Scene Description Spotlight: “Star Trek” (2009)

August 8th, 2013 by

One key aspect about scene description is something I call narrative voice. It is the invisible character in your script — the mindset, personality, and ‘voice’ of the character who conveys the story, primarily through scene description, but also in transitions choices, pace, scene cross-cuts, etc.

Narrative voice is heavily influenced by the story’s genre – that is if you’re writing a comedy, your NV should be funny; if you’re writing a horror flick, your NV should be scary; if you’re writing an action movie, your NV should kick ass. In other words:

Narrative Voice = Genre + Style

Let’s start off this week’s series of posts with a look at the writing style of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman as demonstrated in the screenplay for this summer’s hit movie Star Trek. This excerpt is part of a big action sequence, so we should be looking for a kick ass narrative voice:

EXT. PLASMA DRILL CYLINDER - CONTINUOUS

The platform BANKS -- Sulu FALLS BACK, OFF THE PLATFORM --
WITHOUT A CHUTE! Kirk, holding on, watching this wide-eyed --
and knowing what he must do, he RUNS AND JUMPS --

KIRK FALLS FAST, he's only gonna have one shot at this, presses
his arms to his sides and ROCKETS downward, building speed, four
hundred feet below is Sulu, FREEFALLING --

KIRK moves his feet and hands, angling toward him -- slashing
downward at 160 mph, closing like a missile -- the gap between
them narrows -- Sulu's 30 feet below him... 500 feet to the
planet surface. 40 ft -- 20 -- 10 -- WHAM! Kirk slams into
Sulu in a mid-air tackle -- they TUMBLE TOGETHER -- Kirk's made
the grab and locked his arms around Sulu in an iron grip,
screams in his face:

KIRK
I GOTCHA! NOW PULL MY CHUTE!

Sulu DOES -- it opens -- but HOLY FUCK, the double weight RIPS
IT -- IT SNAPS AWAY FROM THEM -- NOW THEY'RE BOTH FREE-FALLING
WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!

KIRK (CONT'D)
ENTERPRISE, WE'RE FALLING WITHOUT A
CHUTE!!! BEAM US UP!!! BEAM US UP!!!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY

The TRANSPORTER CHIEF works his controls, sweating -- trying to
LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET --

TRANSPORTER CHIEF
I'm trying! I can't lock on your signal!

INT. ENTERPRISE - BRIDGE - CONTINUOUS

SNAP AROUND as Chekov hears this -- watching his controls --
Uhura watching too --

TRANSPORTER CHIEF (V.O.)
-- you're moving too fast!

CHEKOV
-- no-- I can do that--I CAN DO THAT!!!

Chekov suddenly BOLTS -- Uhura watches him race off -- a CREW
MEMBER steps into frame:

CREW MEMBER
The black hole's expanding, we won't
reach minimum safe distance if we don't
leave immediately.

INT. ENTERPRISE - VARIOUS AREAS

Chekov SPRINTS through CORRIDORS -- ENGINE ROOM -- YELLING:

CHEKOV
MOVE! I CAN DO THAT! I CAN DO THAT!

And we take him to:

INT. ENTERPRISE -- TRANSPORTER BAY

-- where he races to the controls, out of breath, yelling:

CHEKOV
I CAN LOCK ON! GIMME MANUAL CONTROL!
QUICK!

-- and he begins working the controls --

EXT. SKIES ABOVE VULCAN PLANET SURFACE - DAY

Kirk and Sulu SPEED-DROPPING -- TERRIFIED --

KIRK
ENTERPRISE, WHERE ARE YOU?!?!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY

Chekov's manipulating a joystick-like TARGETING DISPLAY --
trying to match the CROSSHAIRS on the DROPPING FIGURES --

CHEKOV
-- holdonholdonholdonholdon!

EXT. SKIES ABOVE VULCAN PLANET SURFACE - CONTINUOUS

A massive SHEET OF LAVA, MILES HIGH, BURSTS INTO THE SKY -- Kirk
and Sulu enter frame, BULLET-WHOOSH right past us, DROPPING --

KIRK
(headset)
NOW NOW NOW!!! DO IT NOW!!!!!!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY (LOCATION CHANGE)

TIGHT ON CHEKOV as he struggles to lock onto them -- BEEP!

