Cinematic Storytelling (5)

First, the opening scene from Hampton Fancher’s Blade Runner. He never used “we see” or camera angles, but his writing clearly implies with a Secondary Heading “THE EYE” that the scene opens with an extreme CU of an eye, which is essential to the story.

His descriptions help visualize (without taking you out of the story by using technical jargon) that the camera would pan back to reveal that the eye is just an image on a screen.

As we pan and see more of the mechanism, we’d learn an important detail by seeing the VOIGHT-KAMPFF words.

The camera would keep panning back to reveal the desk and then pan around or perhaps cut to Leon.

We’d first see his nametag and the folded, pudgy hands in his lap before we move up to his face. I love the way he carefully leads your mind’s eye around the room through his simple descriptions.

he carefully leads your mind’s eye around the room
through his simple descriptions.

He goes from the extreme close-up of the eye to the mechanism on the table and over to Leon. Then there’s a cut to Holden, the man facing him, which reads like a medium shot. It’s not until after that cut that we’re even given a description of the room.

How many aspiring writers would start with just a general description of the room and try to use dialogue to get out the VOIGHT-KAMPFF information as well as the names of the two characters in the room? This is such a great, writing-the-shots example of cinematic storytelling. It’s the way Fancher is thinking like a filmmaker that’s impressive to me. The result in the finished film (if you can ever call Blade Runner a “finished film”) is slightly different.

How many aspiring writers would start with just
a general description of the room and try to use dialogue

The shots are all there, as described in the script, but Ridley Scott would open the film with a shot of the city and an approaching vehicle that’s flying toward the Tyrell building so that you could see Holden pacing in a window as he waits for Leon to show up.

Then he cuts to the interior of the room. Leon walks in, and for some reason, Ridley uses a VOICE OVER to introduce him. A computerized female voice says something like: “Next subject: Kowalski, Leon.” Ugh, makes me cringe every time. Ridley should’ve listened to his screenwriter. It was far better on the page.

Ridley should’ve listened to his screenwriter.
It was far better on the page.



It’s magnified and deeply revealed. Flecks of green and yellow in a field of milky blue. Icy filaments surround the undulating center.

The eye is brown in a tiny screen. On the metallic surface below, the words VOIGHT-KAMPFF are finely etched. There’s a touch-light panel across the top and on the side of the screen, a dial that registers fluctuations of the iris.

The instrument is no bigger than a music box and sits on a table between two men. The man talking is big, looks like an over-stuffed kid. “LEON” it says on his breast pocket. He’s dressed in a warehouseman’s uniform and his pudgy hands are folded expectantly in his lap. Despite the obvious heat, he looks very cool.

The man facing him is lean, hollow cheeked and dressed in gray. Detached and efficient, he looks like a cop or an accountant. His name is HOLDEN and he’s all business, except for the sweat on his face.

The room is large and humid. Rows of salvaged junk are stacked neatly against the walls. Two large fans whir above their heads.


Okay if I talk?

Second, here’s a scene written by Alex Proyas (with the help of David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs) from their Dark City screenplay, which became a four-star film, one of Ebert’s Great Movies.

In fact, he once went through the movie shot-by-shot with film students in Hawaii.

It took him four days. He wrote,

“Proyas likes deep-focus compositions. Many interior spaces are long and narrow. Exteriors look down one street to the vanishing point, and then the camera pans to look down another street, equally long. The lighting is low-key and moody.

The color scheme depends on blacks, browns, shadows and the pallor of the Strangers; warmer colors exist in human faces, in neon signs and on the billboard for Shell Beach. ‘I am simply grateful for this shot,’ I said in Hawaii more than once. ‘It is as well-done as it can possibly be.’

Many other great films give you the same feeling — that their makers were carried far beyond the actual requirements of their work into the passion of creating something wonderful.”

Alex Proyas is a writer-director so this scene has some camera angles in it, which we would not write. It’s just as easy to say “SLEEPING EYES – between waves of light…” than “ANGLE ON SLEEPING EYES.” They both mean the same thing. Also, you could just as easily say “WALKER” instead of “TIGHT ON WALKER.” Instead of “P.O.V.”, you could write “He looks” and write “AROUND THE ROOM” as a Secondary Heading to imply a pan.

You can easily visualize the editing in this scene, too –
where one shot ends and the next one begins.

In any case, I love the way he’s thinking visually here and begins this scene by moving the camera around the room, first with the glass syringe on the floor, over to the clothes on a chair, to the puddles of water, and up the tub to the sleeping eyes of Jonathan Walker. You can easily visualize the editing in this scene, too – where one shot ends and the next one begins.


SHADOWS DANCE – in and out of darkness. A hooded light-bulb swings IN SLOW MOTION from the ceiling, its dim light REVEALS:

A GLASS SYRINGE – broken on the floor.

Clothes on a chair...

Puddles of water on the floor...

ANGLE ON SLEEPING EYES – Between waves of light they snap open and dart about in confusion.

ON JONATHAN WALKER as he sits up. Water splashes. He’s in a tub of long-cold water. His neck aches like he’s been sleeping forever.

TIGHT ON WALKER – he’s in his early thirties, dark featured.

HIS P.O.V. – looking around the room. Everything’s strange, unfamiliar.

He stands, steps from the tub.

ANGLE – THE SWINGING LIGHT BULB. Walker’s hand ENTERS FRAME, stops the bulb mid swing.

ON HIS REFLECTION in a cracked wall mirror. He moves to the mirror and looks at himself. A line of blood runs across his face, from a point between his eyes. He wipes it away, and notices a tiny pin-prick wound on his forehead.

WALKER’S P.O.V. PUSHES TOWARDS a circular window. The glass is cracked, covered in grime. His hand wipes it, this only smears the dirt, but the window is unlatched and swings open with a creak.

It’s dark out there.

– Mystery Man

In his own words, Mystery Man was “famous yet anonymous, failed yet accomplished, brilliant yet semi-brilliant. A homebody jetsetting around the world. Brash and daring yet chilled with a twist.”

MM blogged for nearly 4 years and tweeted for only 4 months, then disappeared – mysteriously.

The Story Department continues to republish his best articles on Monday.

Here, you’ll also be informed about the release of his screenwriting book.

About the Author

Karel FG Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplayat age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international acquisition, development and production. He co-wrote Danger Close, the biggest budget Australian film of the decade, and has trained and consulted all over the world, including award-winners and Academy Award nominees. Karel ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks a handful of European languages, which he is still trying to find a use for in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia

Comments 2

  1. Very helpful tips, Mystery Man. I, for one, wouldn’t mind finding out more about your new screenwriting book.

  2. Very valid point about leading your mind’s eye around the room with simple descriptions. And yes, most writers would start with a general description and try to use dialogue. Talking with images is a rare skill.

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