Peter Langmead's Blog

Film Director, Screenwriter, Composer, Steadicam operator, Social Documentary Photographer. My latest film is The Borderline, released on December 4, 2019.

Writing Film Scripts 3: Battling the Scene

There is a difference between a chapter lasting two minutes for a film and six minutes for a series. The two-minute/page is one scene and the six-minute/page divides one chapter into three scenes, or not. Think about that. There is a massive change in pacing and tension. I would tend to three scenes a chapter in my version of Pride and Prejudice for a six-part series.

Enya and Harry Hama talking in the village, played by Mutinta Marie and Dixon Mumba Harry Hama, played by Dixon Mumba, with Enya, Faustino's wife, played by Mutinta Marie.

The two-minute short has a beginning, middle and end, and it is not standalone, something precedes it, something follows it. A common idea is to ask the viewer a question that links to later and drives the story forward. Camera shots make a scene, scenes make a sequence, sequences make an act and acts completes the story. Camera shots are not your business, stay away. A sequence can be one or more scenes. I had 24 sequences in my last film, The Borderline. How do you manage sequences, acts and your beat board in the writing programme? Later.

EXT. OLD MANOR HOUSE – DAY is a scene heading. The EXT. signifies an external scene, outside, filmed during the DAY. OLD MANOR HOUSE is the location of the shoot. There will likely be other scenes with the same heading, and they will all be shot at the same location. There may be locations called THE BARN also, but it is not the OLD MANOR HOUSE BARN, because the production designer may find a better barn somewhere else. Leave it. INT. OLD MANOR HOUSE – NIGHT means an interior scene that maybe at some other house, in a studio, or that may be really shot at night at great expense and misery for everyone. The second in the hierarchy is the Shot. Although similar and in capitals, it is not the same as a scene heading, but do not shots unless you are directing, and only when the script is finished.

My book is 373 pages, six pages to a scene. Read the first four chapters – you should really read the whole book – and work out the first two scenes. This is around four pages and, gosh, there is a lot of dialogue! Is it essential? There are sound films and talkie films? Should you not read the whole book? Two different rooms are two different INT. scene headings unless they are one scene, and the inside of a room from outside the house is an EXT. scene, or a shot as part of a scene? How about a scene that starts outside and then goes inside as one scene? Ha! You’re welcome. Leave the CAMERA out of it unless it tells a story – you are not the director or director of photography.

So, four pages. You do not need Final Draft, but you can start with Celtx. Your four pages are two scenes for now. Give them numbers, 1 and 2. Scene headings describe their locations, whether they are inside or outside and whether they are day or night. Underneath each heading, an action statement describes the environment and what is happening. Since you may not see the door open and the cat jumping through the window at the same time, camera activity is implied, and time can be emphasise by writing the action as separate lines with appropriate punctuation:

The regency panelled door opens,

the cat jumps through the open window.

Mrs Bennett drops her knitting and looks up.

If you wrote one line, the action would be one to two seconds and still need three shots. Too fast! It is more likely to be six seconds. Always start into the action; here, the door is opening when we cut to it. You just wrote camera and editing directions.

Best regards,

Peter Langmead

There are all sorts of interesting things about my film productions, operas and books on social photography here on this site. Remember, if there is no spit on your lens, you are not close enough. I do not know who said that but it is true. Feel free to write.

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The Next Movie

The script is prepared for my next movie and pre-production is in progress. This is the most time-consuming part of filmmaking and production is expected to begin at the end of the year,