CHEKOV
Compensating gravitational pull and --
GOTCHA!

He HITS A BUTTON and --

EXT. VULCAN SURFACE - CONTINUOUS

5 FEET BEFORE THEY HIT THE GROUND, KIRK AND SULU DEMATERIALIZE!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY - CONTINUOUS

AND REMATERIALIZE, SLAMMING DOWN ON THE TRANSPORTER PADS, HARD
AND PAINFUL, BUT SAFE! Transporter engineers GAPE in utter
amazement and relief -- Chekov, sweating, laughs. Kirk and Sulu
get their bearings, peeling themselves up, at stunned whispers:

SULU
... thanks.

KIRK
... yeah, not a problem.

So first question: Did that scene description kick ass? Yes. One seamless flow of action, told in a hyperbolic voice befitting the action. Of special note:

* Lots of CAPITALIZATION to (A) highlight specifics bits of action (The platform BANKS… he RUNS AND JUMPS) and (B) underscore key narrative elements (trying to LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET).

* Lots of underlining and CAPITALIZATION to REALLY spotlight a key narrative element (NOW THEY’RE BOTH FREE-FALLING WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!).

* Bold for all the sluglines – to make as clear as possible the shifts in location.

I invite your comments on those style choices as collectively they represent a bending of the ‘rules’. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the actual words Orci & Kurtzman use to both paint a picture of what’s happening and convey the furious pace of the action. To spotlight that, here is a list of verbs they use in SD in this excerpt:

banks, falls back, holding on, runs, jumps, falls, presses, rockets, moves, angling, slashing, closing, narrows, slams, tumble, locked, screams, opens, rips, snaps, free-falling, works, sweating, trying, hears, watching, bolts, watches, steps, sprints, yelling, races, yelling, begins working, speed-dropping, manipulating, trying to match, bursts, enter, bullet-whoosh, dropping, struggles, hits, dematerialize, rematerialize, slamming, gape, laughs, peeling.

Just tracking the verbs gives a reader a sense of the scene’s action and pace. O&K even make up verbs to get the point across: speed-dropping, bullet-whoosh. As a screenwriter, you can do that. In fact, you can do anything to grab the reader’s attention and sell the moment.

One last obvious note: Apart from the 3rd paragraph, which is 7 lines long, all the other paragraphs of SD are no more than 3 lines in length, most of them 1 or 2. Again befitting this type of scene — quick cuts, quick action.

What do you think about this approach to scene description?

For more on narrative voice, you can go here to read an article I wrote for Screentalk magazine.

[Originally posted December 7, 2009]

Daily Dialogue — January 4, 2013

January 4th, 2013 by

UHURA: Hi. I’d like a Klabnian Fire Tea, two Cardassian Sunrises and three Earth beers, no slim-shots, anything on draft.
VOICE (O.S.): That’s a lot of drinks for one woman. Wearing those boots.

JAMES KIRK’S FACE leans in: at 22, he’s charming, witty, dangerous, rebellious. He grins at her, flirty. Uhura gives him a look, then back to the bartender:

UHURA: And a shot of Jack, straight up.
KIRK: (to the bartender) Make it two — her shot’s on me.
UHURA: Her shot’s on her. Thanks but no thanks.
KIRK: Don’t you want my name before you completely reject me?
UHURA: I’m good without it.

Damn, he likes her already.

KIRK: You are good without it. It’s Jim. Jim Kirk. (long beat) If you don’t tell me your name, I’m gonna have to make one up.
UHURA: (beat) Uhura.
KIRK: Uhura? No way — that’s the name I was gonna make up for you. Uhura what?
UHURA: Just Uhura.
KIRK: They don’t have last names in your world?
UHURA: Uhura is my last name.
KIRK: They don’t have first names in your world? Wait, let me guess. Is it “Jim”?

