A screenplay is just a blueprint. If you learn about any movie, you’ll find that many scenes get cut for various reasons. In the above video, you can see how Disney created various scenes for “Frozen” that were cut from the final version.
One scene in particular shows how Disney recorded dialogue and drew sketches as a way to explore their story. Originally Elsa (the ice queen) was supposed to be an evil villain from beginning to end. Only later did they find it more interesting if Anna and Elsa were sisters. Since they changed Elsa’s personality, the scene showing her as the villain didn’t fit so this scene got deleted.
Screenwriters often run into this problem because they didn’t plan ahead. Before writing, outline your story and write it as a treatment, which is like an essay that describes how your story progresses from beginning to end. It’s far easier to delete text than it is to draw storyboard sketches and write and record dialogue for a scene that ultimately gets deleted. Disney may have time and money to spend exploring their story idea but you don’t. Avoid this problem by simply focusing on getting your story right long before you start writing.
Writing a rough outline and then a treatment will help finalize your story long before you even start writing the screenplay. If you write your screenplay to discover your story, you’ll risk wasting a huge amount of time writing scenes that will eventually not fit the rest of your screenplay. That may help you explore your story, but it’s far simpler to find and explore your story by writing a treatment rather than writing actual dialogue and scenes in screenplay format.
Another reason Disney deleted some scenes from “Frozen” is that they highlight a character other than the hero or villain. There’s a deleted scene that introduces Kristoff (an ally of Elsa) and Sven (his pet reindeer). This deleted scene shows Kristoff climbing a mountain and then using a rope to lift Sven up the cliff. While interesting, it simply wastes time revealing Kristoff when he’s not even the hero or the villain.
The way to avoid this problem is to make sure your screenplay only focuses on your hero and villain at all times. All secondary characters should only exist because they’re doing something that directly influences the hero or the villain. In the deleted “Frozen” scene, the scene wastes time introducing Kristoff and Sven with no impact on Anna or Elsa. As a result, this scene simply interferes with the main story so it’s not needed.
Another reason to delete scenes involves pacing. That means a scene slows the story down. This often occurs when two scenes basically duplicate each other. In “Frozen,” there’s a scene where Anna and Elsa are getting ready for the ball where Anna tries on different clothes, some of which belong to Elsa. While interesting, it doesn’t add anything new to what we already know about them. We know they’re sisters, we know they get along but fight like sisters, so this deleted scene tells us nothing new but simply expands on what we already know. As a result, it slows down the overall story.
Read the screenplays of James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino to see examples of overwriting with scenes that aren’t necessary. The best way to detect these scenes is to write your screenplay then go through every scene and ask if it’s necessary. Every scene should show us something new. If two scenes tell us the same thing, one of those scenes must go. Duplicate information will slow down the pacing of the story, so rip out unnecessary scenes long before you show your screenplay to anyone.
So basically deleted scenes make several mistakes:
- They don’t fit the rest of the story. (Fix this by exploring and finding your story before you start writing a screenplay.)
- They highlight a secondary character. (Fix this by only writing scenes involving secondary characters if their actions directly influence the hero or villain.)
- They duplicate another scene. (Fix this by revising your screenplay and asking if your story no longer makes sense if a scene is deleted. If you can delete a scene without affecting the story, that scene doesn’t belong.)
Study deleted scenes of other movies and you’ll find that they tend to fall into these categories. Now that you know what mistakes others make, avoid them ahead of time and you’ll save yourself a lot of time. The more time you save, the less time you’ll waste developing your story, and that means you can simply write faster and more efficiently with less frustration.