Understanding shots, scenes and sequence helps to distinctly visualise how a story builds to its ‘climax’. I’m going to use the screenplay for “Bourne Identity” as an example and break it down.
“Bourne Identity “
Novel by Robert Ludlum
Screenplay by Tony Gilroy
Shots – are a single run of film. It is the fundamental unit of filmmaking. In the Bourne Identity the opening shot is the blackness of the ocean. It’s a classic way to open, ominous blackness, darkness, and the night. It holds something sinister mysterious, dangerous, something always happens at night. In that one shot the mind of the audience is filled with the notion of ‘what will happen next,’ so the shot is very powerful in hooking the audience.
Scene – the essential unit of story telling. The opening shot is followed by the opening scene; ocean swell, flashing lights, fishing vessel, fishermen experiencing some difficulty with a gaff, a body is found. This is the fist introduction with the protagonist Jason Bourne. From here the scenes move to reveal something more about the protagonist and his predicament.
Scenes build to tell the audience the story and deliver information as well as give depth to the characters development. This is done through set-up scenes.
Set-up – scenes are exempt from dialogue and are commonly scenic. They act to bridge the scene with effortless action for example,
“EXT. MARTHA’S VINEYAD – DAY
…Gorgeous Summer Day. A SCOOTER
RENTAL SCHACK near the beach” (Gilroy 2000).
Sometimes these set-up scenes can have a voice over.
Dramatic Action Scenes – build momentum as they propel the story towards confrontation or crisis point.
“SIX POLICE CARS on their trail—more joining. Every street they look down has POLICE CARS racing parallel. Running out of options and in the background—-“(Gilroy 2000).
The Bourne Identity and the following Bourne films are all big action movies they rely on car chases and explosive action throughout the film.
Scene Structure – suits a sole purpose. When a scene precedes another with no hic-ups, then a set-up scene is not needed. This is often called “cut to the chase”.
Sequence – is the framework for the mini-stories throughout the story. There are usually eight sequences which makes up three act structure with 10-15 minutes running time for each sequence. The first two sequences make up the first act then the next four the second act and the last two the third and final act.
These broken down elements help us understand how a script and film are brought together.
Gilroy, T. (2000). “The Bourne Identity.” from http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/bourneidentity.html.