That makes her smile. So he moves closer to her:

KIRK: Okay, so you’re a cadet. Studying. What’s your focus?
UHURA: Xenolinguistics. Lemme guess: you don’t know what that means.
KIRK: Let me guess: study of Alien languages: phonology, morphology, syntax– it means you’ve got a talented tongue.
UHURA: And for a moment I thought you were just a dumb hick who only has sex with farm animals.
KIRK: Well. Not only.
UHURA: You think you’re smart.
KIRK: Oh, baby, I’m the smartest.

Something sad in that. A BURLY STARFLEET CADET appears.

BURLY CADET: This guy bothering you?
UHURA: Beyond belief, but nothing I can’t handle.
KIRK: You could handle me. That’s an invitation.

The Burly Cadet spins Kirk around:

BURLY CADET: Hey. You mind your manners.
KIRK: At ease, Cup Cake, it was a joke. Like your hairline.

Uhura turns back. The other cadets, seeing trouble, approach.

UHURA: Hey — Jim: enough.
BURLY CADET: What was that?
KIRK: You heard me, Moon Beam.
BURLY CADET: You know how to count farm boy? There’s five of us… and one of you.
KIRK: Okay, so go get some more guys, come back and it’ll be an even fight.

The cadet swings his fist but Kirk HEADBUTTS HIS HAND, BREAKING IT — another Cadet PUNCHES KIRK, then THROWS HIM into a table, which Kirk FLIES OVER, landing hard — another Cadet GRABS HIM, pulls him up — Kirk SLAMS FIVE FAST PUNCHES that send the Cadet back — when ANOTHER CADET PUNCHES HIM — yet another HOLDS KIRK — and that last punch is repeated THREE– then FOUR times –

UHURA: Enough! STOP!

Another punch and Kirk FLIES TO THE FLOOR – he’s out of it, but won’t give up.

Star Trek (2009), screenplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, based on the series created by Gene Roddenberry

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is bar fights, suggested by Dean Scott. Today’s suggestion by Vic Tional.

Trivia: The film has its roots in the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention, where Gene Roddenberry declared he would make a film prequel to Star Trek. The concept would not be heard until the late 1980s, between Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. David Loughery wrote a script titled “The Academy Years,” but it was shelved due to objections from the original cast and the fan base. Finally in 2005, after the failure of Star Trek: Nemesis and the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise, development got underway. Another novel treatment of the beginnings of Kirk’s command of the Enterprise was described in the novel “Enterprise: The First Adventure” by Vonda N. McIntyre which was based upon a Star Trek movie script that was to be used if a contract could not be reached with the original cast after the first set of movies were made.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Vic: “Plenty of screenwriting takeaway: clever spin on a meet-cute; great use of minimal action lines (‘Damn, he likes her already’, ‘Something sad in that’); better writing than most people probably give these particular screenwriters credit for. But, crucially, some women are well worth getting in a fight for, and Zoe Saldana is most definitely one of them.”

Scene Description Spotlight: “Star Trek” (2009)

April 28th, 2012 by

One key aspect about scene description is something I call narrative voice. It is the invisible character in your script — the mindset, personality, and ‘voice’ of the character who conveys the story, primarily through scene description, but also in transitions choices, pace, scene cross-cuts, etc.

Narrative voice is heavily influenced by the story’s genre – that is if you’re writing a comedy, your NV should be funny; if you’re writing a horror flick, your NV should be scary; if you’re writing an action movie, your NV should kick ass. In other words:

Narrative Voice = Genre + Style

Let’s look at the writing style of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman as demonstrated in the screenplay for the hit movie Star Trek. This excerpt is part of a big action sequence, so we should be looking for a kick ass narrative voice:

EXT. PLASMA DRILL CYLINDER - CONTINUOUS

The platform BANKS -- Sulu FALLS BACK, OFF THE PLATFORM --
WITHOUT A CHUTE! Kirk, holding on, watching this wide-eyed --
and knowing what he must do, he RUNS AND JUMPS --

KIRK FALLS FAST, he's only gonna have one shot at this, presses
his arms to his sides and ROCKETS downward, building speed, four
hundred feet below is Sulu, FREEFALLING --

KIRK moves his feet and hands, angling toward him -- slashing
downward at 160 mph, closing like a missile -- the gap between
them narrows -- Sulu's 30 feet below him... 500 feet to the
planet surface. 40 ft -- 20 -- 10 -- WHAM! Kirk slams into
Sulu in a mid-air tackle -- they TUMBLE TOGETHER -- Kirk's made
the grab and locked his arms around Sulu in an iron grip,
screams in his face:

KIRK
I GOTCHA! NOW PULL MY CHUTE!

