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02/04/2006 - DINING AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT
[BACK]

What's wrong with the following scene?

MEGAN and DANIEL are shown to their table by a WAITER.

WAITER
What would you like for dinner?

MEGAN
I'll have the salmon filet with wild rice
and the carrot medley.

DANIEL
Make mine a steak-well done-with a
baked potato and some spinach.

The waiter exits.

DANIEL
So how was your day? Is your boss still a jerk?

MEGAN
Absolutely! It's practically his middle name.

The waiter returns with their orders.

WAITER
Enjoy your entrees.

Did you figure it out? If one page = 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 (i.e., 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 from http://www.scriptcrawler.com. 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.

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