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PARALLEL ACTION SCENES

Parallel action scenes are characterized by the intercutting of two or more related actions
to generate tension in the audience. Often, they involve a chase or rescue, where
characters are moving away from or towards each other, respectively. Sometimes, the
parallel actions are related by an idea. There are several conventions used for cutting back
and forth:
Exits and Entrances
Exits and entrances (discussed in the previous lesson) are often used to create the forward
momentum in parallel action scenes featuring chases and rescues. The shots below are
from a classically constructed chase scene in Serpico. During the scene, two characters
ran in and out of shots, propelling the scene forward and creating excitement in the
audience as to the outcome:

The use of identifiable landmarks is helpful in chases and rescues, because they keep the
geography clear to the audience and indicates the distance between characters. In the
above example, one character runs up a staircase and a bit later the next character does
the same thing.
Proper screen direction must be maintained, especially when many characters are
involved. In chase scenes, characters must run away from each other from shot to shot,
and in rescue scenes, characters must run toward each. Screen direction can be changed
using the techniques discussed in the continuity lesson.
Relational Elements
Parallel action scenes can be cut based on a relational element in the shots, such as
composition, dialogue or idea. The climactic scene in The Godfather involves intercutting
a Baptism and several revenge slayings. The parallel actions underscore the
contradictions in Michael's life:
The director often anticipates these cuts in shooting, however, the editor must look for
opportunities, too. Elements that relate two shots together are often found unexpectantly.
Time Frames
In the above examples, the parallel actions occur concurrently, but this is not necessary.
The actions can be from different time periods and still have a powerful impact. For
example, during the shaving scene in The Color Purple, past and present actions are
intercut.
Dialogue Scenes
Parallel design is not limited to high action scenes. It will work equally well with
dialogue scenes. Excitement is generated by inferences made by the audience as the
dialogue reciprocates back and forth, from one party to the other.
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