What you see in a movie isn’t what was written. In fact, movies often cut out scenes that were written and filmed, but later deemed unnecessary. Sometimes this is true and the movie doesn’t suffer from the omission, but sometimes this missing scene wrecks the entire story. This is what you can do to minimize this effect.
In the latest “Star Trek,” a young Captain Kirk drives an antique car wildly through an Iowa street until he wrecks it in a quarry. Taken by itself, this scene makes absolutely no sense. Why is Kirk driving this car? Why is he so reckless with it? Why does he wreck it?
The scene’s sole purpose is to show Kirk’s cool, but wild side and it succeeds, but if creates more questions than it answers. Fortunately, this scene isn’t crucial, but the missing scene before this was Kirk fighting with his step-dad and taking his step-dad’s valuable antique and wrecking it out of anger. Once you understand what was cut from the film, this scene with Kirk makes a lot more sense. Unfortunately in the movie, this scene seems pointless, although it’s short enough not to be crucial.
One way to avoid having scenes of importance cut is to make sure each scene serves two or more purposes. The way “Star Trek” was written, the cut scene was meant to show Kirk’s battle with his step-dad and the car scene was meant to show Kirk’s coolness under danger.
A better solution would have been to combine the purpose of these two scenes into a single scene instead. By making a scene serve multiple purposes, it’s harder to cut and it makes the scene provide much more information than just a single idea.
In “Aliens 2,” there was a cut scene showing a family with a little girl and boy. The two kids have taken to playing hide and seek among the ducts in the space base. Later, this girl is found to have survived by hiding in these ducts from the aliens.
This information that the girl was familiar with the ducts is nice, but superfluous. We don’t really need to know she’s good at hiding in the ducts since it’s not crucial to the story. Surprisingly, many screenplays contain many little scenes like this that over explain the story for no valid reason. Thus the director wisely cuts the scene.
When writing scenes for your screenplay, the key is to write as little as possible while packing as much information in each scene as possible. The crucial information is what determines how the story changes and how the hero acts.
We’ve all seen bad movies where the hero is cornered and just when the villain is about to kill the hero, the hero suddenly reveals that he’s a tenth degree black belt and karate kicks the villain to death or something equally ludicrous and out of left field like that.
When information is crucial to the story, you absolutely must set up this information ahead of time so when it occurs, we’ll understand. In “Up,” we understand that the old man would read his wife’s last words, urging him to start a new life for himself and find a new adventure, and that would motivate him to challenge the bad guy.
In “Die Hard,” we’ve already learned that Bruce Willis is a cop, so his ability to handle guns and deal with shootouts makes sense. If Bruce Willis wasn’t a cop or if he was just an accountant, having him be good with guns wouldn’t make any sense unless it was set up earlier that he was good with guns.
So when writing, look for ways to delete unnecessary scenes or combine them with existing scenes. The more scenes you have that only exist to serve one purpose, the more likely that somebody will delete a scene and throw your entire story out of whack. Sometimes this won’t hurt your story as in “Star Trek,” but sometimes this can totally wreck your story and you’ll be left looking like the moron who wrote the disjointed movie.