One of my biggest weaknesses in writing has been focusing in on how a scene actually functions. In so many ways a scene should be a microcosm of the three act structure, of an entire film. So for this analysis of Selma, I’ve tried to go through each scene, show it’s length, and detail the SETUP, REVERSAL and PAYOFF of each.
#1 - Stairwell - (2) SETUP: Kids in the stairwell of church REVERSAL: Room EXPLODES PAYOFF: Children are killed
#2 Grand Hotel - (2) SETUP: King corrects his dress - frustrated that he’s away from the cause REVERSAL: Coretta eases his concern - “not a crime to be away. PAYOFF: they dream about perfect ‘phone-less’ house together
#3 Oslo University - (1) SETUP: Intro to King’s award REVERSAL: (not sure if this is a reversal) King acknowledges the murder of the children in Church. PAYOFF: We shall overcome
#4 Small Courthouse Lobby - (2) SETUP: Annie Lee Cooper fills out voting enrolment form REVERSAL: Registrar tests her - looks like it’s going her way. “Name 67 judges”. She can’t. PAYOFF: Registrar DENIES enrolment.
#5 Washington DC - (1) SETUP: King and advisors trying to identify negotiation points - poverty program. REVERSAL: Attack the surveillance issue. PAYOFF: King wants to stay focused on vote. “Maybe won’t need to go full-scale”
#6 White House - (4.5) SETUP: Johnson wants the Civil rights issues solved - for King to do what he wants! REVERSAL: King arrives. Johnson flatters him - he’s very delicate in his language. Wants King not Malcolm X to run the show. REVERSAL: King brings up Voting Rights. REVERSAL: Johnson tries to make it a focus of poverty eradication REVERSAL: Cannot wait! Murder of thousands, inc. church. Whites are protected by whites. REVERSAL: Literacy question for blacks in Alabama - not in cursive writing. REVERSAL: Johnson understands, but it’s not a priority just yet... PAYOFF: Having left, King declares “Selma it is”
#7 U.S. Highway - (1) SETUP: King travelling with entourage - “Big Speech doc?” REVERSAL: Need to see what’s what. PAYOFF: They enter Selma.
#8 Edmund Pettus Bridge - (0.25) SETUP: The Edmund Pettus Bridge REVERSAL: Why’d they give Pettus a bridge? PAYOFF: “Decent looking place to die”
I've been doing quite a lot of writing lately, and have begun reverse engineering a couple of screenplays, breaking them down in various ways to better appreciate the underlying structure. So I thought I might as well share them here for the benefit of others.
1-4: We open on BERTIE failing. We’re in his POV very heavily. establishing the stakes. Juxtaposition between Bertie and BBC Presenter. Intro ELIZABETH as supportive wife.
4-6: Seeking help from traditional THERAPIST. Bertie is desperate for help, but the techniques do not work.
7-10: Elizabeth finds LIONEL. He’s a very unusual character. Very unexpected. He opens the scene on the loo. But then also quoting Shakespeare. The focus of this scene is also the revelation just as to who Mr Johnson is. They’re playing around the subject and that gives them an air of playfulness.
10-13: establish LOGUE FAMILY. MYRTLE intro. We see Lionel battling with keeping his client a secret. We show very quickly their sons, and their intelligent notions, but also there’s a loving arrangement with them.
13-15: showing Bertie with his DAUGHTERS. It’s a story telling and shows largely that his hesitation is absent with his family. Also that they are accommodating of his stutter.
15: Talking about party w David and Wallace. “Can’t be serious”.
16: Lionel is rejected in his audition. This sets up his own aspirations for greatness. Gives a Shakespearean undertone/motif again to the story. He cannot act. He is a man of honesty. Unfulfilled desire. Reference to “someone younger, more regal” is a stab at his nature. The things that he cannot change. Shows that Lionel is a failure at things also - gives him empathy for the audience.
17: Bertie and Elizabeth arrive at Lionel’s office. They playfully banter. Again showing their loving relationship. There’s a hesitation towards this therapy. The unorthodoxy of it.
18: WILLY tells them they can go in. Demonstrates Lionel’s former successes.
19-25: Bertie and Lionel feel each other out. “One can wait rather a long wait”. DOCTOR vs LIONEL setup of later reveal. THIS IS A POWER STRUGGLE. Lionel has to win over BERTIE’S trust. To make him feel safe. Comfortable. But he wins by staying calm. SILVERTONE recording.