How to Write Fast Transitions Like
Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Some curiosities never fade away. 5 years ago, I collected hundred of examples from screenplays that I shared under two big fat and free pdfs, How Did They Write It and How to Introduce Characters in Your Screenplay.
I still regularly wonder how X or Y scene was written and recently I’ve wondered this while watching Shaun of the Dead, co-written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (and directed by Wright).
What interested me particularly was to find out how the visually fast-paced transitions between two scenes were actually written on paper.
Since I watched the film before finding the screenplay, let me take you through the same process of discovery. So first, you should:
check the sound free short video below to visualize what I’m talking about:
Wright and Pegg used the sequence of Shaun getting dressed as a transition between the living-room scene and the conversation in the kitchen with his roommate, which translates into six zoomed in close ups showing :
SHOT 1: pants zipped down
SHOT 2: toilets flushed down
SHOT 3: water going down
SHOT 4: teeth brushed
SHOT 5: hands washed
SHOT 6: badge put on shirt (where we have the time to read Shaun’s name and title)
So, how does this six shots that amount to 3 seconds on screen were written on the original screenplay?
So, out of the six shots, only two are mentioned in the screenplay. One -the shower- changed into something any other shots.
What I found interesting here is that they didn’t put any camera indication, even though Wright was going to direct the film. No Close-Ups, no Zoom-In. Just three actions back to back that gives a sense of how it will end up on screen.
The same happens with the second transition that explains that Shaun prepped his “breakfast”.
This time, let’s start with the screenplay:
Five actions are described that were translated on screen into four shots:
SHOT 1: drawer opened
SHOT 2: toast jammed
SHOT 3: coffee spooned
SHOT 4: Milk fridged
Simple in appearance (that’s a lot of shots to schedule, plan and shoot for very little screen time) but so efficient in dynamism and storytelling.
Instead of either skipping the scene altogether or showing only a single detail (Shaun biting in a toast) to make us understand Pegg’s character is going through his morning motions before heading to work, Pegg and Wright opted for something ambitious not in budget or scale but in work.
It’s more work. But the pays off is that much bigger. With simple framing and props, the film offers a compelling energy and forces the viewer to keep its eyes on the screen. 3 seconds away and you might miss a compressed sequence.