Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Limit – Anatomy of a Scene

Not so much procrastination in the re-starting of the writing this time. Maybe because I’m already three-quarters of the way through the script – because it’s in media res, I’m immediately interested, whereas starting from the beginning involves slowly relearning why I like the characters and then building up interesting situations for them.

Anyway, I took a crack at the confrontation scene between Tracy and Forster on Tuesday. By about halfway through Draft 1, I stopped. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Fuck, I really want to mine the subtext – but I think I have to write the scene out first, then figure out what it’s about – and how that adds to the About of the film (‘2 dads vying for the love of their son’), and then simplify the scene down. I’m talking about writing and editing, really … and then re-reading the whole thing in sequence, so I can see how it all fits together. So … no need to panic about ‘getting it right’.

All I was doing here was taking the pressure off myself - to remind myself that while I was doing the best I could with the scene, there were going to be plenty more opportunities before the script was finished to judge how it worked.

So I backed up, started a Draft 2, and stalled again.

Time to take a break, think through it again. In the middle of doing dishes, I realised what each character wanted, that it was actually a pretty simple conflict (and that I’d been circling around articulating it that simply for about 2 years). Tracy wants Forster to live and face justice, while Forster wants to die, in a very specific way.

I also realised that I wanted to create a connection between the 2 of them, to show that they had common ground, having been through the same stuff. It’s a technique I admired in Lost, in the Sayid/AnaLucia conversations after Shannon’s death.

So, I worked yesterday, mulled over the scene and came back to it this morning after a bit of internet procrastination.

First things first, what’s at stake? Well, I know that the lead character will live, and I know that she’s going to ‘get’ Forster. What’s at stake is how she’ll do it: will she use the law and reason, or anger and brute force. It help, having already written the brute force scene that I know I can make that plausible.

I wrote down the fundamental beats I want to see in the scene, and ID’d the next point to get to – which is Tracy’s realisation that Forster wants to die. I decided that Tracy had to be the one who realised, because (a) it makes her active, and (b) it shows her doing some detecting.

The dialogue came easily to start with, because the characters’ Wants are so diametrically opposed. I was handwriting everything, and if I couldn’t get an exact phrasing, then I just jotted down the idea behind the dialogue – to work it up later.

I came across a couple of things repeatedly:
1. An impression that some lines were either clichéd, or contained a repetitive subtext. (Have I talked before about how (for me) subtext has to be deliberately constructed and hammered into a scene? That was certainly the case here, with Tracy’s concern for her Dad.) Anyway, I decided to leave judging all that to the next readthrough.

2. If the audience knows some information is coming, withhold it. Create tension. It’s very natural to pop that stuff too early.

Toward the end of the scene's second act, Tracy learns some bad news. It's a Bang - I'm fascinated in how she'll react because I have no idea what she'll do. So I start brainstorming 20 ideas. At #8, I get to one I like - that she confronts the situation. I'm able to write out two or three more lines between Tracy and Forster, and then the dialogue dries up. After half an hour, I admit that to myself & back up, brainstorm some more ideas and adopt a subtler, softer approach. The scene flows pretty easily from that point to its end.

I wasn't sure exactly how Tracy would subdue Forster, so when I reached that moment I wrote from the heart. The end result is probably way over-long, but I was really INTO it while writing.

Anyway, I’ve roughed out the scene, I’m ready to move on now. Tracy has a real hero moment; I understand the characters better; their conversation NEEDED to happen; and it’s probably made the remainder of the film about 70% to 240% more interesting than it was before.
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