What is a "scene"?

So now you have an outline. Where do you go from here? Discuss getting past FADE IN:.
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Merlin
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What is a "scene"?

Postby Merlin » Jan 12, 2014 8:05 am

The headline question may sound silly to all you experienced people, but it's serious.

I'm a total amateur and beginner at this. I'm writing a movie script, essentially an adaptation of a novel I like. I'm doing it as a hobby project, but have no real hope of ever getting this project made into a real movie. If that happened, it would be amazingly fun, but if it doesn't happen, I will still have leared a lot and had fun. (My wife thinks it's a waste of time.)

I'm using Scrivener which hopefully gives me the correct Hollywood text format & such.

But back to the question. Movie scripts are divided into scenes. But are there any rules or guidelines about where a scene should end and a new one should begin? I realize that a scene is not just a single camera shot. That would be excruciating:

Scene 1
Bob is sitting at the table. A noise is heard outside. Bob goes to the window and looks out.
Scene 2
Through the window we see that a spaceship has landed on Bob's lawn.
Scene 3
Bob returns to the table and picks up his phone, dialing 911.

All of the above should be just one scene (or part of one scene), right? But where does a scene reasonably end?

Åke

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Chris Huntley
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Re: What is a "scene"?

Postby Chris Huntley » Jan 13, 2014 5:20 pm

There are a great number of ways to answer the question, "What is a scene?"

The traditional, SPEC SCREENPLAY answer to that question has to do with a change of location and/or time. The example above could be written such that it all takes place from inside the place where Bob is, in which case it would be one scene. If you indicated that the 'camera' was outside the house, then that would indicate a new scene, but you say 'through the window we see..." which indicates that we are still in the same location and time. So as written, your example should NOT be broken into those sections.

From a PRODUCTION SCRIPT perspective, scenes are defined exclusively by their locations, actions and/or time of day. Similar rules apply though shots may be called so that even though your example may all happen in the same place at the same time, the middle 'scene' could indicate a specific shot that breaks up the flow, and thus you have three 'scenes.' DO NOT CALL SHOTS in a spec script unless you have to. It's best to indicate the points of interest (as you have) and let the director and DP figure out how to stage and shoot it.

From a STORY perspective, there are many ways to answer your question, some of which can be found elsewhere in these forums.
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.
http://dramatica.com/
http://screenplay.com/

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Merlin
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Re: What is a "scene"?

Postby Merlin » Jan 14, 2014 2:05 pm

Thanks Chris! The question came to me while working on an episode which involves characters moving. This is what happens:

Two men are riding horses on a path in a forest. One of the horses stumbles and wrenches a leg, goes lame. Rider dismounts and prepares to lead the horse home. A noise is heard in the forest, and the men decide to investigate. They move into the wood and find a boy there who is stuck under a fallen tree. They can't get him out. The man whose horse is not lame rides away to get help, leaving his partner with the lame horse to watch over the stuck boy.

I originally wrote this as a single scene, but then it occurred to me that it contains two locations: first the forest path and then the place with the fallen tree. So I was wondering if it should be divided in two. Perhaps even three, because there may also be a shot where the men move through the woods before they find the boy.

Then I thought it could even be divided further: (1) Men riding, horse hurts leg. (2) Men stopped, examining the leg, hear noise. (3) Men going into the wood. (4) Men discovering the boy and tree. (5) Men trying to free the boy. (6) One man riding away to get help. But this kind or division looks almost like "shot by shot" which seems redundant. Or?

Åke

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Chris Huntley
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Re: What is a "scene"?

Postby Chris Huntley » Jan 14, 2014 5:35 pm

They can all be correct depending on the way you want the story to unfold. What's important is how you want it paced, where you want attention drawn, and whether or not the components are supposed to be together or separate.

Another factor is timing. A screenplay page should represent a minute of screen time. If you expect the entire event to take a minute, then breaking them into separate pieces spreads them out and gives you the slower pacing. If its a quick montage that's not supposed to take more than fifteen seconds, then pull the elements together and only use a quarter of the page instead of a full page.
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.
http://dramatica.com/
http://screenplay.com/

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Merlin
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Re: What is a "scene"?

Postby Merlin » Jan 15, 2014 6:08 am

Gosh. I can see there is a lot to take into account here! I can see where "one minute per page" might be a problem, when there is a lot of dialogue. This, in fact, is one of the biggest problems with making a movie out of a book: eliminating dialogue and replacing it with visible stuff that happens.

Åke

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Chris Huntley
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Re: What is a "scene"?

Postby Chris Huntley » Jan 15, 2014 3:01 pm

On the contrary, I recommend against trying to capture the entirety of the book visually in your script. Capture the essence of the action but balance it with dialogue. Screenplay format is a technical format -- that's why it has all the odd margins. They are there to produce the page-a-minute average, as well as to make it easier to mark up on set if necessary (that's another reason for all the white space). If you bog a script down with lots of scene description you're likely to lose your audience (the reader).

If you do not already own them, you may want to check out a few of these popular books on the subject. I recommend "The Screenwriter's Bible" by Dave Trottier, "The Hollywood Standard" by Christopher Riley, and "Your Screenplay Sucks!" by Will Akers.

Cheers,
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.
http://dramatica.com/
http://screenplay.com/

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Merlin
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Re: What is a "scene"?

Postby Merlin » Jan 16, 2014 1:54 am

Aha! That explains a lot. Thanks, I'll look at some books. Also found an excellent website "Screenwriting 101" with tons of advice.

Åke


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