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Django Unchained: My Favorite Film of the Year, But…

With the Academy Award nominations out today (and I admit that I still need to see some of the films), I wanted to spend some time talking about the film that is my favorite of the year so far, and that is Django Unchained. However, rather than sing its praises and extol the virtues of why it should win Best Picture, I’m going to discuss something about the film that really bothered me and something that all screenwriters and filmmakers need to be wary of.

What is ironic is that the scene that was the most bothersome in the film was one of the best written and most entertaining scenes in the film. And that is where the danger lies.

The scene that I’m talking about happens after Django has killed his former slave bosses and he and Schultz are camping out for the night. The owner of the Plantation where the bosses were killed gathers up a posse to kill them, and all of the men in the posse don Ku Klux Klan-like hoods as they prepare to storm the camp. However, a couple of the men complain that they can’t see out of the eye holes and it’s making it difficult to ride their horses. What follows is close to 5 minutes of dialogue debating the merits of wearing the hoods versus not wearing the hoods.

This scene is very funny. The dialogue is snappy and witty and it’s a very well-written scene. It’s entertaining and one of the strongest scenes in the film as a stand alone. The problem is that it brings the film to a screeching halt. It has little or nothing to do with the overall story and it takes the audience out of the film and takes them to another place.

That is the biggest danger that screenwriters face when writing their scripts. How many times have you written a scene that you think is the strongest, or one of the strongest scenes in your script. You’re doing everything you can to keep it in the script, but deep down you know it needs to be cut.

It needs to be cut because, as entertaining and well-written as it might be, the scene does nothing to advance the story.

As a writer or a filmmaker, you have to be ruthless when it comes to cutting scenes. Just like when you have to kill off your favorite character because it’s necessary for the story, sometimes you need to do the same thing to your favorite scene. Screenwriters and filmmakers need to remember that the story is the most important thing, and everything that is done in the script and in the film needs to be done to serve the needs of the story.

This scene in Django Unchained was probably a favorite scene of Tarantino. And it should have been cut because it did nothing to advance the story. Plus, cutting the scene would have been a great example of addition by subtraction. Cutting the scene would have taken 5 minutes out of a film that ran nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes. It would have made the film slightly leaner and it would have kept the intensity high in that part of the film. Plus, there are plenty of other examples of comic relief throughout the film that served the story better, so cutting this scene wouldn’t have hurt in that department.

You owe it to yourself and you owe it to your screenplay to make sure that all of the scenes are helping move the story forward.

So how do you know if your favorite scene is holding up the story? One of the most difficult challenges for a screenwriter is to be completely objective of his or her own work. Getting a professional evaluation of your script from a service like Monument Scripts can help. Check out the following link to see which of our services are best for you.



  1. Thanks, Brian, for your insights into storytelling. I’m in the middle of a screenplay (and outlining three more), and I can already feel the siren song pull of several pivotal scenes that have the potential to be very strong. You’re helping me to remember that every single scene has to advance the story.

    Red beans and ricely yours,


  2. Chris Brewster says:

    That scene was a great example of the power of the “auteur.” Tarantino knows he can do whatever he wants, and in nearly every film, he takes advantage of that power.

    I’d be interested to hear his reasoning … to me, it seems like he kept it as a moment of levity in what was otherwise a pretty tense sequence of the film.

  3. Louis says:

    Brian, I am going to see “Django Unchained” this weekend and I’m looking forward to it. Still, what you said here reminds me of a problem I’ve always had with Quentin Tarantino: too often his characters are too gabby. To me, a movie should strive to tell its story with a minimum of dialogue. Too much can pull you out of the story. This happens at least once in every Tarantino film I see and it sounds like you’ve pinpointed a point I can expect it in this movie. Thanks for pointing out that this is not to be encouraged with spec scripts.

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