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Masterclass: Writing Difficult Scenes

Masterclass: Writing Difficult Scenes

Some scenes are more difficult than others. Screenwriters can lay the foundations that make it easier to shoot scenes that involve stunts, fights and intimacy. Scriptwriter and actress Isis Cabolet, intimacy coordinator Philine Janssens, and stunt coordinator Marco Maas share their expertise on how to approach “difficult” scenes when writing and how to bring these scenes to life 

“If you don’t all agree on how and why a scene needs to happen, that’s difficult.”

Isis Cabolet

Amongst stunt coordinators, it is said that everything is possible, Marco tells us. However, you need ability, vision, money, time, equipment and specialized people to create a safe working environment. If some of these things are missing, there are concessions to be made in the realization of a scene. That is what we call difficulties. Philine elaborates, stating that it is most important to know of any difficulties ahead of time. Difficulties are often created due to boundaries, and boundaries are also part of your assembling of crew and cast. During this process you need to talk about boundaries, protection and safety. 


“Like with stunt work, in intimacy there is a safety mat. I’m that safety mat.”

Philine Janssens

First and foremost, as an actor but also as another part of the crew, you should not consider things “real” when it’s on set, Isis argues. You need direction regarding what is going to happen and how to set the stage and to avoid uncomfortable, unclear or difficult moments. Philine elaborates, urging us to rely on common sense as well. If something feels like it could be a difficult scene, that means its best to consider it as such.  

When writing, you should not only think about what needs to be included for the plot, but also what the reader needs to know. “I always think, ‘why is sex necessary for this scene or this narrative?” Isis explains. Screenwriters should not only describe what happens, but detail why it happens. They need to answer questions that might arise on set within your scriptwriting.  

It is important to set boundaries, something both Philine and Marco have experience with through their work. Never assume anything is okay or obvious, always discuss the assumptions you make. The same goes for scriptwriting. It is important to be detailed in describing what happens, but also write about emotions, conflicts and motivations. Often, writing is more about what a scene should say, and less about what it looks like. Therefore, it is important to also write about the style and pacing of your scene. Furthermore, Isis stresses the importance of involving people from different communities and talking with them about your difficult scenes. Assumptions are disastrous when you are writing on a subject or community that you are not part of.  

“If something can’t be done correctly, be it a stunt or intimacy, it should not be done. People need to be able to say Stop and No.”

Marco Maas
Deelnemer - Masterclass Writing Difficult Scenes

Isis, Philine and Marco agree that they wish to see a more active role of scriptwriters in the production process. Any film professional needs to think about problems and difficulties in advance, and that starts with good writing, Marco urges. Time and preparation are the key to every problem: time to translate what is in your head to paper, which will be used to prepare the crew. Lastly, Isis, Philine and Marco advise us to never work ego-driven, but work product-driven. Be honest, communicate, and dare to ask questions and say no.  

If you would like to read more about intimacy coordination and safety on set, you can download the Intimacy Toolkit (NL) established by Philine Janssens for free here. 

Isis Cabolet, Marco Maas and Philine Janssens were speakers at a masterclass during the industry program of Go Short 2023 on this subject. The masterclass was moderated by Aderinsola Ajao. The information and quotes in this article were extracted from this masterclass. 

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