Film School Confidential: WORST SCENE EVER

Doing the rewrite of my screenplay for the master class at the Danish Film School has had me thinking a lot about structure and what makes a scene work. For educational purposes I have written a short scene, that DOESN’T work.

There are at least 6 screenwriting mistakes in the following, let’s see if you can spot them all:

INT. HOUSE – DAY
John comes home to find his wife ANITA in the kitchen. She is doing the dishes.

JOHN:
Hi honey, how was your day?

 

ANITA:
(smiling)
Fine! How was yours?

 

JOHN:
Oh, work was a bit busy.
ANITA:
Oh, you poor thing. You want a cup of coffee?
JOHN:
Sure. What time is Liza coming home?
ANITA:
I think she’ll be another hour.

John looks lovingly at his wife.

JOHN:
So we have time for a little grown-up time…

 

END OF SCENE

Thrilling, huh?

Now let’s take a look at what needs fixing:

  1. Bland scene description. If this is the first time we see John and Anita’s house, it would be nice to get a little flavor. Big, small, messy, luxurios, what? Give us something. Remember the house they live in can be used to describe character!
  2. Starting the scene too early. The first lines are just chit-chat, no need for any of that. You could easily skip right into the conversation..
  3. The dialogue may be realistic, but it’s also dull. They both answer the questions they are asked. Mistake! When someone asks “how was your day”, the audience has the answer “fine” already playing in their head. Skip the answer, move on, or give us something unexpected. Always.
  4. No conflict, no clear will in the scene. Each character has to want something, even if it’s just to be left alone! What is John’s project in this scene?
  5. No turning point! What we see play out in no means takes us by surprise. If John comes home expecting a little nookie and his wife tells him she’s leaving him, that’s a turning point. Here the scene begins with happy and ends with happy, meaning NOTHING has really transpired. Hello, cutting room floor.
  6. Getting out too late. Better to end with a look, and the line “What time is Liza coming home?”. Always better to end with a question, not tie up every loose end. It’s called keeping the audience in suspense of what happens next. In this case we know what’s going to happen from the beginning.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

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