Every scene needs to change the story. If a scene doesn’t change this tory in any way, it’s redundant and needs to be cut. If you read James Cameron’s scripts for “Terminator 2” and “Aliens,” you’ll find that he includes a lot of unnecessary scenes that got cut from the movie. In “Terminator 2,” the evil Terminator has impersonated John Connor’s foster mom and killed his foster dad. In the movie, that’s all we need to know, but in the actual script, the evil Terminator hangs up the phone after realizing John Connor knows his foster parents are dead. Then the evil Terminator looks around the house for a clue where John Connor might be. In the process, he walks by the bathroom where John Connor’s foster mom lies dead in the shower to show that the evil Terminator killed her.
However, this information isn’t necessary to the story because seeing the evil Terminator impersonate the foster mom is enough o let us know that she’s dead. Then when the hero (the good Terminator) hangs up the phone and tells John Connor his foster parents are dead, that’s allow need to know. We don’t need to see the foster mother’s dead body too.
That scene goes further when the evil Terminator goes into John Connor’s bedroom and finds letters from Sarah Connor. By looking at the return address on the letters, the evil Terminator knows where Sarah Connor is being held so that’s why the evil Terminator goes there.
Of course, earlier John Connor told the good Terminator that he wants to go to rescue Sarah Connor and the good Terminator warns him that the evil Terminator will likely know this information and go there too so it’s too dangerous. That lets us know how the evil Terminator knows where to find Sarah Connor and the scene where he finds Sarah’s letters to John in John’s bedroom are completely redundant and unnecessary. That’s why they were cut from the actual movie.
A scene needs to provide new information. Besides giving new information, every scene needs to show change in one of two ways (or both):
- Physical change
- Emotional change
In the “Terminator 2” scene where John Connor calls home and finds out that his foster parents are dead, that’s a physical change because now he knows he can never go back home again. In the ending scene of “Terminator 2” where the good Terminator lowers himself into the molten steel vat, he tells John Connor that he finally understands why humans cry. That’s an emotional change because now the good Terminator has finally learned how to feel emotions.
When writing a screenplay, make sure every scene changes a major character’s physical state or emotional state. In the opening scene of “Legally Blonde,” Elle (the hero) goes out to dinner with her boyfriend, thinking he’s going to propose. Instead, he dumps her. That’s a huge emotional change in her life. Later when she decides to follow him to Harvard law school, she applies and sends in a humorous video application. That represents a physical change in her life because she’s taking action to pursue a goal and change her life from being a southern California sorority girl to a law student in Harvard.
When writing and editing your own screenplay, make sure every scene changes a major character’s emotional or physical state somehow. any scene that fails to do that doesn’t belong in your screenplay.