As you may know, I’ve been working on a new feature length film titled ‘What About Molly?’ A quickly paced dark comedy, this film moves fast on the page and faster on screen. A little too fast if I’m going to be honest and I’m not really sure that I understand why.
Editing while I film has allowed me to see the movie we’re making come to life as we continue to capture the scenes in camera. Building the picture and placing it to music really shows me what I have. After several sessions of analyzing the film we have so far, I can’t help but notice that my scene transitions seem to really be non existent.
On the page, the transitions work well. Moving from one scene to the next, I utilize dialogue to do so. One of the transitions I use is to ask a question at the end of one scene and answer that question with the start of the next. The other transitions I use is, at the end of a scene I add off screen dialogue for a character in the next scene. These two transitions move a reader through the story nicely, but I’m not really seeing it as such on screen.
To be honest, it’s not that the transitions don’t work, they’re just so damn abrupt. There’s no time for the audience to breath. Jumping from scene to scene, quickly into the action, the pacing is that of a sprint to the finish line, not a marathon jog. So what am I doing wrong here? Why did this happen? Was it an error on the page that I simply didn’t realize or am I not filming enough at the beginning of scenes, allowing for that moment to take a breath?
PACING IS KEY
Pacing of a film walks a fine line. If you’re too slow, the film will miss it’s mark and you’ll lose your audience. Nobody wants to watch a slow, boring picture where seemingly nothing is happening. Can you imagine if Lord Of The Rings added an hour to the same picture simply by stretching the scenes out? No thank you.
The opposite also remains true about a film that's paced too quickly. Not allowing a moment to take a breath, the audience remains on the edge of their seat, tense throughout. Who the hell wants to white knuckle their fucking popcorn as they try to watch a movie, relax and get lost in the story? The answer is nobody.
Films are a series of ups and downs where pacing helps to drive the emotional impact you’re trying to deliver. For example, a scene where two characters are falling in love shouldn’t be paced like a car chase. On the contrary, a car chase shouldn’t be paced as a love scene.
Not only do scenes need to be paced properly given the content and tone, you need to look at pacing in its entirety. If you write a horror film where the killer is constantly chasing the stupid kids who make terrible life decisions in an attempt to get away, you never give the audience a chance to breath. A horror film usually builds slowly, raises into the bad guy and the chase, then it slows to a conversation between characters, allowing us to catch our breath.
Horror films move through the story nicely as they rinse and repeat this method, allowing for less room to breath as the film goes on. Towards the climax of the story, the room to breath is essentially non-existent, until the killer is gone for good. Now we breathe once more and watch the conclusion of the story.
So my question is, are films given room to breath through scene transitions?
PACING THROUGH TRANSITIONS
You’re watching a movie and the main character decides it’s time to start their journey across the country from New York to California. The very next scene is a transition where the car is driving through the streets of NYC, making a few lefts and rights along the way. Next thing you know, the car is stopped dead in traffic and a conversation between characters happens.
Who made the decision to add the car driving through the streets of NYC, prior to being stopped in traffic? Why didn’t they just jump to the car being stopped in traffic? Do you see how this little driving scene can give the audience a moment to take a breath? Did the filmmaker watch the movie and decide in post that they needed to stretch it out and pace it differently, or was this truly written?
There is no right or wrong way here. Both transitions work, it just depends on the pacing you’re looking to achieve. I’m just curious as to when these decisions get made.
As I work on my own film, I’m adding notes about pacing as I watch the film. In the spots where it’s too abrupt and playing too quickly, I make note that I need to fix the issue. I need to stretch it out. I don’t think this is the correct way to go about things but it’s the current reality of my situation.
This is a lesson learned for me as I should’ve noticed this in writing and made my modifications right there in the script. I don’t think my film is going to suffer from the mistake I made, but the situation isn’t ideal. Now I have to perform additional work on top of filming that I should’ve completed in the beginning. Again, the story needs to work on the page before you try to make it work on screen. Focus on the story. Story is everything.
- The Failed Filmmaker