Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Art of the Scene Transition

Howdy writers,
It's a twofer today. I watched an amazing movie last night that justifies my psychosis involving the aforementioned. The movie was Hoffa, with Jack Nicholson Danny DeVito and Armand Assante. It got a nod for Cinematography and should have, even though it also got two Razzies for Actor and Director.

To watch closely you can see that every scene exits and enters with an image or sound that maps them together. This is the first thing I do when writing a movie so I feel good that David Mamet uses the technique.

My first spec uses it diligently and is the main thread that ties the action together. Well all of my specs use it and it seems to provide a more seamless look at the sequences. It also makes it a little more sublime as it has stumped pro readers.

By stumped I mean they flowed through the movie and missed a few things that were placed in. Truthfully, after I rewrote with their notes and sent it back, it still hid things just under the surface with dialog and images. That was what it was supposed to do as it has a total of four, count em, four antagonists intro'd at various points throughout Act II.

But every sequence flowed from the following one with things like a radio playing, a video camera, a pair of sneakers, people drinking champagne, and more than anything characters looking into mirrors.

My favorite transition comes after the main antag was defeated. The characters are cleaning up a mess and find a hat. The hat is tossed into the air towards a trash can and when it comes down it's a cap for graduation and the hero is fulfilling her inner desire.

Some others that I liked were ones that linked scenes with studying. Like one transition has the hero stacking books after a tutoring session and then the main relationship character says "Put those books away" in the next scene.

Some of my favorite ones are scenes where one person goes down steps in one scenes and back up in another. It implies the passage of time or the perhaps the emotional state of the character in the two scenes.

I also have one transition where the supporting love interest (unrequited though it maybe) has a frown in one scene and a smile in the next and they define the tone of the scenes.

From what I've read in the 100 or so specs I have gone through at this point, this is a hard thing to do and it's not something that you can do after the story. It has to be written into the story.

I even do it with non-dramatic stories. It seems to add a bit of, what's the word, ambiance to the entire movie. I think it also helps keep the audience from losing their place. Some people do a good job with the dialog and situation but it would be so much better with an image, whether in contrast or comparison.

I wish I could find more examples of it but they seem to be few and far between. There was another recent movie that had one good transition using the protag's face. It was The Covenant. Not the greatest movie but it was interesting enough to watch, mainly because of a scene where a character says "Harry Potter can kiss my ass..."

But speak of the devil, I'm working from home today and I'm kind of watching "The Lake House" with Keanu and Sandra. It tends to move between a mailbox and an apartment for each sequence. The technique seems more prevalent in dramatic cinema but I am definitely using it for action and comedy as it's different in a standard way.

Most good writers could probably find an image that can be carried across sequences (not scenes as those should be chronological) and probably even an auditory cue or two.

Give it a try.

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