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Scene Outline

Scene Outline for Film

As we learned in the Story Outline Phase, Open Screenplay feature films are divided into 12 sections to help us manage the story structure.  The Scene Outline for features follow suit, so now we will create multiple scenes that play out the story in each section.  Since many Film projects only have a single plot (or storyline), we only need to focus on that main idea when creating Scene Outlines for Film.

The general format is as follows:

Section 1:

Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

…and so on

Section 2:

Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

…and so on

Section 3:

Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

…and so on

Followed by other sections up through Section 12.

There are no rules regarding maximum number of scenes that can be in a Section.  That number can depend on factors such as genre, pacing, and overall storytelling approach.  But remember that most scenes in screenplays run 1-2 pages (minutes), so it comes down to how many scenes will be possible to include within 1/12th of your story’s length.  The minimum number of scenes in a section is 1, otherwise there is no material in the section. 

Here is an example of how the Scene Outline would look for some of the scenes in the first 2 Sections of the feature Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.    Note that the Story Outline sections descriptions are included for reference. 

Story Outline - Section 1:

During a space battle, Darth Vader takes Princess Leia hostage in an attempt to recover the stolen Death Star plans, but she’s given them to Artoo, who, along with Threepio escape to the planet Tatooine with them. Threepio and Artoo disagree over which direction to go and separate, but both are captured by the mercantile Jawas. Luke and his Uncle Owen purchase the droids from the Jawas.

Scene Outline - Section 1:

Scene 1

EXT. SPACE - NIGHTAn Imperial Stardestroyer chases down a Rebel Blockade Runner.

Scene 2

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER - MAIN PASSAGEWAY - NIGHTThreepio and Artoo move through the Rebel ship as it takes damage. Threepio says that they are doomed and there will be no escape for Princess Leia.

Scene 3

EXT. SPACECRAFT IN SPACE - NIGHTThe Rebel craft is overtaken and is drawn into the Imperial ship.

Scene 4

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER - MAIN HALLWAY - NIGHTDarth Vader boards the Rebel ship.

Scene 5

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER - NIGHTThreepio searches for Artoo, then sees him and Princess Leia down a hallway. Princess Leia loads something into Artoo and disappears. Threepio asks what they are going to do. Artoo races off down a hallway and Threepio follows him.

Scene 6

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER – CORRIDOR - NIGHTVader questions a Rebel Officer and asks him where the Death Star plans are, but the officer denies any knowledge of them. Vader kills the man and orders the stormtroopers to search the ship.

Scene 7

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER – SUBHALLWAY - NIGHTLeia hides as the stormtroopers search for her. They find her and she fights them, but they knock her out with the “stun” setting of their guns.

Scene 1

EXT. SPACE - NIGHTAn Imperial Stardestroyer chases down a Rebel Blockade Runner.

Scene 2

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER - MAIN PASSAGEWAY - NIGHTThreepio and Artoo move through the Rebel ship as it takes damage. Threepio says that they are doomed and there will be no escape for Princess Leia.

Scene 3

EXT. SPACECRAFT IN SPACE - NIGHTThe Rebel craft is overtaken and is drawn into the Imperial ship.

Scene 4

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER - MAIN HALLWAY - NIGHTDarth Vader boards the Rebel ship.

Scene 5

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER - NIGHTThreepio searches for Artoo, then sees him and Princess Leia down a hallway. Princess Leia loads something into Artoo and disappears. Threepio asks what they are going to do. Artoo races off down a hallway and Threepio follows him.

Scene 6

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER – CORRIDOR - NIGHTVader questions a Rebel Officer and asks him where the Death Star plans are, but the officer denies any knowledge of them. Vader kills the man and orders the stormtroopers to search the ship.

Scene 7

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER – SUBHALLWAY - NIGHTLeia hides as the stormtroopers search for her. They find her and she fights them, but they knock her out with the “stun” setting of their guns.

[Followed by remaining scenes in Section 1]

Story Outline - Section 2:

While cleaning Artoo, Luke discovers part of a secret message from Leia to an Obi-Wan Kenobi, begging for help. At dinner, Uncle Owen dismisses Luke’s idea of applying to the academy this year.  Artoo runs away and when Luke and Threepio go looking for him, they get attacked by a violent desert tribe.  They are saved by Ben Kenobi, and Luke learns that Ben and Obi-Wan are the same person.  

