Scene Description Spotlight: “The Shawshank Redemption”

August 2nd, 2013 by

Here is the opening sequence in The Shawshank Redemption, screenplay adaptation by Frank Darabont from a novella by Stephen King. Note the contrast in scene description, pivoting from a MAN and WOMAN having steamy sex, and the drunken, but calculating moves of ANDY DUFRESNE:

1	INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946) 

	A dark, empty room. 

	The door bursts open. A MAN and WOMAN enter, drunk and 
	giggling, horny as hell. No sooner is the door shut than 
	they're all over each other, ripping at clothes, pawing at 
	flesh, mouths locked together. 

	He gropes for a lamp, tries to turn it on, knocks it over 
	instead. Hell with it. He's got more urgent things to do, like 
	getting her blouse open and his hands on her breasts. She 
	arches, moaning, fumbling with his fly. He slams her against 
	the wall, ripping her skirt. We hear fabric tear. 

	He enters her right then and there, roughly, up against the 
	wall. She cries out, hitting her head against the wall but not 
	caring, grinding against him, clawing his back, shivering with 
	the sensations running through her. He carries her across the 
	room with her legs wrapped around him. They fall onto the bed. 

	CAMERA PULLS BACK, exiting through the window, traveling 
	smoothly outside... 

2	EXT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946) 2

	...to reveal the bungalow, remote in a wooded area, the 
	lovers' cries spilling into the night... 

	...and we drift down a wooded path, the sounds of rutting 
	passion growing fainter, mingling now with the night sounds of 
	crickets and hoot owls... 

	...and we begin to hear FAINT MUSIC in the woods, tinny and
	incongruous, and still we keep PULLING BACK until... 

	...a car is revealed. A 1946 Plymouth. Parked in a clearing. 

3	INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946) 3

	ANDY DUFRESNE, mid-20's, wire rim glasses, three-piece suit. 
	Under normal circumstances a respectable, solid citizen; hardly
	dangerous, perhaps even meek. But these circumstances are far 
	from normal. He is disheveled, unshaven, and very drunk. A 
	cigarette smolders in his mouth. His eyes, flinty and hard, are 
	riveted to the bungalow up the path. 

	He can hear them fucking from here. 

	He raises a bottle of bourbon and knocks it back. The radio 
	plays softly, painfully romantic, taunting him: 

		You stepped out of a dream... 
		You are too wonderful... 
		To be what you seem... 

	He opens the glove compartment, pulls out an object wrapped
	in a rag. He lays it in his lap and unwraps it carefully --

	-- revealing a .38 revolver. Oily, black, evil. 

	He grabs a box of bullets. Spills them everywhere, all over 
	the seats and floor. Clumsy. He picks bullets off his lap, 
	loading them into the gun, one by one, methodical and grim. 
	Six in the chamber. His gaze goes back to the bungalow. 

	He shuts off the radio. Abrupt silence, except for the distant 
	lovers' moans. He takes another shot of bourbon courage, then 
	opens the door and steps from the car. 

4	EXT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946) 4

	His wingtip shoes crunch on gravel. Loose bullets scatter to 
	the ground. The bourbon bottle drops and shatters. 

	He starts up the path, unsteady on his feet. The closer he 
	gets, the louder the lovemaking becomes. Louder and more 
	frenzied. The lovers are reaching a climax, their sounds of 
	passion degenerating into rhythmic gasps and grunts. 

				WOMAN (O.S.) 
		Oh god...oh god...oh god... 

	Andy lurches to a stop, listening. The woman cries out in 
	orgasm. The sound slams into Andy's brain like an icepick. He 
	shuts his eyes tightly, wishing the sound would stop. 

	It finally does, dying away like a siren until all that's left 
	is the shallow gasping and panting of post-coitus. We hear 
	languorous laughter, moans of satisfaction. 

				WOMAN (O.S.) 
		Oh god...that's sooo good...you're 
		the best...the best I ever had... 

