Watch a bad movie and you may not know why, but suddenly you start losing interest in the story at some point. There are many reasons why bad movies fail to keep your attention, but one reason involves repetition and showing nothing interesting. In many bad action movies, there’s an endless number of scenes where people are shooting each other or chasing each other around in cars. While this can be exciting, it’s definitely boring when you see the same basic scene over and over again. It’s even duller when it’s just a typical shootout or car chase.
Each scene needs to show something new and show it in an exciting way. Watch “Terminator 3” or any of those bad “Die Hard” sequels to see mindless action over and over again. It’s basically the same formula of the bad guy attacking the hero and the hero fighting his way out. The first time this can be interesting, but then it gets boring in a hurry.
Now watch every scene in “Mary Poppins.” Everything about Mary Poppins involves some sort of magic so when she first appears in the movie, there’s a long line of disagreeable nannies waiting to interview for the position. Suddenly a wind picks up and blows them all away. That by itself is interesting and it’s never used again so it doesn’t get repetitive like another gun battle or car chase. Then Mary Poppins calmly floats down with an umbrella.
When Mary Poppins introduces herself to the children, she keeps pulling out an endless number of items out of her bag, which reinforces the magical aspect of her presence. Then she shows them how to clean up their room using more magic. Every time Mary Poppins does something, it’s magical but different. Imagine if Mary Poppins did nothing but pull items out of her bag. Once you’ve seen that once, it will lose its effectiveness a second, third, and forth time. That’s what happens when you fill a movie with endless gun battles or cat chases. The first time might be interesting, but keep repeating the same thing and it gets dull in a hurry.
Watch any bad James Bond movie and you can see the same bad formula repeated with endless battles. In good James Bond movies, the battle scenes are different and don’t rely on more and bigger to make it exciting. In “Skyfall,” one tense scene involves James Bond being forced to shoot a bottle off a woman’s head. To make this scene mores suspenseful, it’s already been shown that James Bond’s aiming and shooting skills have declined. This conflict between James Bond being forced by the villain to shoot a bottle off a woman’s head who is his lover is new, interesting, and different. It’s not different and interesting because of the fact that he has to shoot a bottle off a woman’s head, but because we also know his shooting skills have declined as well plus we know it’s James Bond’s lover too.
Action is actually better with less explosions and special effects and stunt work. When thinking of scenes, don’t think bigger. Think better and one way to think better is to think less. Make sure you\’re not just mindlessly repeating a previous scene. Instead, make it personal to the hero. The conflict should be more than just the bad guy trying to kill the hero. The scene should be more about the hero trying to prevent someone else from getting hurt, overcoming a massive disadvantage, and dealing with an internal problem.
- Saving someone else
- Facing a massive disadvantage
- Overcoming internal conflict
What’s one of the most emotional scenes in “Star Wars”? One of them is when Luke is alone in the trench with Darth Vader on his tail. A bad way to make this scene would be to fill it with a hundred starships blowing each other up, but it’s really just a single X-wing fighter being hunted down by Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. That allows more focus on the conflict so you can see the hero’s massive disadvantage.
Massive car chase scenes can be interesting along with massive gun battles, but think of all the mindless battle scenes in “Terminator 3,” which is ultimately forgettable because it’s too much so you don’t get to focus on the hero’s massive disadvantage. Now look at the end of “Silence of the Lambs” where the villain has night vision goggles and is behind the hero. The hero’s massive disadvantage is that she doesn’t know he’s behind her and that she can’t see in the dark. The “Silence of the Lambs” scene is far more memorable than any action scene in “Terminator 3.”
Less can be more. Watch every scene in “Mary Poppins” and you’ll see that everything is a new twist on magic from floating on the ceiling to jumping through chalk drawings on the sidewalk. It’s not repetitive.
Make every scene interesting and new by stripping away as much clutter so you can focus just on the main characters. The more your individual scenes are fascinating, the more likely your entire screenplay will be fascinating as well.