About the Technique
Scenes of preparation and aftermath heighten suspense and infuse emotion into films, and it’s too easy to forget about them and instead opt for jumping around to the next set piece.
Scenes of preparation are notorious in heist and con artist films. The first half of Ocean’s Eleven is just a preparation for the heist. Scenes of preparation are also where the coach makes the big speech before a big game.
Scenes of aftermath show the consequences of a battle, or the result of a bad date. Scenes of aftermath show a defeated hero, or an elated team, or the consequences of a crime. Scenes of aftermath is where the hero tells a sidekick that this could be the start of a very beautiful friendship as they walk into the fog.
How to Use It
Place scenes of preparation and aftermath around large beats such as your midpoint. This will help to emotionally prepare your audience for the outcome they want to see, thus generating suspense. Scenes of aftermath communicate the emotion the character is feeling.
The midpoint of The Matrix is when Cipher betrays the others as they return to the Lafayette Hotel and Morpheus is taken captive. There are several scenes of preparation leading up to this that create the suspense and tension the audience feels. First, dramatic irony is created in the scene where Cipher discusses his betrayal with Agent Smith. The second scene of preparation is when Neo and the others are leaving the hotel and Neo feels Deja Vu and sees the black cat. These scenes serve a purpose of imposing a sense of dread in the audience’s mind, and keeps them on the edge of their seats.
The scene of aftermath occurs between Neo and Trinity, and Neo tells Trinity he’s not the one and says he’s going after Morpheus. The exchange between them is charged with emotion because of the scene it precedes:
I may not be what Morpheus thinks I am, but if I don’t try to help him, then I’m not even what I think I am.
What are you?
Why You Need It
If this scene had been anywhere else, it wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact. The reason why scenes of aftermath exist is to imbue emotion of the characters into the script. It’s to show the audience how the characters are reacting to the event that just happened.
It can be argued that scenes of preparation and aftermath are superfluous. After all, nothing really “happens.” There are no big action set pieces in scenes of preparation and aftermath, and less accomplished screenwriters will try and cut these scenes in exchange for pacing. However, if you remove all of these scenes from a script, you’ve lost the emotion. People won’t care about or relate with your characters.