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The Screenwriters Toolkit

Lesson 7 of 21

How to Build a Scene


The Screenwriters Toolkit

Lesson 7 of 21

How to Build a Scene


Lesson Info

How to Build a Scene

Now we're gonna talk about building a scene the scene is the basic building block of the whole story first thing to do is to plan the scene who's in it obviously where is it what needs to happen go back and look at where is it um obviously where your scenes take place must be makes sense in the story you're telling but are their options of placing something where you might not think uh of it first for example that I was to tell somebody a secret talk in private so they write a car through a car wash it may be totally wrong for what you're doing but it's an example of just thinking about different visual places you could set something that makes sense with what's happening so it's not just living room office sidewalk although those are important and they're khun b very important depending on what kind of story you're telling what needs to happen in the scene something has to happen in everything you're planning the scene and you know what needs to happen it's just important to keep in m...

ind it seems obvious but that's what you're going towards continuing to plan the scene how long does it need to be? There is a ruling screenwriting uh the year you know its master scenes as we talked about you have a slug line and you write out the scene that a scene is three pages long at maximum now that's no longer rigidly held to and as movies have become mohr dialogue heavy or I shouldn't say heavy that sounds bad but with more dialogue in them um it's more acceptable to go for longer periods for a scene not that not that a long scene is just dialogue could be a lot of action but it's a good thing to keep in mind anyway you should think that if it's going longer than three pages um that it uh doesn't need to end the year kind of starting to get into stretching the rules a little bit so make sure it's important that it's that long is also the consideration of how short could it be? What is the shortest way to have this happen in the script what's the shortest way I could write this scene that's important because that's what you're always thinking you're always thinking about the economics of writing write it as short as it can be and still do everything that you wanted to dio and then um this is something I an idea I got I think from john august but uh allow a surprise we're going to talk more about surprises and things like that to yourself but while you're writing the scene and you've planned it so carefully and you know exactly what's gonna happen and the characters are going to say what you tell them to say and do what you tell him to dio allow a surprise that happen. It may not be something even the characters do it makes something be something that comes in and interrupts the same, but just allow a surprise. You're probably going to cut it or you may not. Or you may get an idea of this could be something that happens later, but what I'm trying to get you to do is think in terms of not always having that left brain control, the whole process isn't stoking your intuition. What? What happens if something that I didn't plan on in this scene just occurs? What if the character does something says something or someone else enters it or something happens? Just allow yourself to experiment right there in the scene that you're writing in your script for a moment and then you can cut it out. If it doesn't work, you could move it somewhere else. If it's a good idea, but you need to eventually get a given take going between your intuitive side and your analytical side. Analytical side is all about this is what's supposed to happen? This is what's gonna happen. They're going to say this and you need to start a listening, your intuitive side to contribute and best through surprises character is doing things you didn't expect things happening you didn't expect, um and then of course, as you go back through your whole script, you look at every scene and you ask what would happen to this entire script if this scene was cut out completely? And if it doesn't affect the story in any meaningful way, you're going to cut it out because you have a scene that doesn't need to be there now there may be something in it you could just as easily put in a scene that absolutely has to be in your story, but if you don't need that whole scene there, it's got to go. Is it funny? Is it really poignant? And it doesn't have anything to do with the story that could go it's still got to go put that little bit of funny or poignancy somewhere else seen all scenes or scenes that happen to be in the screenplay? Um talked about the free page rule already, um, exposition and plot talk cell jack's living room day jack flowers of george who's watching tv you've been crashing on myself for three months. I know I'm your brother, but how long is this going to continue? You say you're looking for a job, but how many corporate recreational planners air needed in akron, ohio? George, you said the same thing last week and the week before, I know it's a pain to drive me around I would go to the appointments by myself if my driver's license hadn't been taken away I've had three secondary interviews this week so far you took me to a movie to celebrate this is exposition this is really bad exposition the main thing that makes exposition bad when you're right it is when people are telling someone else things they already know you just can't do it that way um this could be a story where you've got to know all that and maybe you have to know it without it being scenes in the story as it progresses you've got to find another way to get exposition in when characters talk to each other they don't tell each other what they already know so that's something to avoid is what I call plot talk now it's not going to seem like it would be out of place unnecessarily interior mary's office jack enters agitated mary looks up work sid took all the files on the coleman account we have to get them back I've been to his house I know where's computer is you're going to break in no I have to visit him maybe say something about how