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Hollywoods Best Kept Secret: The Expanded Scene Breakdown

Christopher Keane
What is Hollywoods Best Kept Screenwriting Secret? Answer: The Expanded
Scene Breakdown What is the Expanded Scene Breakdown? !ts the "iddle step
#etween the story de$elop"ent stage and the script itsel%
Another step in the screenwriting process& yo' ask?
The Expanded Scene Breakdown is a () to *) page point #y point& step #y step&
scene #y scene o'tline o% the entire screenplay in prose %or" 'sing dialog'e&
character de$elop"ent& action& etc !ts an essential way to see the entire "o$ie
#e%ore yo' reach the screenplay stage
!ts also is the "ost di%%ic'lt part o% the process& the "ost necessary& "ost
thoro'gh& the "ost sto"ach t'rning& and the "ost satis%ying +nce yo' get the
Expanded Scene Breakdown down on paper& writing the script itsel% is a cinch ,ros
spend %o'r to six "onths on the Expanded Scene Breakdown and two weeks on the
This is why pro screenwriters 'se it Why then is it screenwritings #est-kept
secret? A n'"#er o% screenwriting teachers are not working screenwriters and either
dont know a#o't it or %eel they dont know eno'gh a#o't it to teach it
!ts the critical step that is al"ost always ignored Witho't writing The Expanded
Scene Breakdown& chances %or s'ccess are se$erely li"ited
Too "any #eginning screenwriters want to .write/ the script right away& get to the
0'ice !"patience kills
Here is Screenplay Writings 1-step process:
Step One - The Idea
Step Two - The Mini-treatment
Step Three - The Scene Breakdown
Step o!r - The Expanded Scene Breakdown
Step i"e - The Script
2ollow this process and yo'r script will #e exponentially #etter than i% yo' went
straight to the script
How do yo! reach the expanded scene #reakdown$
3 Write the story idea in a page or two
( Str'ct're the "ini-treat"ent in %o'r pages& in three acts& 'sing prose 2oc's on
the #ig e$ents& as i% yo're speaking to a %i$e-year with a short attention span
4 Break the entire story down into one-line scene headings& showing where it
happens and the "ain action o% the scene with the reason %or the scenes #eing
always %eeding the context o% the story 2or each scene ask two 5'estions:
Whos in the scene and whats the central action?
Example: %oan tells &e"i that her h!s#and knows a#o!t their a''air(
Thats it +ne line per scene 6se the sa"e %o'r-page #reakdown yo' 'sed %or
the "ini-treat"ent: Act ! on ,age 37 Act !! on ,ages ( and 47 Act !!! on page *
By doing this step yo'll see a lot o% logic holes that need to #e %illed& scenes
yo' need& scenes yo' dont need 8o're starting to "o$e in on the story& %ro" a
"ost exacting point o% $iew
* +nce yo' get this down& yo' #egin the Expanded Scene Breakdown Start with
the Scene Breakdown %ro" the #eginning o% Act ! Begin with the %irst scene
heading and expand it& in prose& #'ilding in details& character& dialog'e&
at"osphere& and location& whate$er yo' %eel the scene needs 9oad it 'p When
yo' get to the act'al writing o% the scene in the script yo'll ha$e a lot to choose
Taking one scene a%ter another& work yo'r way thro'gh the entire script This step
is i"portant %or another reason !% yo' 0'"p too 5'ickly into the act'al writing o% the
screenplay& the work on the page #eco"es "ore per"anent The writer is less
inclined to change so"ething already written in screenplay stone With the Expanded
Scene Breakdown& yo're one step away %ro" the screenplay
)hat does a scene in the Expanded Scene Breakdown look like$
9ets go #ack to that scene in which :oan tells ;e$i that her h's#and knows a#o't
their a%%air !t co'ld #e a ro"antic co"edy& a thriller& or a s'pernat'ral thriller
Heres how it "ight look on the page 9ets say its at the end o% Act !& we pick it 'p
in "id-scene
!<T S+6TH BEACH 9+2T = >A8: :oan& s"oking& ner$o's& #are%oot& pacing& in a
sexy #eige dress 9ate a%ternoon light slants thro'gh the skylights The #ed is
'n"ade& ;e$is art pieces = so"e on easels& others stacked ;e$is in 0eans& no
shirt& on a #ar stool& watching her They$e 0'st "ade lo$e ;: 8eah? :: 8eah&
what? ;: 8o'$e wanted to tell "e so"ething %ro" the "o"ent yo' walked in
here :: 8o' know so "'ch ;: How a#o't co"ing o$er here and gi$ing "e a kiss?
:: 9ook = ;: ! knew thatd do it ;e$i gets o%% the stool and walks to her& taking her
into his ar"s +%% her resistance: ;: 8o' want to go #ack %or another ro'nd ! dont
i% ! can do "'ch right now #'t = : ?"o$ing away %ro" hi"@: Ted knows a#o't 's
This stops hi" :: ! dont how he knows #'t he does ;: Whatd yo' do& #l'rt it
o't? :: +% co'rse not ;: 8o' like to h'rt hi" Thatd work She crosses to where
shes le%t her shoes and #ag ;: Where are yo' going? : ?slipping into her shoes&
extracting her keys@ ! can %eel a %ight co"ing on ;: <o& please& ! pro"ise !" = !
dont know what ! a"& #'t dont lea$e ,lease? They stare at one another
8o' get the idea E$erything will ste" %ro" what happens next Whats she going
to do& lea$e or stay? And how a#o't ;e$i? What a#o't Ted? By this ti"e yo'll know
pretty "'ch what happens How they do it is the key This is one "a0or reason the
Expanded Scene Breakdown is so $al'a#le 8o' can write it all down& all the
$ariations& play the" all o't i% yo' wish& #e%ore choosing what works #est
!$e seen Expanded Scene Breakdowns r'n 31) pages and "ore So"e r'n thirty
!t depends on yo'r own needs and that o% the story
The Expanded Scene Breakdown is screenwritings #est-kept secret !ts the step
that can t'rn "ediocrity into gold