Make Every Scene Interesting

Take any screenplay turned into a great movie and rip a scene out at random. Then study that scene. Chances are good that simple scene will be interesting in some way. Now do the same with your own screenplay. If your screenplay hasn’t been getting the attention you think it deserves, chances are good not all of your scenes are interesting.

Scenes not only have to be interesting but also must setup future scenes. “Die Hard” is mostly remembered as an action film, but think of the early scenes that had no action whatsoever. In the opening scene, John McClane sits terrified in an airplane that has just landed in Los Angeles. His fellow passenger notices his tenseness and comments on how little he must like flying. This helps introduce the hero and his goal, which is to meet up and get back together with his wife.

When John McClane reveals his gun, this causes his fellow passenger to looked surprised, but then John McClane explains he’s a cop, which receives that tension but also setup that information later.

Then when John McClane is leaving the plane with a stuffed animal, a flight attendant briefly flirts with him. This provides an obstacle to his goal of getting back with his wife, but a small one. Still it’s far more interesting to have a flight attendant flirt with him than to just see him walk out of the plane with no interaction with anyone whatsoever.

The point is that everything needs to be interesting. John McClane sitting in a plane that has just landed is interesting because the other passenger sees his gun. That’s different and unusual. Then the second scene where John McClane’s leaving the plane is interesting because the flight attendant flirts with him.

Now another early scene has John McClane getting picked up by a limousine driver, but this isn’t just any driver. This is someone who’s new on the job and is kind of nosy too. So now as he asks John questions, we get more exposition but in an interesting manner.

Study these early scenes in “Die Hard” or any great movie and you’ll notice that no scene is normal. Scenes may be close to normal but they’re not normal because normal is boring. People watch movies to escape normal life. They want to see something close to real life but different and more interesting that will take them out of their own mundane world and put them in a fantasy world whether that fantasy involves lasers, trolls, or just people in a different setting facing problems such as “The Bridges of Madison County” or “The Help.”

Rip out each scene from your screenplay and let someone read just that scene. It doesn’t matter if that scene sets up a more exciting scene. Each scene must pull its own weight in being interesting on its own in some way. Not every scene will grab you, but every scene must be compelling in its own unique way. Any scene that fails to do this either needs to be rewritten or dumped.

It’s that simple.

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