Screenwriting : Number of scenes. by Tim Goodwin

Tim Goodwin

Number of scenes.

How difficult is it to write a feature with one scene location? It will take place over a twenty-four hour period and have ext. and int. scenes. Would I be better off adding flashbacks or dream sequences? Off the top of my head the only one I can think of with minimal locations is The Shining.

Tim Goodwin

I'm sure there's plenty others. A quick thought off the top of my head at 2 am. Key word is "minimal."

Cherie Grant

Yup there have been others, but I can't name them right now. It is difficult as you have to rely on gripping dialogue. If you're not good at dialogue then this kind of project might not best suit you. Or you could write it anyway as a way to hone your craft. Number of scenes is irrelevant. We don't evan know how long you're aiming for so that would be impossible to answer anyway. There's no rule book that says you have to write X amount of scenes in a single location screenplay. Just write it.

Tim Goodwin

Not concerned with budget or length. It's done when it's done. Basically four people make the same choice in a public place with life changing consequences for each.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Lately I'm writing almost entirely single-location stuff. If the conflict is there, location is no barrier to quality. Great list from Lisa. DEFINITELY don't throw in "flashbacks or dream sequences" to open up the story. Tell the story the right way and don't shoehorn something in because you're worried about adding additional locations.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Number of scenes is irrelevant, it's how you construct the story. If you decide to utilize flash backs/flash forwards, be sure they move the story forward. Be wary, flashbacks can be considered "lazy" writing. :)

Kerry Douglas Dye

Yeah of course, Owen. The way he phrased the question it sounded to me like he was talking about adding those in to somehow compensate for having few locations. Whatever drives the story is good.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Oh, great film lists you guys! Tim, a simple search on Google should produce script pdfs for most of those films. Or, take a look on the web site:

Pierre Langenegger

It's not one scene if you have INT and EXT.

D Marcus

I can think of a few more than one: Locke Wait Until Dark Cube Rear Window Rope The Breakfast Club 12 Angry Men Tape Glengarry Glen Ross Death and the Maiden Dial M for Murder Living in Oblivion. The Offense Deathtrap Sleuth Lift to the Scaffold 10 (Iranian movie set in a car) The Petrified Forest Key Largo In a Lonely Place One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Fail-Safe Murder on the Orient Express A Man Escaped Repulsion Narrow Margin Une Aire de Famille Assault on Precinct 13 Funny Games Bug Inside Panic Room Invasion (humans trapped in hospital by alien forcefield: pretty neat movie) Paranormal Activity

William Martell

Check out BRAKE, which is DIE HARD in the trunk (boot) of a car! Non stop action, lots of twists... in the trunk of a car! My "Dog Juice Theory" is that the more you take away, the more you have to add. So if you take away all of the locations but one, you need to add a lot more excitement to make up for that.

Richard Toscan

Most of Cosmopolis (Canadian, David Cronenberg ) takes place in a limo, but since the limo moves, that keeps visual interest. Also most of John Sayles' breakout film, Return of the Secaucus 7.

Debbie Croysdale

Films have even been done where the protagonist is mainly in a coffin. The story will always out! Flashbacks are tricky, sometimes they provide juicy revelations, other times they just frustrate. I once switched over TV, every time I got absorbed in a story, a meaningless switch would take place.

Kenneth David Swenson

Also the film version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" which I believe was almost completely shot in and around an olive grove. Understandable that they couldn't go to all the locations for real because the actors would have had to have carried helmets and worn flak jackets under the costumes.

David Levy

I see no one mentioned "El Mariachi". Robert Rodriguez's first film of his "Mexican trilogy". A $7,000 budget shot within a one block radius of one building. Because of the angles and shots it looked like it was a larger production than it really was. Shot for the Mexican market, Columbia picked it up for full release. They put more into the 35 MM transfer, marketing, and promotion than was spent on making the film.

Mike Stivala

Seems like we're talking about 2 different things here. By one "location" do you mean one physical place that has several different "looks" to it that you could use to make it seem like several different locations? OR - are you talking about something like "Twelve Angry Men" in which the entire film literally takes place in one room? If you're talking about the former, that's a great no- budget technique to boost production value however moving a crew, even just upstairs, does take time. If you're talking about the latter - I'd say that your characters and story better be super compelling!

David Levy

Lisa, movie is "Nick of Time" with Christopher Walken as well!

Debbie Croysdale

Hi El Mariachi is a good example, but special permissions were used from Lord Mayor, for weapons scenes. Also Tim hasn't mentioned, general set up, does he want body doubles and special effects? Or is it a one location with no heavy action scenes.

William G Chandler Jr

You could write the one scene as long as your location, and characters have nice depth. Devil believe it, or not, was interesting, Panic Room is solid. Rear Window, of course. Phone Booth, Saw, Funny Games, and Reservoir Dogs are all movies that use the one location in interesting ways.

Jenny Masterton

I can see it happening with people coming in and out, atmospheric changes and that sort of thing. Well, it's basically been done with 12 Angry Men.

William Martell

I second ALICE CREED, another film with no shortage of twists and suspense, in a 3 room flat... with 3 characters.

Tim Goodwin

Great advice from all. Looks like I'll be taking in a few movies this weekend. As the story progresses, I'm sure I'll have more questions. Thanks again.

