Scene Setting Without A Word

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about stripping back dialogue in my scripts. I am constantly locked in battle with my arch-nemesis, exposition, but it’s a battle I will win, one day, or so I keep telling myself.

I’ve been reading lots of scripts and watching lots of theatre and film that create powerful scenes and character dynamics using minimalist dialogue. Then, I came across All That Jazz, released when I was too young to notice, but just recently discovered, and stumbled upon an opening scene that needed no words at all to create a world.
All That Jazz -opening scene ‘On Broadway” by George Benson

Directed by Bob Fosse, the film is a thinly veiled autobiography, peppered with dreamy scenes and show-stopping numbers, where Fosse creates art reflecting life, reflecting art, reflecting life.

While there is debate on the artistic success vs self-indulgence of this film, there can be no doubt that this opening scene must be one of film histories best. Through these first 4 1/2 minutes, we are taken deep inside the world of Broadway. We see characters, we see conflict, hope, love, loss and potential, overlayed with a soundtrack that both neatly juxtaposes the music of Broadway musicals, and reinforces the New York vibe of the late ’70s. Brilliantly cut, this scene reminds me that we can create a whole world with no words at all.

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