	Andy just stands and listens, devastated. He doesn't look like 
	much of a killer now; he's just a sad little man on a dirt 
	path in the woods, tears streaming down his face, a loaded gun 
	held loosely at his side. A pathetic figure, really.

Compare the contrasting moods — the couple’s passionate love-making (arches, moaning, fumbling, slams, ripping) and Andy’s dispassionate preparation with the gun (loading, methodical, grim, silence). And then bringing the two ‘worlds’ together as Andy approaches the cabin, the “languorous laughter” and “moans of satisfaction” smashing into Andy’s consciousness “like an icepick,” then he “just stands and listens, devastated… a sad little man on a dirt path in the woods.”

This is an excellent example of using words to describe starkly different moods – but also to create immediate empathy with a Protagonist character. The couple is unaware of Andy’s presence. But the reader experiences the moment along with Andy — and in our own way share his pain.

Those of you who remember the movie will note that this scene is different than in the script. I’ve ‘cut together’ a version of the script to reflect the edits made in the movie:

...and we begin to hear FAINT MUSIC in the woods, tinny and
incongruous, and still we keep PULLING BACK until...

...a car is revealed. A 1946 Plymouth. Parked in a clearing.

INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946)

ANDY DUFRESNE, mid-20's, wire rim glasses, three-piece suit.
Under normal circumstances a respectable, solid citizen; hardly
dangerous, perhaps even meek. But these circumstances are far
from normal. He is disheveled, unshaven, and very drunk. A
cigarette smolders in his mouth. His eyes, flinty and hard, are
riveted to the bungalow up the path.

He raises a bottle of bourbon and knocks it back. The radio
plays softly, painfully romantic, taunting him:

You stepped out of a dream...
You are too wonderful...
To be what you seem...

He opens the glove compartment, pulls out an object wrapped
in a rag. He lays it in his lap and unwraps it carefully --

-- revealing a .38 revolver. Oily, black, evil.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

THE JURY listens like a gallery of mannequins on display,
pale-faced and stupefied.

D.A. (O.S.)
Mr. Dufresne, describe the
confrontation you had with your
wife the night she was murdered.

ANDY DUFRESNE

is on the witness stand, hands folded, suit and tie pressed,
hair meticulously combed. He speaks in soft, measured tones:

ANDY
It was very bitter. She said she
was glad I knew, that she hated all
the sneaking around. She said she
wanted a divorce in Reno.

D.A.
What was your response?

ANDY
I told her I would not grant one.

D.A.
(refers to his notes)
I'll see you in Hell before I see
you in Reno. Those were the words
you used, Mr. Dufresne, according
to the testimony of your neighbors.

ANDY
If they say so. I really don't
remember. I was upset.

D.A.
What happened after you and your
wife argued?

ANDY
She packed a bag and went to stay
with Mr. Quentin.

INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946)

A dark, empty room.

The door bursts open. A MAN and WOMAN enter, drunk and
giggling, horny as hell. No sooner is the door shut than
they're all over each other, ripping at clothes, pawing at
flesh, mouths locked together.

D.A. (O.S.)
Glenn Quentin. The golf pro at the
Falmouth Hills Country Club. The
man you had recently discovered was
her lover.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

D.A.
Did you follow her?

ANDY
I went to a few bars first. Later,
I decided to drive to Mr. Quentin's
home and confront them. They
weren't there...so I parked my car
in the turnout...and waited.

INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946)

D.A. (O.S.)
With what intention?

ANDY (O.S.)
I'm not sure. I was confused. Drunk.
I think mostly I wanted to scare them.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

D.A.
You had a gun with you?

ANDY
Yes. I did.

D.A.
When they arrived, you went up
to the house and murdered them?

ANDY
No. I was sobering up. I realized
she wasn't worth it. I decided to
let her have her quickie divorce.

D.A.
Quickie divorce indeed. A .38
caliber divorce, wrapped in a
handtowel to muffle the shots,
isn't that what you mean? And then
you shot her lover!

