Earlier I wrote briefly about Finding the Events and Orchestrating the Scene. What follows will give you a more detailed idea of how it works.
Debby is an airline stewardess from a small town in Iowa. Last night she went out with a man she met on one of her flights. The evening started out all right, but then, as her date drank more and more, he started to become belligerent. Debby and the date ended up in a tavern on the outskirts of Chicago where Roger tends bar.
Debby’s date, fueled with alcohol, started putting some heavy moves on her. When Debby resisted, the date started to get verbally, then physically, abusive. Roger and the date struggled and Roger threw him out of the tavern. The date then drove off with Debby’s purse in his car.
Roger, realizing that Debby was stranded, offered her a place to stay. He lives two doors away. She accepted. He gave her the keys to his house. After closing the tavern he returned home. She spent the night in his bed. He slept on the sofa.
It is the next morning, Sunday. Roger is already awake, reading the paper. Debby woke up a few minutes ago and has been poking around his bedroom, seeing what books he reads, looking at photographs of his family. When the scene starts, she is standing in the door of the bedroom watching Roger reading in the living room. He looks up and sees her.
DEBBY – Can I come in?
ROGER – Sure.
DEBBY – Good morning, even though it isn’t morning.
ROGER – Good morning. Did you sleep well?
DEBBY – Yeah, okay. This is really nice of you. I mean, you don’t even hardly know me.
ROGER – That’s okay.
DEBBY – I thought maybe I could make some breakfast for us. What would you like?
ROGER – On Sundays, I usually go to the deli for lox and bagels.
DEBBY – Isn’t that Jewish food?
ROGER – Yes, smoked salmon. You eat it with cream cheese.
DEBBY – Oh. I hoped I could cook something for you.
ROGER – There are some eggs in the refrigerator. You can scramble some and make coffee.
DEBBY – I hope your girlfriend won’t be upset when she finds out I’m here. Just tell her I won’t be here long.
ROGER – But, I don’t have a girlfriend.
DEBBY – No?
ROGER – No.
DEBBY – Don’t you get lonely all by yourself?
ROGER – I keep busy.
DEBBY – What do you do?
ROGER – Read newspapers and watch television.
DEBBY – May I ask you a personal question?
ROGER – Go ahead.
DEBBY – Your parents? They been gone for a long time?
ROGER – My mother died about five years ago, and my father died a year before her.
DEBBY – Is that them in the picture on the dresser in the bedroom?
ROGER – Yes.
DEBBY – Your father was wearing one of those little black hats. Was he a rabbi?
ROGER – No, but he was an Orthodox Jew. He always kept his head covered.
DEBBY – The Orthodox are the really strict ones?
ROGER – Very strict.
DEBBY – Did you two get along?
ROGER – No. No, we fought a lot. When I started tending bar, he stopped talking to me.
DEBBY – And your mother? Was she strict too?
ROGER – She was worse than him. She used to tell me, Jews don’t work in barrooms selling drinks to goyim.
DEBBY – My father was the president of the chamber of commerce in my home town one year. I’m from a small town in Iowa. Ottumwa, ever hear of it?
ROGER – No.
DEBBY – It was in the news when I was a little girl. Khrushchev stayed overnight when he visited America. Remember when he came here? We also had a Miss America a few years ago.
ROGER – They grow corn in Iowa.
DEBBY – And hogs. But my father wasn’t a farmer. He owns a men’s clothing store in a big shopping center. I used to work for him before I went with the airlines.
ROGER – Small town girl makes good, huh?
DEBBY – My father still hasn’t forgiven me for leaving. He thinks all airline stewardesses are whores, and I have to admit, he isn’t far off.
ROGER – Stewardesses are okay.
DEBBY – Sometimes I get disgusted with myself. I wonder what I’m doing with my life.
ROGER – You can’t be a stewardess forever.
DEBBY – God, that’s depressing. Can…can we talk about something else?
ROGER – Did you have any plans for today? Would you like to go see a movie?
DEBBY – I’d love to.
ROGER – I got the paper right here. Let’s see what’s playing.
DEBBY – Thank you. Thank you very much.
The following are the notes from the actor who played Debby.
Looking at the script from the director’s POV I see this scene as a bonding scene where these two characters, both lost and lonely souls, come together. Her situation is more obvious than his, but he, too, is lonely, a lost soul looking for love. She is extremely embarrassed but at the same time also very attracted to Roger. He is the first guy who “helped” her, did anything for her in a long time, without wanting something physical in return.
Roger is also attracted to Debby—she’s beautiful, friendly—but they have several issues they have to overcome. That’s what the scene is about—the two of them overcoming those issues and bonding. She has an issue with men; he doesn’t have an issue with women, or maybe he does, he doesn’t have a girlfriend. She is very outgoing; he’s very shy. She has a tendency to blurt out things without thinking; she actually insults him several times during the scene. He is more reserved. The thing they share, aside from loneliness, is that they are both good-hearted people. When Roger gets emotional while talking about his parents, Debby, sensing how difficult this is for Roger, shares the feelings she has about her father. This lets Roger know he is not the only person who has deep and hurtful parental issues.
This sharing gives them a common ground, helps them create the bond that allows Roger to overcome his shyness and to look past what he knows about her and to ask her out. Debby, on the other hand, understands that Roger sees her as a person, that he likes her for who she is, that he is not judging her for her past, and he’s not trying to put a move on her. Because of this understanding she is deeply touched by his offer to go to the movies (a metaphor for a relationship, or the beginnings of one) and accepts it. The awkwardness they both felt at the top of the scene is gone by the end of the scene.
Events: from Debby’s POV
Moment Before – I am standing inside the bedroom, staring through the crack in the door, looking at this guy who rescued me from a bad, and potentially dangerous, situation. Emotion: Embarrassment.
I enter. We chat; make small talk, neither one of us directly making reference to what happened the night before. I am nervous, anxious. Emotion: Fear.
We continue to talk. He makes me feel at ease, accepts my offer to let me pay him back for his kindness by making him breakfast. I drop a couple of hints to see if there is a girlfriend in the picture. Emotion: Jealousy.
I find out there isn’t a girlfriend and take the conversation to another level to find out more about him. Emotion: Joy.
I discover that he had a difficult relationship with his parents. I see how much this hurts him and share my own painful experience with my father. Emotion: Sadness.
I start to beat myself up, reliving the trouble and hardship I’ve created for myself. Emotion: Anger.
Roger asks me out. I realize that he sees me for who I am, the good person, and is willing to overlook what happened last night. I accept his invitation. Emotion: Joy.
This chapter (Chapter 12), The Summary, provides two distinct advantages to assist you in bringing a scene to its fullest potential. The first section allows you to gain insight into your character by looking at the scene from a different point of view. The second section provides you with an outline of the events that take place in the scene and the emotional connection your character assigns to each of those events. Both are invaluable when it comes to orchestrating your work.
A maestro would never dream of conducting a symphony without carefully studying the score and having a detailed plan of how he wanted each note in each section of the music to sound. From the time he picks up the baton to the time he puts it down he knows exactly what effect he wants to achieve. Don’t hold yourself to a lesser standard.
The book, The Science & Art of Film Acting is available for purchase here on the Books Page, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or in the Drama Book Shop in New York City.