I'm planning on quitting once I'm inside his house out to distract him long enough to grab the files it always encrypts everything what if the files are encrypted if so you'll have to get the hacker friend of yours to decrypt them he's out of the country well, then you'll have to contact him and have him recommend somebody reed is coming back from vacation a day early. We have to have those files in here when he walks in here these people have done nothing but talk about the plot we do see this and a lot of heavily plot driven uh, movies or television shows the classic police television show especially from the old days had scene after scene of nothing but this kind of thing when the two partners are talking to each other you don't want you characters to just do plot talk because it doesn't have enough character color in it it's just too much talking for the purpose of keeping the audience in the plot and knowing what's going on um sell my next one yes um start late and end early is a rule for scenes where when do you start a scene and when do you innit let's look at this restaurant night jack enters looks around goes the maitre d hi. I'm here to join randall wilson he made the reservation. He is here right this way later de leaves jack to randall's table randall rises shakes jack's hand jack good to see you. Good to see you two have a seat. Thanks. Did you find out anything? Well, yeah said stolen files on the coleman account he stole the files. Yeah do we have any copies know what is about line mean there the line means that's where the scene khun start all of this is called shoe leather I call it you whether I think I got that from somebody but absolutely under not necessary and even this line sid stole the files on the coleman account we the audience know it well no when we start the scene in a restaurant we know that jack came into it and sat down we'll see them sitting there and we'll see randall say he stole the files that's the beginning of the scene you don't need anything before that the conversation comes back to stealing hap he had talked to mary about it earlier but he has brought that up during the scene stealing you really think you can steal another house I'm going to try ballsy thing to do I got to say what other option is there when are you going to do it this weekend you think you can keep him distracted long enough we'll be watching the game I'll be he'll be caught up in it have you ever done anything like this before no not really well good luck thanks no none of it's needed none of it even the plan will be watching it will see that we'll see him over there we'll know what he's going to do because we'll see that scene the scene ends what other option is they're out so those are examples of starting late and ending early um back to the keep so the context are excuse me the content of scenes scenes have to have subtext in the dialogue they have to have conflict even minor conflict in a minor scene and the scenes have the event of the scene that is what happens in this scene obviously various things happen in the scene but what is the main event of the scene? This is an example of no subtext george I really am supporting toe supportive of you finding a job I know you are jack I have a lot of pressure of work I take it out on you sometimes I'm sorry I'm sorry that my job is taking so long you're trying your hardest and you're being a good friend I truly want the best for you I'm grateful to you everybody said everything literally what they think they said literally what they think there's no subtext so subtext would be I don't know your I think you're probably going to find a job anyway but did you ever check about the blub about you and you just write it it has seen the way people would actually talk um or they may talk about something else but the subtext is what's on their mind is you haven't gotten a job yet and I'm trying to find it um so that's just to give a bad example of that um seems have tohave let's go back to the key point again, conflict, the beginning of the scene, by the end of the scene, something has to happen a conflict involving the characters in the scene, and the event of the scene, as we said, is that which the scene is actually presenting as the next piece of your story, minor scenes, minor scenes might have just minor conflict, but they have some feeling of something pushing through in that struggle. It's always going on through your throughout your story a lot of times, minor seems really short ones are for information, but they have to have a moment. Um, anyway, and the information can't come out in a flatly exposition always, um, minor scenes are there really short ones to feel like they're connected tissue between the bigger scenes like it just feels like you needed to go there to go there, and they have this? They're sort of like the, um, the ligaments with the bones of the biggest scenes the scene has to be has to move the story forward. It can't just be on when we're going to stop here and just have this happen. But it's not doesn't have that much to do with pushing her advancing the story when scenes are like that they're called the term episodic is used it means that, uh, for example, you would say this happened and then this happened, but well, you should always be saying, is this happened? So then this happened. Everything is moving the story forward. It needs toe lead directly to the next scene. You're in this scene that should feel like it's leading right into the next. And that should keep happening that keeps the mo mentum and pace of the whole script going. So looking at these building blocks of scenes is really important in terms of keeping the whole story going because it's hard to think of the whole script all the time in your mind. I just worked through it and know that you're keeping this connective tissue moving the story forward. It has to be followed by the next scene that has to be followed by the next scene and every scene has a take away. It means when the scene ends, what did we get out of it? That's the way you could also say that's, the event of the sea. But you should feel like we got I got something out of that scene it's about this story the struggle, this character it's moving forward.

