the basics for determining what to cap and what not to cap.

1. As mentioned above, S.A. will be the place for mentioning important props. In a previous example above with Laura and the old lady, you saw that "WALLET" was capitalized. This is because it is an important prop in the scene. You will always capitalize an important prop, set piece or even a sound, (like SMASH! or BANG!). Sometimes scripts will also have important actions capped. (Ex: "The police cruiser SLIDES across the icey highway, careening off an embankment.")

2. Character names will be capped ONE TIME throughout a script, and that is the very first time that you introduce/mention that character. At any other point in the script, the character name will need to be in normal sentence format.

Well congrats, fellow writers! You've survived another of my intense screenwriting lessons and you are the wiser for it! So, keep writing, keep studying and keep on keeping on. Educate yourself on the craft and know your formatting! Remember to read all the scripts for all of your favorite films at sites like Simply Scripts and Script-O-Rama!

1 comment:

Organic Meatbag said...

Neat-O! I have developed a character named King Mayo Dickens, an interesting chap, a bit on the street weirdo derelict side, and he wears aluminum foil over his groin to block out "government spy waves".... he will be a star one day, and I just might need you to tell his story to the world...