Posted by: steveonfilm | July 27, 2008

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

One of the things that I find amazing about writing screenplays is when you hit a scene you just can’t seem to get right. You know the start. You know the ending. You might even know how a particular event in the scene needs to play out. But then when you sit down to write the scene it just doesn’t seem to work.

This is exactly what’s been happening to me the past four or five days. I have a scene in Bystander that’s a short flash back. It’s supposed to show an incident which is the catalyst for why one character (Ceccini, a villian) hates another character so much (Kyle, the protagonist).

The gist of the scene is that Kyle and Ceccini are assigned to go to this used car lot and retrieve a suitcase full of money. The guy who has it, Walter, didn’t steal it. He just found it. The details of how he found or why he has it are insignificant and not important to the main story. All that needs to be known is that he has it and some people want it back. It’s not a hit, its a retrieval operation. An in and out job. On the way out something goes wrong and the left side of Ceccini’s face is injured, which leads to him losing sight in his left eye.

The purpose of the scene is two fold. One, show how crazy Ceccini is. Two, explain the reason why he hates Kyle so much.

Now, I’d already written this scene into an earlier draft. I wasn’t really pleased with how it turned out, but I looked at it more as a place holder than a final product. But now I needed to tighten it up and turn it into what I wanted it to be.

I started rewriting it. Took out about a page’s worth of action and dialogue at the start, and simplified it up. But then I was hit with the problem of how does the hold up go? Is the money just sitting there? Is it in the safe? Does Ceccini shoot them before getting the combination to the safe? What then? Do they fire back at them? Is there a gun fight?

I went with the money being in the safe. On step forward. I started writing. I got about a page in and stopped. It wasn’t working. I needed to establish how they knew there was a safe. Which meant rewriting an earlier part of the scene. Two steps back.

I started over. Explained the safe. Then Ceccini kills Walter, and his coworker Peter. One step forward. But they don’t have the combination. I thought this would offer an opportunity to show the tension between Kyle and Ceccini. I was wrong. It just wasn’t working. To much wasted time with them trying to get the safe open. I needed to back up and change things. Two steps back.

Okay, simplify it. Money is just in the briefcase. Sitting on Walter’s desk. He’s looking at the money right as Ceccini and Kyle arrive. No need for the safe. They get in. Ceccini shoots Walter and Peter. One step forward. Kyle grabs the money. But wait…what’s the catalyst for Ceccini to get hurt? Damn it! I needed to figure that out. Two steps back.

It was a constant back and forth. Trust me. I simplified what I went though. But the major thought processes are there. I knew the begining. I knew the end. But I couldn’t get the two to meet. I could just feel the things I was trying weren’t working.

It’s not a big scene. About four pages. But damn did it take a long time to get through. It just couldn’t get it to feel right. If anything it was a good learning experiance. Don’t over complicate a scene. In this case I didn’t need the safe, but I kept trying to write it in. I kept trying to use it. I was forcing the issue. I should have listened to myself. I could feel that it was the wrong way to go, but I just ignored that feeling.

My other problem was how to get Ceccini hurt. I decided on having Peter take care of this. He’d shoot at Ceccini with a small revolver. But he’d miss, and hit a pressurized fire extinguisher instead. That would “explode” and injure his face. But if they had to run around and open the safe the likelihood of Peter being alive for that long got more and more unrealistic.

In the end I was able to work everything out. I think the scene reads well and moves at a good pace. I might trim a line of action here and there, but otherwise it’s complete.

Writing is funky like that sometimes. You force yourself to put something down on paper even though it doesn’t feel right. You ignore your inner voice instead of listening to it. This usually proves to be the wrong course of action. It happened to me. I just wish I hadn’t wasted four days on it. Live and learn I guess.




  1. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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