Sulu DOES -- it opens -- but HOLY FUCK, the double weight RIPS
IT -- IT SNAPS AWAY FROM THEM -- NOW THEY'RE BOTH FREE-FALLING
WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!

KIRK (CONT'D)
ENTERPRISE, WE'RE FALLING WITHOUT A
CHUTE!!! BEAM US UP!!! BEAM US UP!!!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY

The TRANSPORTER CHIEF works his controls, sweating -- trying to
LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET --

TRANSPORTER CHIEF
I'm trying! I can't lock on your signal!

INT. ENTERPRISE - BRIDGE - CONTINUOUS

SNAP AROUND as Chekov hears this -- watching his controls --
Uhura watching too --

TRANSPORTER CHIEF (V.O.)
-- you're moving too fast!

CHEKOV
-- no-- I can do that--I CAN DO THAT!!!

Chekov suddenly BOLTS -- Uhura watches him race off -- a CREW
MEMBER steps into frame:

CREW MEMBER
The black hole's expanding, we won't
reach minimum safe distance if we don't
leave immediately.

INT. ENTERPRISE - VARIOUS AREAS

Chekov SPRINTS through CORRIDORS -- ENGINE ROOM -- YELLING:

CHEKOV
MOVE! I CAN DO THAT! I CAN DO THAT!

And we take him to:

INT. ENTERPRISE -- TRANSPORTER BAY

-- where he races to the controls, out of breath, yelling:

CHEKOV
I CAN LOCK ON! GIMME MANUAL CONTROL!
QUICK!

-- and he begins working the controls --

EXT. SKIES ABOVE VULCAN PLANET SURFACE - DAY

Kirk and Sulu SPEED-DROPPING -- TERRIFIED --

KIRK
ENTERPRISE, WHERE ARE YOU?!?!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY

Chekov's manipulating a joystick-like TARGETING DISPLAY --
trying to match the CROSSHAIRS on the DROPPING FIGURES --

CHEKOV
-- holdonholdonholdonholdon!

EXT. SKIES ABOVE VULCAN PLANET SURFACE - CONTINUOUS

A massive SHEET OF LAVA, MILES HIGH, BURSTS INTO THE SKY -- Kirk
and Sulu enter frame, BULLET-WHOOSH right past us, DROPPING --

KIRK
(headset)
NOW NOW NOW!!! DO IT NOW!!!!!!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY (LOCATION CHANGE)

TIGHT ON CHEKOV as he struggles to lock onto them -- BEEP!

CHEKOV
Compensating gravitational pull and --
GOTCHA!

He HITS A BUTTON and --

EXT. VULCAN SURFACE - CONTINUOUS

5 FEET BEFORE THEY HIT THE GROUND, KIRK AND SULU DEMATERIALIZE!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY - CONTINUOUS

AND REMATERIALIZE, SLAMMING DOWN ON THE TRANSPORTER PADS, HARD
AND PAINFUL, BUT SAFE! Transporter engineers GAPE in utter
amazement and relief -- Chekov, sweating, laughs. Kirk and Sulu
get their bearings, peeling themselves up, at stunned whispers:

SULU
... thanks.

KIRK
... yeah, not a problem.

So first question: Did that scene description kick ass? Yes. One seamless flow of action, told in a hyperbolic voice befitting the action. Of special note:

* Lots of CAPITALIZATION to (A) highlight specifics bits of action (The platform BANKS… he RUNS AND JUMPS) and (B) underscore key narrative elements (trying to LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET).

