Constructing a Scene

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I once went to a seminar on screen writing presented by Duncan Thompson who is the head Screenwriting teaching at the International Film School Of Sydney. He used examples such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Reserviour Dogs to illustrate his point  that scene construction can be distilled down to 7 parts. He went as far as to almost disregard the 3 act structure ( which I'll save for another blog). He argued that the 7 part construction is the basis for  the entire story. A good scene , according to Duncan, leaves the audience :

1. Being dimly aware that something ( a phenomenon)  is afoot.

2. Seeking  physical evidence of that phenomenon.

3. Seeking the nature of the phenomenon? Asking themselves is it benign or malignant?

4. Finding details of the Extent of the phenomenon.

5. Then having  a time  for "Normalization", or getting used to the phenomenon.

6. Coming to terms with the implication of the phenomenon and the fallout.

7. Finally , adjusting  to the "New Reality".

You can see these elements all being played out in the opening scene of  Steven Spielberg' s classic  Close Encounters of the Third Kind . From the moment the credits hit the screen, the music alone, tells us that some sort of phenomenon is afoot. A military Jeep arrives through a howling sand storm. Our curiosity is now completely aroused, and we search for physical evidence of the phenomenon. There are international players at this location, so it must be something of world significance. More evidence arrives as another team comes with the expert map reader claiming, in English, that he is not  much of an interpreter and then speaks in fluent French. We are introduced to some aeroplanes and details start coming through about gasoline in the tanks, their immaculate condition and how they went missing in 1945! Now we ask ourselves, Is this a Good or a Bad phenomenon? What is the extent of it? The aeroplanes are in such good condition they can be started up first go. By this stage, we are right in the palm of Spielberg's masterful hands.The pace changes and we have chance to catch our breath and  "normalize". There's a local Mexican elder dazed by his experience of "the sun coming up last night" and " it sang to him".  We are adjusting to a new reality that there is something very big going on here.

I found this presentation interesting, and applied it in some of my work. I have also come across many other ways of  breaking down scenes and analyzing them but I do like this way. However, firstly, tell your story the way you want to tell it. If after reviewing and re writing, your scenes in your story are not working, then keep this in mind.


About the author


Born In Adelaide, Australia, Alex Nakone is of Ukrainian Descent. Alex grew up with a passion for the arts, but like many Eastern European migrants settled in Australia, there were great expectations for Alex to become a medical practitioner, which he did. Alex Nakone’s first narrative film Biotech 8, a…

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