Class Description

Screenwriting classes often either lean too heavily on theory or simply study the technical approach to writing without a greater context for its use, as if the act of screenwriting exists in a vacuum – it does not. In The Screenwriters Toolkit with Jim Uhls, you’ll learn both the nuts and bolts of the craft, as well as its relationship to getting your work read and ultimately produced.

Jim’s sceenwriting credits include the modern classic “Fight Club” the feature-film "Jumper" the NBC television film "Semper Fi" and the SyFy miniseries "Spin" In this class, he’ll share lessons from his extensive experience writing for Hollywood and the small screen. He’ll teach you how to develop better scripts, get traction for your projects, and navigate the complex professional landscape of script development.

You’ll learn about screenwriting form and content, including:

  • Vocabulary and formats
  • Dialogue vs silence
  • Adapting existing works for the screen
  • Genre-writing

Jim will also share essential insights on developing a career in screenwriting. 

You’ll learn:

  • The differences between writing for television and features
  • Who to work with: agents vs managers vs lawyers
  • How to obtain and manage projects of various sizes and contexts

The Screenwriters Toolkit is a comprehensive examination of screenwriting form, content, craft, and traffic. You’ll learn how to adapt your content to the size, genre, and desired professional result of the script while also learning about the best on-ramps for aspiring writers.


Karla KL Brady

I would definitely recommend this class for first-time screenwriters and writers in general. I'm a novelist that would like to turn a couple of my stories into screen plays. I was mostly interested in the "dos and don'ts" which he supplied in a generous number. He gave a lot of great examples. I enjoyed the format with the students and he pretty much walks you through the entire process, including and especially the three-act structure which can be applicable to novel writing, too. He gave a lot of great examples. I would have liked a more extensive discussion on loglines and writing the action, but this certainly is enough to get you started. For the price, you can't beat it.


I came to this site by accident and then found some well known internet marketers here, who had already been sending me helpful emails and offers for some time, which I have used. What I like about the video contents is, that it is good old-fashioned skills and crafts development, rather than just formulaic, churn it out in big numbers advice. Whether screen writing, script writing, creative writing, news writing, etc. there is a structure and guideline for contents, order, grammar, etc., but the appeal is towards the development of one's creative side. I am normally involved in non-fiction writing, so this is a nice, creative side-kick, which no doubt will help my other work. As prolific author Isaac Asimow said, "If you want to learn to write, then you must write".


I would certainly recommend it to others, as there are some really great tips throughout the courses, across various aspects of film script writing.. That said, I would like to recommend however: - to have one version that is focused solely on film writing; eliminating the parts about teleplays and series, as those one or two did not relate to the rest of the course. - in its place, I would have loved to observe the coaching and critique on the writers film ideas, loglines, titles and such. I was very interested in knowing the do's and don'ts, what works and doesn't work, and what the proper approach is. Although he made mention of some of them in his overall content, relating them back to the writer's specific work would have been very beneficial.