* Lots of underlining and CAPITALIZATION to REALLY spotlight a key narrative element (NOW THEY’RE BOTH FREE-FALLING WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!).

* Bold for all the sluglines – to make as clear as possible the shifts in location.

I invite your comments on those style choices as collectively they represent a bending of the ‘rules’. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the actual words Orci & Kurtzman use to both paint a picture of what’s happening and convey the furious pace of the action. To spotlight that, here is a list of verbs they use in SD in this excerpt:

banks, falls back, holding on, runs, jumps, falls, presses, rockets, moves, angling, slashing, closing, narrows, slams, tumble, locked, screams, opens, rips, snaps, free-falling, works, sweating, trying, hears, watching, bolts, watches, steps, sprints, yelling, races, yelling, begins working, speed-dropping, manipulating, trying to match, bursts, enter, bullet-whoosh, dropping, struggles, hits, dematerialize, rematerialize, slamming, gape, laughs, peeling.

Just tracking the verbs gives a reader a sense of the scene’s action and pace. O&K even make up verbs to get the point across: speed-dropping, bullet-whoosh. As a screenwriter, you can do that. In fact, you can do anything to grab the reader’s attention and sell the moment.

One last obvious note: Apart from the 3rd paragraph, which is 7 lines long, all the other paragraphs of SD are no more than 3 lines in length, most of them 1 or 2. Again befitting this type of scene — quick cuts, quick action.

What do you think about this approach to scene description?

For more on narrative voice, you can go here to read an article I wrote for Screentalk magazine.

And come back tomorrow for a different take on scene description.

[Originally posted December 7, 2009]

Star Trek theme song played on a Musical Saw

February 24th, 2012 by

“Star Trek,” Michael Piller, the Writing for Screen & Stage Program, and Harmonic Convergence

February 21st, 2012 by

When I was a teenager, nearly every day after I came home from school, I would plop down in front of the TV to watch a repeat of the original “Star Trek” series. Little did I know that years later, I would be honored with an academic title tied to the franchise Gene Rodenberry created, and one of its most prolific writer-producers Michael Piller.

First some background on Piller. Among the TV series he wrote and produced include “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and “Stephen King’s Dead Zone.” TheBitterScriptReader wrote two terrific posts on Piller which you can read here and here.

Here is an interview with Piller:

It’s a short interview, but in it Piller makes many great points and here are two of them:

* “What’s it about?” This is a question he always asked writers, including himself, about every TV episode. “It is the thematic material I’m talking about, not the plot, the exploration of the world we live in that guides the development of the stories I like to work on.” That question is perhaps the single best way to drill down into the essence of a story and well worth remembering.

* “Star Trek” as a metaphor for writing: “I always feel that being a writer… is like being on the bridge of the Enterprise. Essentially the metaphor of going into space where no man has gone before is what a writer does every time he sits down at a word processor.” Plunging into the dark, trusting our instincts in search of story, boldly going where no writer has gone before. Lovely image.

You may have noticed the cap Piller is wearing in the interview. The insignia is for UNC, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where Piller received a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and motion pictures in 1970. In 1998, Piller established the Piller Fund for Excellence in Screenwriting endowment at UNC. It was through Piller’s support and the efforts of many people including former ABC, NBC and Fox television executive and writer-producer David Sontag that the university created the Writing for Screen and Stage program in 2003.

The WSS program is unique, a minor that focuses on teaching and developing screenwriters and playwrights. Notable visiting faculty in the past include Joan Tewekesbury (Nashville), Leon Capetanos (Down and Out in Beverly Hills), Danny Rubin (Groundhog Day), Anne Beatts (“Saturday Night Live”), and Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond).

Since its inception, over 60 students have obtained the minor, many of whom are in Los Angeles and New York working in the entertainment industry. One of the advantages of the program is there is a strong and growing presence of UNC graduates working in the business including writers John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky (Blades of Glory, “King of the Hill”) and comic, commentator and author Lewis Black.