ANDY
I did not. I got back in the car
and drove home to sleep it off.
Along the way, I stopped and threw
my gun into the Royal River. I feel
I've been very clear on this point.

D.A.
Yes, you have. Where I get hazy,
though, is the part where the
cleaning woman shows up the next
morning and finds your wife and her
lover in bed, riddled with .38
caliber bullets. Does that strike
you as a fantastic coincidence, Mr.
Dufresne, or is it just me?

ANDY
(softly)
Yes. It does.

D.A.
You claim you threw your gun into
the Royal River before the murders
took place. That's rather convenient.

ANDY
It's the truth.

D.A.
You recall Lt. Mincher's testimony?
He and his men dragged that river
for three days and nary a gun was
found. So no comparison can be made
between your gun and the bullets
taken from the bloodstained corpses
of the victims. That's also rather
convenient, isn't it, Mr. Dufresne?

ANDY
(faint, bitter smile)
Since I am innocent of this crime,
sir, I find it decidedly inconvenient
the gun was never found.

INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946)

As Andy turns off the light and staggers out of
the car, spilling bullets, dropping his bottle of
bourbon, heading toward the cabin --

D.A. (O.S.)
Ladies and gentlemen, you've heard
all the evidence, you know all the
facts. We have the accused at the
scene of the crime. We have foot
prints. Tire tracks. Bullets
scattered on the ground which bear
his fingerprints. A broken bourbon
bottle, likewise with fingerprints.
Most of all, we have a beautiful
young woman and her lover lying
dead in each other's arms. They had
sinned. But was their crime so
great as to merit a death sentence?

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

He gestures to Andy sitting quietly with his ATTORNEY.

D.A.
I suspect Mr. Dufresne's answer to
that would be yes. I further
suspect he carried out that
sentence on the night of September
21st, this year of our Lord, 1946,
by pumping four bullets into his
wife and another four into Glenn
Quentin. And while you think about
that, think about this...

He picks up a revolver, spins the cylinder before their eyes
like a carnival barker spinning a wheel of fortune.

D.A.
A revolver holds six bullets, not
eight. I submit to you this was not
a hot-blooded crime of passion!
That could at least be understood,
if not condoned. No, this was
revenge of a much more brutal and
cold-blooded nature. Consider!

INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946)

He gropes for a lamp, tries to turn it on, knocks it over
instead. Hell with it. He's got more urgent things to do, like
getting her blouse open and his hands on her breasts. She
arches, moaning, fumbling with his fly. He slams her against
the wall, ripping her skirt. We hear fabric tear.
He enters her right then and there, roughly, up against the
wall. She cries out, hitting her head against the wall but not
caring, grinding against him, clawing his back, shivering with
the sensations running through her.

D.A. (O.S.)
Four bullets per victim! Not six
shots fired, but eight! That means
he fired the gun empty...and then
stopped to reload so he could shoot
each of them again! An extra bullet
per lover...right in the head.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

Andy stands before the dais. THE JUDGE peers down, framed by a
carved frieze of blind Lady Justice on the wall.

JUDGE
You strike me as a particularly icy
and remorseless man, Mr. Dufresne.
It chills my blood just to look at
you. By the power vested in me by
the State of Maine, I hereby order
you to serve two life sentences,
back to back, one for each of your
victims. So be it.

He raps his gavel as we

CRASH TO BLACK: LAST TITLE UP.

Instead of seeing the events, then hearing Andy and the lawyer talking about them, with the way the movie is edited, we experience them both together. Not only more visual, but also a more economical way of approaching the narrative.

The takeaway here is to remember this fact: Screenwriters are the original editors on any scripted story. Every time we cut from one scene to the next, or one shot within a scene to another, we are ‘editing’ the movie. So why not fully embrace that ‘power’ we have? Think like an editor! Use cross cuts and intercuts. Use visual-to-visual transitions from one scene to the next.

[Originally posted April 15, 2010]

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