Dining at the Speed of LightWritten by: Christina Hamlett
Published: Jan 13, 2011
What is wrong with the following scene?
MEGAN and DANIEL are shown to their table by a WAITER.
What would you like for dinner?
I’ll have the salmon filet with wild rice
and the carrot medley.
Make mine a steak — well done — with a
baked potato and some spinach.
The waiter exits.
So how was your day? Is your boss still a jerk?
Absolutely! It’s practically his middle name.
The waiter returns with their orders.
Enjoy your entrees.
Did you figure it out? If one page of a script equals one minute of screen time, this has to be one of the fastest restaurants in town: in the space of only two lines, the order has been placed, cooked and brought to the table! Interestingly, this is one of the two most common mistakes new screenwriters make in food scenes. (The other one is indicating every time a character picks up a fork, sips a drink, chews and/or swallows.)
To resolve this, you can use intercuts with other scenes (the meal will have “progressed” with each return to the table), start the scene with the meal already half-consumed/ nearly over, or employ a dissolve (e.g., melting candles) to show that time has passed. As for excessive stage direction, I’ve yet to meet an actor who didn’t know how to wield utensils and attack a free meal! Simply indicate: They eat their food.
An excellent restaurant scene for study can be found in Moonstruck, a romantic comedy that can be downloaded for free here. In the first-act scene at the Grand Ticino Italian restaurant, pay particular attention to the dynamics of Loretta and her reluctant beau, Johnny, university professor Perry and his young date, and Bobo and his fellow waiters. Another scene worth a look can be found later in the story when Rose Castorini, Loretta’s mother, encounters the same professor at the same restaurant. The interactions and timing here are beautiful and crafted in such a way that none of the service feels rushed or artificial. After reading the scenes, rent the film to see how they were conveyed in “real” time.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR:
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award-winning author, script consultant and ghostwriter whose credits to date include 26 books, 135 plays, 5 optioned features, and hundreds of articles and interviews that appear in trade publications throughout the world.