A scene is a consecutive group of shots within a single location. You might have a "scene at the courthouse" or a "scene on the boat." A scene is usually more than simply a snapshot of a location, however; it's a subset of the overall action.
A scene is made up of a series of beats. In Born into Brothels, the scene "The children ride a bus to the beach" might be broken down like this:
• A few shots (interior, then exterior) show the children's excitement that a bus has arrived and is waiting;
• From inside the bus, we see a child ask if she can sit by a window, because she wants to take pictures. Everyone's on board; another quick shot, and then Briski makes sure the children all have their cameras;
• With a honk, we see the driver's point of view (POV) as the trip gets under way. From inside and outside the bus, we see a range of shots: children looking, taking pictures, their point of view as they look out; the bus moving forward;
• Inside the bus, the children eat and begin to sing (various shots);
• The music shifts as the bus gets into a more rural area (seen from various points of view);
• Inside the bus, several of the children have fallen asleep (various shots), intercut with more traveling shots, as the landscape becomes more rural;
• The bus has stopped; the children gather their things and look out at the ocean.
In other words, the scene started with the excited shout "Hurry up. The bus is here," and ended with "Look at the water!" Like shots, sequences, and acts, scenes like this contain a beginning, middle, and end, and often, they culminate in a reversal, called a turning point, that motivates a shift in action of the overall story. Here, the reversal ties in with some of the film's themes. Boarding a bus in a congested, dirty city, the children arrive at the bright, open seaside. This reversal motivates the next scene—enjoying and photographing the beach.
To be satisfying, a scene should feel complete, which means that those filming the scene need to remain aware that events being witnessed will need to be condensed in the editing room — and shot accordingly. "I've got to get cutaways, I've got to get an end point of the scene, and I've got to get into the scene in some way," says director Susan Froemke (Lalee's Kin). Filmmaker Steven Ascher (So Much So Fast) adds, "Filming real life is a constant struggle to distill reality into a meaningful subset of itself ... the telling moments, the telling gestures, the lines of dialogue that will suggest the rest of the scene without actually having to see the rest of the scene."
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