Scenes are the dramatic units of films — the building blocks of cinematic storytelling. It is said that scenes should have a beginning, middle, and end. Additionally, all scenes should also have a goal, move the story forward, and present an emotional shift for at least one of the characters.
On a tightly constructed film, no scene is wasted! Whereas first-time writers focus on twists and big events, connecting the dots between “exciting moments” to fill in the pages, a skilled writer knows that every scene must be infused with purpose and exciting in its own right.
Analyzing film scenes is an amazing process to learning the craft of screenwriting. In this series, Anatomy of a Scene, we read or watch a scene from a movie and deconstruct it, asking ourselves what the writer intended to do. Does it work? Why or why not? And of course, what makes the scene great? Or awful?
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)
Spoilers level: low
Today under the spotlight is the David Mamet-scripted GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, where we will focus on the 7 pages from Act I that kick the story in motion — a story beat often called Inciting Incident. Because this scene takes place between pages 8 and 15 (very early in the story), you can proceed to read it even if you haven’t seen the movie. As a quick set-up, the story revolves around a group of real estate agents. The scene at hand starts in the middle of page 8:
Notice how the very first paragraph in this scene introduces the setting with a description of “the large banner proclaiming ‘Rio Rancho Estates'”. Right after that, we get a sense of the real estate agents with the following exchange in which Aaronow broods over a failed sale. To which Levene responds, “You let her check with her lawyer…?” This conversation is important because it establishes the universe of the film within their contextual obstacles of making a sale (this is what they live for).
At the end of page 8, the antsy Aaronow spots someone new talking to their boss (note how quickly we get here; half a page into the scene). Immediately, there’s a sense that something is out of the ordinary (“Who is the guy…?”). After all, a movie about realtors in their regular routines would be boring. So what the audience needs — much like these characters — is a day different from the others, with higher stakes and an overwhelming pressure to close contracts. [Read more…]