John August and Craig Mazin took on the topic of scene transitions recently in Scriptnotes Ep. 61. They were inspired upon noticing a Terry Rossio-led discussion in the Austin Film Festival (AFF) listings. (To learn about Terry Rossio’s other AFF session, see my previous post.) While Terry Rossio calls the scene transition “the throw,” John imagines transitions as the falling of one scene into the next. Transitions should allow for a seamless flow, rather than a series of choppy scenes. Even when connecting scenes that have nothing to do with each other.
This topic got me thinking. I selected a mindless afternoon viewing of The Wedding Planner on Netflix yesterday. The Wedding Planner, written by Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis, is a 2001 romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. Since I’ve seen that movie at least a couple of times before, I decided to consider the scene transitions while watching it this time.
My critical viewing revealed some clever transitions. If you’ve seen the movie before, you will definitely remember the first cutesy transition, because it was a technically well-constructed match cut at the start of the film. In a flashback, a young girl version of protagonist Mary (Jennifer Lopez’ character) plays with a Barbie doll bride. Her last words to Barbie are, “You are the luckiest girl in the world.” The final shot of the flashback scene is a close-up of Barbie in her veil and shiny hand band. The cut to the present shows us a real-life bride with an identical veil and head band. Jennifer Lopez repeats the line, “You are the luckiest girl in the world.” A little gimmicky, but memorable and effective.
The next notable cut helps illustrate the premise of the movie. It comes six minutes in. “She must lead such a romantic life,” asserts a wedding-goer observing wedding planner Mary. Cut to Mary bringing home a bag of groceries and eating a solitary meal in front of her TV.
Most of the transitions in the movie flow naturally from the action. But some transitions serve to answer questions or imply preceding actions. For example, at one point Mary is reluctant to accompany an insistent bride-to-be and her fiancé Steve (Matthew McConaughey) on an outing. “I’m coming?” Mary questions. Then cut to a scene with her assistant yelling at her, “You are not quitting the Donnelly wedding!” The cut wisely places us in the middle of this heated discussion, right at a line that answers the earlier question.
An example of a transition that hints at prior action follows a scene in which Mary has a painful encounter with her ex and his newly pregnant wife. Cut to Steve helping a stumbling Mary back to her apartment. She carries a nearly empty six-pack of beers. We are able to skip the details of Mary drowning her sorrow in beers.
We hear a lot about Mary’s deceased mom throughout the movie. Eighty minutes in, we transition from Mary’s face at the end of one scene to a framed photo of her mom in the next. The scenes are not thematically connected. But the photo nicely ties them together and also provides the viewer with desired information – what her mom looked like. The mom’s photo is re-used later, as well, to establish an emotional connection.
So anyway, those are a few of the notable “throws” from The Wedding Planner. Just a movie I happened to re-watch this weekend. But with an eye towards scene transitions, I discovered something new.