You’d think that coming in late and leaving early is a rude thing to do, but it’s the best thing you can do when writing a screenplay.
Often times, screenplays have far too much fluff and unnecessary information that adds nothing to the storyline. The goal for a screenwriter is to come in to a scene as late as possible, then, when the critical information is relayed, leave the scene immediately.
The original series of Law & Order is probably one of the best written shows when it comes to coming in late and leaving early. During the investigative part of the story, the detectives quickly move from one scene to another, from one interview to another, until they can piece together who did what to whom and hand it off to the district attorneys.
For example, let’s say that a woman who frequented a gymnasium was found beaten and is in the hospital and the detectives need to interview people at the gym. Often times screenwriters will start the scene outside the gym, watch the detectives enter the gym, watch them find the person they need to talk to, start a conversation, get the info, say thank you, leave the gym, get into the car and drive away.
That’s all very logical, but the majority of it is completely unnecessary.
On the show Law & Order they present the same scene as this:
A Health Instructor ties her shoes in preparation for her next gym class as two Detectives stand on either side of her, asking questions.
Is she going to be okay?
It’s touch and go.
It’s unbelievable. Why is it always the special ones?
Nice. Clean living. Do you know what she did on Saturdays? Pediatric volunteer at New York Hospital. She was the daughter my mother always wanted.
What do you know about her personal life?
Well, she seemed really depressed for a while. She broke up with her boyfriend about four months ago. She thought they were going to get married.
She seemed really happy. She’d met someone new.
You know his name?
No I don’t… Umm, but there’s this friend she used to work out with. Ahh…
(flips through notes)
That would be Holly Norris?
Yeah, talk to her.
(You can also watch the scene here, about 1:20 into the clip)
Thirteen lines of dialogue, less than a minute of screen time. They come in as late as possible “Is she going to be okay.” And they leave as soon as they get their next lead “Yeah, talk to her.” Nothing wasted.
And look at all of the information that is relayed.
- We find out the victim is in serious condition and may not survive.
- We know the victim worked out with a woman named Holly Norris.
- The victim was in a serious relationship that went sour four months ago, but had appeared to have moved on.
- That the victim was a nice person, a volunteer and “special.”
- And we also know that the Health Instructor does not have a stellar relationship with her mother.
All in thirteen lines. All under a minute of screen time.
When drafting your next great film script, remember, it not rude to come late and leave early, it’s required.