On Craft: Fashionably Late in "Brooklyn"

The beautifully old-fashioned and cleverly modern tale that is "Brooklyn" has examples of a lesson I'm always hammering on in my script feedback notes for writers: get in late and get out early. In and out of what? Scenes. It means you start the scene "late," or after it would start if it was real life playing out in real time, and get out "early," or before the scene would end in real life. It cuts out the boring greetings and salutations that would occur. That's the pointless, boring, idle chit-chat. And that pointless chit-chat can be deadly in a script. Better to skip it and be fashionably late to the scene.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

In "Brooklyn," adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, who knows his way around a story, there's a scene in which Saoirse Ronan's character is meeting her new boyfriend's family. She's lovely and charming and will make a good first impression. And the boyfriend's family members are minor supporting characters that don't affect the story much. So, instead of "hi, how are you, nice to meet you" and all that, the sequence goes from a scene in which Saoirse's character and the boyfriend are standing outside his door to them at the dinner table,  mid-meal and conversation. Because it's after everyone is nice and relaxed and the conversation is flowing freely that something interesting happens. The boyfriend let's something slip that affects the story.

No pointless chit-chat. They got in late, and got out early, skipping the "thanks for dinner" and "lovely to meet you" salutations that would happen if the scenes were playing out in real time, but that would have no bearing on the story, and instead resuming the sequence with a scene outside, after dinner and another conversation that affects the story. That's just one example of getting in late and getting out early in this fine film. There are countless others. For writers this is a reminder to take a close look at your script's scenes. Are you getting in late and getting out early?