​Being of sound, but impatient mind, I am a notorious channel flipper. Commercials arrive…I flip. Scene drags…I flip. Cable goes out…I flip, usually futilely, since it tends to be all the cable and for ages. Mostly, I just land on more of whatever and keep flipping until I find the bazillionth showing of The Devil Wears Prada and settle in to watch Andie’s journey from beneath Miranda’s icicle thumb. Overall, a waste of time that could be better utilized. Like, say, watching leftover’s rotating microwave journey from beneath the fridge’s icicle thumb. 

Yesterday, though, I flipped past an obscure old movie. A fire raged. Flip. But, instead of a long-term flipping, I went back to see if the fire still raged. It did. Exactly the same as it had the first time. Flip. This was repeated, until the fourth flip by, when the fire still raged, but the scene had changed slightly. Fli– Wait. I checked again, and found the fire still raging, with little changed. 

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth flips, the screenwriter part of my brain finally surfaced, holding what had been nagging at the back of my mind between its teeth. I was witnessing a valuable little random lesson in how not to write an action scene. While I realize that a lot of final choices are out of a screenwriter’s hands, there are ways not to and to handle action that could make a difference. Possibly. Perhaps. 

<Way, before this revelation: 

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A fire rages.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

The farmhouse is a charred ruin.>

Way, after this revelation: 

<INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A fire rages. 

Distant sirens wail.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A dilapidated fire truck labors uphill, turns into the drive.

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Fire continues to rage. Beam breaks from ceiling, falls. 

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Firemen spill from the truck, run to the house. They battle the fire.

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Firemen beat out the last burning embers.

The fire is extinguished.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

The farmhouse is a charred ruin.>

Okay, so I’ve added a third of a page. And it may be a futile endeavor. But at least this hypothetical script would leave me with a more channel flipping proof raging fire. After all, channel flipping and page turning are rooted in the same basic idea. Keep the audience/reader interested in watching/reading. Only opposite. In this case, an endlessly raging onscreen fire will lead to a flip on by, or a script reader with an irresistible urge to build their own fire…to toss the script onto. The fire whose raging is interspersed with related, yet separate bits of action, would be more likely to hold attention. At least that’s what the always lurking screenwriter part of my brain tells me.

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