Scenes: Start Late, Get Out Early

By Michael Schilf · June 11, 2010

I live in Los Angeles, where being on time for a party is social suicide, yet my roots are from the Midwest, where punctuality is held to the highest degree, along with God and football. So occasionally I make the mistake and arrive for a Hollywood affair on time, where I’m usually standing there alone and miserable – not a pretty sight.

But as a screenwriter, I’m L.A. all the way: I start my scenes late and get out early.

William Goldman said, “You always attack a movie scene as late as you possibly can. You always come into the scene at the last possible moment.” The same rule applies at the end of a scene. Get the hell out – quick!

But why? Because screenwriting is visual story telling that moves at a rapid pace, giving the reader the maximum amount of information to propel the story forward while using the least amount of words. A screenwriter only has between 90 and 120 pages to tell the whole story, so there is no time for extras.

Remember, a screenplay is a story of somebody’s life with all the boring stuff cut out, so start every scene at “the last possible moment.” In screenwriting, it actually pays to arrive late.