Alex Sarris

Saw !!!

C. D-Broughton

Saw has a ton of locations! I think maybe the O.P. was asking for examples like the low budget Breathing Room or Ryan Reynold's Buried (which I still haven't seen, by the way), or anything else that can be written surrounding but a single location (i.e. The Evil Dead or Solo). As to answer the question of how difficult it is to write one: not very... but to write a damn good one, a hell of a lot tougher than you'd believe! Still, a great idea, well-executed, is the basis for any screenplay, so good luck.

Dee Chu

1940's movie in a desert bar? Anyone remember the title? Desperate Hours? Or????

William Martell

SAHARA is the Bogart tank in the desert movie. DESPERATE HOURS is the Bogart escaped convicts in a suburban home movie. PETRIFIED FOREST is the Bogart escaped convict in a restaurant movie. KEY LARGO is the Bogart gangster in a resort movie. The limited location thing was a staple of golden age studio films. On TV they call them "bottle shows".

William Martell

Desert bar??? Might have been FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO... or maybe even CASABLANCA...

Debbie Croysdale

Don't forget Ice Cold in Alex. A couple of jeeps probably moving around the same bit of sand, but with different backdrops. AND THE FINAL SCENE WITH THE BAR WITH THE CARLSBERG BEER....YUMMY!

Chris Hind

H was shot entirely in a basement apartment.

Mike Tyrrell

I thinks single locations are terribly difficult to do for a feature film, it relies heavily on the actors abilities. You should look at your script, maybe you're writing a play. Is there a lot of dialogue? As for the Shining, it may have been a single location, but it was a BIG location, with a lot of rooms and exteriors and flashbacks. Buried with Ryan Reynolds is the most hard core single location ever, Fly, from Breaking Bad is a good bottle episode, The Sunset Limited with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson is one. Earlier I forgot to mention Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean. We shot a lot of our film in a single location, which had a lot of interesting rooms to choose from. You can check it out here if you're curious:

Kerry Douglas Dye

Doesn't any decent script rely heavily on the actors' abilities? Hardly seems like a downside!

Mike Tyrrell

To a degree, but making a really wordy single location film can make it much harder for the actors to shine. Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson are strong actors, but that film, with them in one room... it was tough to get through. And the one with Ryan Reynolds, I fast forwarded it until I just couldn't watch any more. That being said, the list above by D Marcus has several wonderful films listed. I noticed that Devil is missing from the list and Speed (which may not fully qualify) but which relies quite heavily on the bus location.

William Martell

Who said wordy? I think it requires the same amount as any other film from the actors, but a lot more from the writer. Though I'm a huge fan of Eddie Marsan, I don't think his acting made ALICE CREED work... I think it was all of the twists and turns in the script, all of the suspense scenes, all of the cool use of specific props, and the precision of the kidnap plan (I really loved how they frequently changed jump suits to avoid leaving behind hairs or fibers or any other evidence). To use another film which is semi contained: REAR WINDOW doesn't depend on Jimmy Stewart's acting, it uses the Kuleshov Effect and purposely has Stewart maintain a neutral expression, using the juxtaposition of images to create his emotional "performance". When the location doesn't change, the story must make up for that.

Mike Tyrrell

Well, not to get nit picky, but does ALICE CREED really qualify as a single location film? A lot of it takes place in a bedroom and a bathroom (already two locations as far as I'm concerned) Several of the films mentioned actually go to other locations for flash backs and in the case of Alice Creed, the third act is in a different location as well as I believe the opening act (if I'm remembering correctly, it was a while ago I saw that). As for REAR WINDOW - talk about a big, expensive single location, with an exterior (which really qualifies as another location) and this was my point in an earlier post, if you do yo go single location, make sure you find one that offers plenty of variety and visual real estate. Some single location films are really just filmed plays. For anyone thinking a single location, aka a room, and no scene changes (which is technically another location) watch The Sunset Limited with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson to see how two pro actors struggle to sustain the narrative. However, I loved Cube, Death and The Maiden (been a long time not sure it qualifies as a single location) and Devil was a lot more watchable than I would have thought. So when I say it can get wordy an rely heavily on the actors ability I'm talking about material where it is literally one location, for the whole story - that is really really tough - all's I'm sayin' ;-)

Larry Kostroff

In a perfect world, the location is a by-product of the narrative, not the reverse. The single location is completely ppropriate in My Dinner With Andre, or the Baghdad Cafe.

Steven Fussell

I was thinking of the movie Flight of the Phoenix recently. I think that would qualify as a single location.

Hans Nielsen

How about Sleuth?

Kerry Douglas Dye

If we do Sleuth, we should do Deathtrap.

David Levy

I loved Deathtrap!! Caine, Reeve, and Dyan Cannon!!

Peter Elliott

Watch "My Dinner With Andre," "Same Time Next Year," and many others, and try reading some stage plays, like Neil Simon's, if you want to limit scenes and work within a budget...

Marcio Ehrlich

Even in television. Remember Seinfeld's "The Chinese Restaurant"!

Derrek S. Luke

Tim, you might have to channel Shakespeare for this one.

Ronnie Mackintosh

Doesn't et any more minimal than Buried -

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In