The Acting Director of the Writing for the Screen and Stage Program is Dana Coen, whose numerous credits include Co-Executive Producer titles on the prime-time drama series “Bones” and “JAG.” I have been teaching in the program as a visiting lecturer since 2008. Thus the WSS program provides not only solid academic training for aspiring screenwriters and playwrights, but also given our many years of experience in Hollywood, students also receive much in the way of practical learning as well.

Currently I teach two courses: In the fall “Master Screenwriting,” a workshop where seniors write a first-draft of a full-length screenplay or stage play; and in the spring “The History of American Screenwriting,” a course crafted by Dana Coen that is, I believe, the only class of its type at the undergraduate level in the United States.

The students are top-notch and motivated, a delight to teach, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. So it was with great pleasure when I learned I have been named the 2011/12 Piller Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Writing for Screen and Stage program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Given my early interest with “Star Trek,” I perceive that as a wonderful harmonic convergence.

If you are a high school student, a parent of a child with writing talent, or perhaps a college freshman interested in transferring to a university which provides a minor to allow students to explore their creative interest in writing screenplays or stage plays, you may check out the WSS program here.

Our Facebook page is here.

Sadly Michael Pillar died in 2005. His legacy lives on in many ways including the Writing for Screen and Stage program at the alma mater he loved.

I am proud to help carry on that legacy in his name.

Scene Description Spotlight: “Star Trek” (2009)

December 7th, 2009 by

One key aspect about scene description is something I call narrative voice. It is the invisible character in your script — the mindset, personality, and ‘voice’ of the character who conveys the story, primarily through scene description, but also in transitions choices, pace, scene cross-cuts, etc.

Narrative voice is heavily influenced by the story’s genre – that is if you’re writing a comedy, your NV should be funny; if you’re writing a horror flick, your NV should be scary; if you’re writing an action movie, your NV should kick ass. In other words:

Narrative Voice = Genre + Style

Let’s start off this week’s series of posts with a look at the writing style of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman as demonstrated in the screenplay for this summer’s hit movie Star Trek. This excerpt is part of a big action sequence, so we should be looking for a kick ass narrative voice:

EXT. PLASMA DRILL CYLINDER - CONTINUOUS

The platform BANKS -- Sulu FALLS BACK, OFF THE PLATFORM --
WITHOUT A CHUTE! Kirk, holding on, watching this wide-eyed --
and knowing what he must do, he RUNS AND JUMPS --

KIRK FALLS FAST, he's only gonna have one shot at this, presses
his arms to his sides and ROCKETS downward, building speed, four
hundred feet below is Sulu, FREEFALLING --

KIRK moves his feet and hands, angling toward him -- slashing
downward at 160 mph, closing like a missile -- the gap between
them narrows -- Sulu's 30 feet below him... 500 feet to the
planet surface. 40 ft -- 20 -- 10 -- WHAM! Kirk slams into
Sulu in a mid-air tackle -- they TUMBLE TOGETHER -- Kirk's made
the grab and locked his arms around Sulu in an iron grip,
screams in his face:

KIRK
I GOTCHA! NOW PULL MY CHUTE!

Sulu DOES -- it opens -- but HOLY FUCK, the double weight RIPS
IT -- IT SNAPS AWAY FROM THEM -- NOW THEY'RE BOTH FREE-FALLING
WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!

KIRK (CONT'D)
ENTERPRISE, WE'RE FALLING WITHOUT A
CHUTE!!! BEAM US UP!!! BEAM US UP!!!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY

The TRANSPORTER CHIEF works his controls, sweating -- trying to
LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET --

TRANSPORTER CHIEF
I'm trying! I can't lock on your signal!

INT. ENTERPRISE - BRIDGE - CONTINUOUS

SNAP AROUND as Chekov hears this -- watching his controls --
Uhura watching too --

TRANSPORTER CHIEF (V.O.)
-- you're moving too fast!

CHEKOV
-- no-- I can do that--I CAN DO THAT!!!

Chekov suddenly BOLTS -- Uhura watches him race off -- a CREW
MEMBER steps into frame:

CREW MEMBER
The black hole's expanding, we won't
reach minimum safe distance if we don't
leave immediately.

