always enter a scene at the last possible moment

Film One of the intriguing elements of Steve McQueen's Shame is the emptiness, what's not being said. That's aided by the slightly odd structure in which nothing of Michael Fassbender's emotional life is really explained. In this short interview with I-D, co-screenwriter Abi Morgan explains why and also how she went about creating the many scenes of minimal dialogue:
"You learn how to set a scene. You set out a scene like a piece of poetry. I love the way a scene looks on the page. I love the relationship between dialogue and stage direction. I think very hard about when I’m going to puncture dialogue and stage direction because I know it’s physically going to break a reader. I enjoy the rhythm of a script and how you make that rhythm happen through the way you lay it out. Also, the thing about working with a director who is also a co-writer with you, is that you really trust that the director is going to know how to carry the message of the film because you share the message. We actually cut the first 60 pages of the screenplay so the film is actually just the last 40 pages."
In his Adventure in the Screentrade, one of William Goldman's key tips is to always enter a scene at the last possible moment, his example being a school class, so that audience has to spend a few seconds becoming acclimatised which makes them extra concentrated in what's happening and so more involved in the action.  I've also noticed that can be true of entire screenplays.

I tried an experiment recently with Robert Zemeckis's Castaway, a film I'd not seen since original release. After a recording a tv broadcast I chopped away the opening and closing sections (carefully making sure I didn't see very much of it) and then waited a week or so and sat and watched just the middle section with Tom Hanks's character shipwrecked on the island just to see if I'd miss everything else.

What I found was that I didn't really need to know any of the backstory which was presumably in the "prologue" and in fact when such things as the packages washing up on the beach, I could construct all kinds of reasons that might be there.  When he looks at what must be his wife/girlfriend/sister in the locket, all we really need to know is that she's emotionally important.  Shawn of even a name, he becomes even more of an everyperson.

The effect was to turn what was a pretty straight down the line Hollywood movie into an art film, with exposition thin on the ground leaving the audience to do much more of the work.  Removing the section in which Hanks must return home also loses the emotional catharsis, which is also often a trope of avant-guardists.  The last shot is of the tanker rolling alongside his exhausted body across a raft.  What more do we need to see?

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