Play the Scene

I'm currently helping to develop an independent feature: the narrative, characters, themes, and dialogue; the whole shebang. I collaborate with a few people, moving fluidly between sticky notes, conversations, script pages, and sketches. Notably, we improv.

"Our main character walks into a room and... Go!"

I often suggest improv when our conversations go adrift, because this way, we're always bringing our ideas back to the scene. The suggestion is, let's not just describe the thing in generalities, let's workshop it. We'll start from the top and try to pitch the scene as if it was complete, with all details resolved. We'll pretend the thing into being.

It's a useful exercise in that it forces us to reify what we know at the same time that we explore new concepts; we're testing the firmament. Inevitably, shapes emerge, plans change, themes reveal themselves, and we inch closer to a satisfying and complete piece of drama.

To play a scene well, here are a few basic guidelines:

 

1. Know the scene's original intentions.
2. Pitch with confidence and cinematic detail.
3. Commit to ideas and adjust on the fly—don't get stuck.
4. Help each other out, jump in and build on ideas.
5. First applaud each other, then critique.

 

When you play the scene, you give your team something to work with, something to react to. In a good collaboration, an idea is lobbed, volley is returned, and it's game on. First ideas might not stick, but through careful dialogue you'll arrive at insights into the tones, rhythms, relationships, compositions, and questions that animate your story.

This kind of play is what I'd like to do with this journal. I want to imagine some content, get it down as clearly as I can, and offer it for scrutiny and good use, in the hope that some insights emerge from the improvisation. Perhaps it'll cohere in the end. For now, there's no grand design beyond that something should happen next.

My first attempt at writing was a blog that kicked around for a decade, but its later years were dry. The reality is, life happened and priorities shifted, leading to a me with new concerns, a wider view, more experience with people, and what I hope is a matured creative practice. I would like to tell you about that practice here. So, let me just begin: I'll start at the top, start writing, and let's see where we end up.