INT. ENTERPRISE - VARIOUS AREAS

Chekov SPRINTS through CORRIDORS -- ENGINE ROOM -- YELLING:

CHEKOV
MOVE! I CAN DO THAT! I CAN DO THAT!

And we take him to:

INT. ENTERPRISE -- TRANSPORTER BAY

-- where he races to the controls, out of breath, yelling:

CHEKOV
I CAN LOCK ON! GIMME MANUAL CONTROL!
QUICK!

-- and he begins working the controls --

EXT. SKIES ABOVE VULCAN PLANET SURFACE - DAY

Kirk and Sulu SPEED-DROPPING -- TERRIFIED --

KIRK
ENTERPRISE, WHERE ARE YOU?!?!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY

Chekov's manipulating a joystick-like TARGETING DISPLAY --
trying to match the CROSSHAIRS on the DROPPING FIGURES --

CHEKOV
-- holdonholdonholdonholdon!

EXT. SKIES ABOVE VULCAN PLANET SURFACE - CONTINUOUS

A massive SHEET OF LAVA, MILES HIGH, BURSTS INTO THE SKY -- Kirk
and Sulu enter frame, BULLET-WHOOSH right past us, DROPPING --

KIRK
(headset)
NOW NOW NOW!!! DO IT NOW!!!!!!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY (LOCATION CHANGE)

TIGHT ON CHEKOV as he struggles to lock onto them -- BEEP!

CHEKOV
Compensating gravitational pull and --
GOTCHA!

He HITS A BUTTON and --

EXT. VULCAN SURFACE - CONTINUOUS

5 FEET BEFORE THEY HIT THE GROUND, KIRK AND SULU DEMATERIALIZE!

INT. ENTERPRISE - TRANSPORTER BAY - CONTINUOUS

AND REMATERIALIZE, SLAMMING DOWN ON THE TRANSPORTER PADS, HARD
AND PAINFUL, BUT SAFE! Transporter engineers GAPE in utter
amazement and relief -- Chekov, sweating, laughs. Kirk and Sulu
get their bearings, peeling themselves up, at stunned whispers:

SULU
... thanks.

KIRK
... yeah, not a problem.

So first question: Did that scene description kick ass? Yes. One seamless flow of action, told in a hyperbolic voice befitting the action. Of special note:

* Lots of CAPITALIZATION to (A) highlight specifics bits of action (The platform BANKS… he RUNS AND JUMPS) and (B) underscore key narrative elements (trying to LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET).

* Lots of underlining and CAPITALIZATION to REALLY spotlight a key narrative element (NOW THEY’RE BOTH FREE-FALLING WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!).

* Bold for all the sluglines – to make as clear as possible the shifts in location.

I invite your comments on those style choices as collectively they represent a bending of the ‘rules’. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the actual words Orci & Kurtzman use to both paint a picture of what’s happening and convey the furious pace of the action. To spotlight that, here is a list of verbs they use in SD in this excerpt:

banks, falls back, holding on, runs, jumps, falls, presses, rockets, moves, angling, slashing, closing, narrows, slams, tumble, locked, screams, opens, rips, snaps, free-falling, works, sweating, trying, hears, watching, bolts, watches, steps, sprints, yelling, races, yelling, begins working, speed-dropping, manipulating, trying to match, bursts, enter, bullet-whoosh, dropping, struggles, hits, dematerialize, rematerialize, slamming, gape, laughs, peeling.

Just tracking the verbs gives a reader a sense of the scene’s action and pace. O&K even make up verbs to get the point across: speed-dropping, bullet-whoosh. As a screenwriter, you can do that. In fact, you can do anything to grab the reader’s attention and sell the moment.

One last obvious note: Apart from the 3rd paragraph, which is 7 lines long, all the other paragraphs of SD are no more than 3 lines in length, most of them 1 or 2. Again befitting this type of scene — quick cuts, quick action.

What do you think about this approach to scene description?

For more on narrative voice, you can go here to read an article I wrote for Screentalk magazine.

And come back tomorrow for a different take on scene description.