Last week, I began a list of things to look for in a scene, including conflict, escalation, power shifts, imagery, and meaning. Ultimately, I’ll build this into a list of questions that can help you make sure that being squeamish, walking away too soon, or not making a big enough effort is not shortchanging your story.
This time, let’s look at a scene from a comedy, Some Like It Hot. The purpose of this scene appears to be to show Jerry (Daphne) the price of his pretending to be a woman. More immediately, his intent to get alone time with Sugar is frustrated. The natural stopping point would be his attempt being aborted by Joe (Josephine). After all, Jerry has been warned, and their lives are in danger. But here’s what happens. (Again, you can see the scene yourself via 36 Of The Greatest Movie Scenes Ever Made.)
Beat 1 Banter with a caution. We can’t be discovered.
Beat 2 This may be a surprise party. (Secret)
Beat 3 Double entendre stated related to the secret.
Beat 4 Telling intruder it’s private.
Beat 5 Cocktails. And it’s a party now.
Beat 6 Many people. Food. Crowding. “Daphne” fights against the tide.
Beat 7 “Josephine” is asked for cherries.
All this happens in about two and a half minutes. We are SHOWN Jerry is reckless, persistent, and horny.
This great scene:
- Begins with a deception.
- Hints at a secret (which is also a promise).
- Private becomes public, with the intrusion.
- Jerry and Sugar work at cross purposes.
- The humor leans heavily on irony,
- since the audience (but not Sugar) gets “Daphne’s” joke
- and understands the sexual frustration.
- And the audience also sees the growing danger, something Jerry’s distracted from and Joe is sleeping through.
- There is escalation. The growing number of partygoers continues to be obliviousness and their increased participation in the party (more complicated drinks, food, enthusiasm) makes it tough to back out. The widely shared event raises the risk and stakes.
- Imagery is pajama party sexual, something Jerry can’t indulge in.
- The power shifts from Jerry’s sexual designs and a powerful secret to Sugar’s desire for alcohol and fun.
- Still, as Jerry’s frustration grows, he acts obsessively. He doesn’t give up. Even as things get crazier and crazier.
- Ultimately, authority is brought in with Joe’s awareness of the situation.
This adds a promise, escalation, and irony to the list of elements of a great scene, but there’s more to come. Next week, a look at a horror scene.