Scene Outilne - Section 2:

Scene 1

INT. LARS HOMESTEAD - GARAGE AREA - LATE AFTERNOON As Luke cleans the droids, he complains about not being able to go to the academy. Luke is surprised to learn that Threepio has been in battles on the side of the Rebellion. While cleaning Artoo, he pries a jammed piece loose and it initiates a hologram message, projected from Artoo. It’s an image of Princess Leia and she’s begging someone named Obi Wan Kenobi for help. Luke asks who she is and what the message means, but when Threepio questions Artoo, Artoo indicates that his restraining bolt needs to be removed. Luke wonders if old Ben, a hermit who lives out in the desert, would know anything about this Obi-Wan. Luke removes Artoo’s restraining bolt, but the hologram disappears. Luke is called to dinner by Aunt Beru and leaves.

Scene 2

INT. LARS HOMESTEAD - DINING AREA Luke sits at dinner with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. He mentions the droids and Artoo’s message, but his uncle tells him to forget it and focus on his chores around the homestead. Luke says that he wants to move his application to the Academy up, but Uncle Owen turns him down, saying he needs him to stay through harvest season. Resigned to his fate, Luke leaves dinner to continue cleaning the droids. Once Luke is gone, Aunt Beru mentions that Luke has too much of his father in him to just be a farmer.

Scene 3

EXT. TATOOINE - LARS HOMESTEAD Luke watches the sunset then enters the garage.

Scene 1

INT. LARS HOMESTEAD - GARAGE AREA - LATE AFTERNOON As Luke cleans the droids, he complains about not being able to go to the academy. Luke is surprised to learn that Threepio has been in battles on the side of the Rebellion. While cleaning Artoo, he pries a jammed piece loose and it initiates a hologram message, projected from Artoo. It’s an image of Princess Leia and she’s begging someone named Obi Wan Kenobi for help. Luke asks who she is and what the message means, but when Threepio questions Artoo, Artoo indicates that his restraining bolt needs to be removed. Luke wonders if old Ben, a hermit who lives out in the desert, would know anything about this Obi-Wan. Luke removes Artoo’s restraining bolt, but the hologram disappears. Luke is called to dinner by Aunt Beru and leaves.

Scene 2

INT. LARS HOMESTEAD - DINING AREA Luke sits at dinner with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. He mentions the droids and Artoo’s message, but his uncle tells him to forget it and focus on his chores around the homestead. Luke says that he wants to move his application to the Academy up, but Uncle Owen turns him down, saying he needs him to stay through harvest season. Resigned to his fate, Luke leaves dinner to continue cleaning the droids. Once Luke is gone, Aunt Beru mentions that Luke has too much of his father in him to just be a farmer.

Scene 3

EXT. TATOOINE - LARS HOMESTEAD Luke watches the sunset then enters the garage.

[Followed by remaining scenes in Section 2]

[Followed by all other sections up through Section 12]

Scene Outline for Ensemble Films / Multiple Storylines

Love Actually, The Empire Strikes Back, Crash, Pulp Fiction, The Departed, The Hours, Crazy Stupid Love, Magnolia, Animal House, The Royal Tenenbaums.

Each of these great feature films is an Ensemble, meaning it has multiple Protagonists and multiple storylines.  Watching different characters go through specific events is an engaging storytelling approach and gives the audience a specific experience in the viewing.  But this approach can also be very complex and difficult to achieve.  So how do we put stories like this together? 

Figuring out everything that needs to happen in Ensemble Films can be tricky.  There can be many Protagonists each potentially on their own specific adventure, and working out all the scenes for each storyline can be daunting and feel like a huge jumble of information and ideas.  In Open Screenplay we’ve created some steps to help make the process of working this out more manageable.  The Scene Outline Phase plays a vital part.

First it’s important to remember that for Ensemble Film screenplays the storylines themselves are created and voted-on in the Storyline Phase.  That’s where the bigger decisions regarding what’s happening overall in the whole movie will take place.  And as we learned in the Storyline Tutorial, storylines for Film are divided into 4 segments – Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3 – which follows standard story structure.  And each of these segments need scenes to fill them out. 

So in the Scene Outline for Ensemble Films we will list specific scenes needed for each storyline, filling out each Act and segment with important events.  Basically, we need to know what happens!

Here is an example of how the Scene Outline would look for the first part of each storyline in the Ensemble Film The Princess Bride:

Storyline A – Westley and Buttercup’s Love Story

Act 1

Scene 1

EXT. BUTTERCUP’S FARM – DAY Buttercup rides her horse across her farm.

