I heard an interview last week with Michael Brandt, co-writer of Wanted , in which he divulged numerous interesting writing tips. One comment in particular stayed with me, and I paraphrase …
One way to tell the difference between a script written by a seasoned professional and one written by a novice, is how the transitions from one scene to another are written. How and when the screenwriter cuts into and out of a scene.
The dramatic principle of “get in as late as possible and get out as early as possible,” is a familiar one to most screenwriters, but Michael Brandt gives an example which speaks volumes: Cut into the scene when the cup of coffee is put down on the table. Not while it’s being prepared, poured, or put on a tray, etc.
In other words, unless the preparation for the action is essential in itself (in which case it is part of the action), and visually engaging, then don’t include it.
In a similar vein, Tom Lazarus (whom I mentioned in my previous post) advises the following exercise when (re)writing transitions:
Read only the beginnings and ends of scenes and visualize how they will look as they transition from one to the next.
Because transitions are such an important aspect of visual writing! The contrast between the shot at the end of one scene and the shot at the beginning of the next one tells a story too.
The funny thing was (is this what they call synchronicity?), I listened to the Michael Brandt interview right after finishing a sequence which includes one character serving another character a cup of coffee. And guess what? Yeah … I went back and cut that bit.