What’s the main intent of the scene?

– Posted in: Directing Films and Videos Directing the Camera

What’s the main intent of the scene?

Screen time is precious, so the scene must move the story forward and contain important character and plot information. That being said  in well written scripts the intent of the scene isn’t always obvious and always takes work to pull it from body language, whats not said, the scenes intent can and often does live in the subtext. This is the information you need to uncover with a directors script analysis. A focused process of exploring will lead to a better understand of what’s really going on, understanding this is the only way a director can make directorial decisions that will engage the viewer and breath life into the scene. It’s complex but it’s the kind of complexity that makes life and people interesting.

Ask yourself:

        • Does the audience learn something in this scene that answers a a question planted in an earlier scene?



      • Is this foreshadowing something that only becomes significant later?



      • What do we learn in this scene that essential to moving the story forward?


      We don’t have the time a novel has to build  things at a relaxed pace, if the scene is in the movie it’s essential that the director understands how it moves the story forward. If it doesn’t move the story forward then it either needs to be cut or you need to figure out how you can direct it so it is essential.

To understand the intent of the scene you need consider:

  • How dramatic situations and story information from previous scenes will interact with the activities, text (spoken word) and the subtext of the scene you’re working on now.
  • How will the scene you’re shooting now set the stage and interact with later scenes.
  • Each of the characters needs, wants and fears. This information can be obtained  from past scenes or by doing a character history.
  • The culture in which the scene is set.

Imagine this scene.

A teenage couple are in the bedroom, they’ve been kissing and are heated up. They want to have sex. The young man goes to his dresser for a condom, but quickly realizes he doesn’t have one. Undeterred and thinking with his penis he continues his pursuit.

The young woman makes it clear – no condom, no sex. He tries every trick including guilt, charm and shame, but instead of being rewarded with her womanly warmth he’s slapped with a cold dose of “don’t be stupid.” Once her point is made, the young woman reveals a condom.

The young man is snapped out of the pursuit mode but can’t decide if he’s happy to have a condom or mad that she has one in her purse. He and his friends have always considered a girl carrying a condom to be a whore.

What has the audience has learned from prior scenes? 

During prior scenes the audience learns that this young woman lives in a culture of crime and government subsidy. She is surrounded by and is a result of  teenage pregnancy. The audience learns that young women who fall inline with their culture’s “street rules” learn that  young men are in power and the young women’s role is to please her man. Prior scenes have revealed real consequences for not fitting in. She lives in a society where her friends and her boyfriend consider women who carry condoms to be whores.

What will the audience will learn from upcoming scenes. 

The scenes immediately following will focus on creating empathy for a young woman struggling to be accepted by her family and friends while simultaneously working to develop her independence. Ultimately this main character will achieve great success despite her environment and because of her independence.

What’s the main intent of this scene?

The main intent of this scene is to set this young woman up as someone who values independence,  no matter the cost.

Your directing job is to engage the audience with the question: Will her independence bring her future happiness or sorrow?

You want the audience to feel with her and for her, but what specifically do you want them to feel?

  • Is it important for her and the audience to feel desire?
  • Is it important for her and the audience to feel fear that he will reject her?
  • Do you want the audience to know she has the condom before he knows she has it?
  • Do you want the audience to be as surprised as him when she pulls out the condom?
  • How does the knowledge the audience has from prior scenes influence how you will shoot and edit this scene?

Remember, the main intent of this scene is to set this young woman up as someone who values independence, no matter the cost.

This is primarily the girl’s scene, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to connect with the guy’s feelings. It’s actually very important for the audience to connect to his desire, the love in their relationship and the leverage he’s applying to her willpower. We want her decision to be difficult and we want the audience vicariously feel this weight and ultimately become invested in her and her quest for independence.

This scene can be shot many ways, but without doing some sort of  directors script analysis you won’t know how to cover the scene, so it enhances the scenes intent.  Focus on the wrong person, fail to capture the essence and the scenes intent will be be lost.  Loose the scenes intent and you loose the audience.

Got A Film Idea?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think. What moments seem most important to you and how would you cover them?