Scene 2

EXT. STABLE – DAY Buttercup commands Westley to polish her saddle, he complies.

Scene 3

EXT. BUTTERCUP’S FARM - DAY Buttercup commands Westley more, he obliges. Buttercup figures out that he’s in love with her.

Scene 4

INT. BUTTERCUP’S KITCHEN - DAY Buttercup commands Westley to retrieve a pitcher. They stand close. She understands she loves him too.

Scene 5

EXT. BUTTERCUP’S FARM – DUSK Buttercup and Westley kiss as the sun sets.

Scene 6

EXT. FARM GATE – DAY Buttercup and Westley bid farewell and Westley promises he’ll always come for her.

Scene 1

EXT. BUTTERCUP’S FARM – DAY Buttercup rides her horse across her farm.

Scene 2

EXT. STABLE – DAY Buttercup commands Westley to polish her saddle, he complies.

Scene 3

EXT. BUTTERCUP’S FARM - DAY Buttercup commands Westley more, he obliges. Buttercup figures out that he’s in love with her.

Scene 4

INT. BUTTERCUP’S KITCHEN - DAY Buttercup commands Westley to retrieve a pitcher. They stand close. She understands she loves him too.

Scene 5

EXT. BUTTERCUP’S FARM – DUSK Buttercup and Westley kiss as the sun sets.

Scene 6

EXT. FARM GATE – DAY Buttercup and Westley bid farewell and Westley promises he’ll always come for her.

[Followed by remaining scenes in Act 1]

[Followed by Acts 2A, 2B, and 3 and all of their respective scenes.]

Storyline B – Vizzini Captures Buttercup and Races to Deliver Her to Humperdink

Act 1

Scene 1

EXT. WOODLANDS – DAY Buttercup rides her horse through the woods and comes upon Vizzini, Inigo, and Fezzik, who capture her.

Scene 2

EXT. EDGE OF THE FLORIN CHANNEL – DUSK Vizzini plants evidence that someone from the country of Gilder captured Buttercup and explains when they find Buttercup dead, it will spark a war. Fezzik protests and Vizzini insults him as they prepare to sail away. Inigo comforts Fezzik with a rhyme game.

Scene 1

EXT. WOODLANDS – DAY Buttercup rides her horse through the woods and comes upon Vizzini, Inigo, and Fezzik, who capture her.

Scene 2

EXT. EDGE OF THE FLORIN CHANNEL – DUSK Vizzini plants evidence that someone from the country of Gilder captured Buttercup and explains when they find Buttercup dead, it will spark a war. Fezzik protests and Vizzini insults him as they prepare to sail away. Inigo comforts Fezzik with a rhyme game.

[Followed by remaining scenes in Act 1]

[Followed by Acts 2A, 2B, and 3 and all of their respective scenes.]

[C and D story lines would go here – we are truncating this example for efficiency]

Storyline E – The Kid is Read the Story “The Princess Bride” by His Grandfather

Act 1

Scene 1

INT. THE KID’S ROOM – DAY The Kid is sick and Grandfather surprises him with a present – a book to read to him. The Kid reluctantly agrees to listen.

Scene 2

INT. THE KID’S ROOM – DAY The Kid pauses the story, asks Grandfather if it’s a “kissing book.” Grandfather resumes the story.

Scene 1

INT. THE KID’S ROOM – DAY The Kid is sick and Grandfather surprises him with a present – a book to read to him. The Kid reluctantly agrees to listen.

Scene 2

INT. THE KID’S ROOM – DAY The Kid pauses the story, asks Grandfather if it’s a “kissing book.” Grandfather resumes the story.

[Followed by remaining scenes in Act 1]

[Followed by Acts 2A, 2B, and 3 and all of their respective scenes.]

It’s very important to note that in the Scene Outlines for Ensemble Film (and also in this example), the scenes are in chronological order for each storyline but are not yet listed in order of when they appear in the script..  The first scene of the movie The Princess Bride is actually Storyline E, Act 1, Scene 1 – INT. THE KID’S ROOM.  Crazy, right?  But this kind of structuring is actually common in Ensemble screenwriting. 

In Open Screenplay you will have the opportunity to reorder the scenes in the Form Phase, which comes after the Scene Outline Phase.  For now, we’re trying to focus on telling each story from beginning to end.