There’s some spoilers here for the last film I worked on, “Pangs.” I’d recommend you watch the film before reading this. You can do so here.

I had an interesting moment working as editor on the film “Pangs.” This is the first time I’ve edited a 48 Hour Film Project film that I did not also direct, and in fact the first film that I edited for which I shot no scenes. That led to an interesting moment on Sunday morning.

The rough cut was done, and it was an excellent story with many scenes full of dramatic tension.  But there was something not quite working about the film as a whole, some issues with lack of propulsion in the story. And so we tried an approach that I had never tried before. We listed out the major sequence of the film and looked at how they all held together.

A minor digression: Parker and Stone, the guys behind South Park and many other fine entertainments, have a lecture where they talk about how to link sequences. They say that if sequences are joined by “therefore” or “but,” they propel the plot. But if they are joined by “and then,” there’s no prop propulsion.  (You can see them speak about this here.)

“Pangs” is about a woman wrestling with body image issues. In the rough cut, we had the following sequences. Note the links.

A) The woman views herself in the mirror and does not like what she sees. While she’s looking, her friend texts her and invites her out.
B) Therefore she goes out to meet the friend, but an interaction with a neighbor drives her back to her house.
C) And then she goes into her kitchen to find something to eat. There’s nothing good. She goes to her hidden stash to eat cookies, but the cookies are covered with ants.
D) And then her friend texts her to see if she’s okay. She doesn’t respond.
E) And then she calls an exterminator to deal with the ants. (This is a “therefore” from C, but since we’ve interjected D, the continuity of flow is gone and it feels like an “and then.”)
F) And then she goes out again, is cat-called by a neighbor, falls, sees a gnome, gets to her car, binges on hidden hohos, and runs back to her house where she binges on ice cream.
G) And then the exterminator (Dot) arrives. She tries to brush the exterminator off, but Dot has to go to the bathroom. While the exterminator is in the bathroom, the woman sprays all her hidden food with the exterminator’s poison. The exterminator leaves. The woman has a meltdown.
H) But her friend arrives and comforts her. The denouement occurs.

Watching the rough cut, this sequencing didn’t work.  The big problem was that the sequences didn’t lead into each other – note all the and-thens. In particular, because the sequences related to ants and exterminators are broken up, they end up feeling like “and then” transitions. We need to remove the sequences that break up the ant-exterminator series of sequences.

The meltdown at the end of G has to come right before ending sequence H. So we know we’re going to need the following change in the order of sequences:

A) She doesn’t like how she looks. Her friend invites her out.
-) Stuff happens.
C) She finds ant-covered cookies.
E) Therefore, she calls the exterminator.
G) Therefore, the exterminator arrives.  She has a meltdown.
H) But her friend and comforts her, which leads to the big finale.

That’s better – we’ve got all the bug-exterminator stuff joined together with “therefore” transitions. Now all we have to do is figure out the stuff-happens section.

There’s two major sequences to go in there: B and F. But they both have the same basic structure: the woman leaves the house, has an encounter with a neighbor that bothers her, and ends up back in the house. That’s too much repetition.

We could use just one sequence. But F has the required prop in it, so it can’t be dropped from the film. Unfortunately, though, there’s continuity issues regarding her outfit in F: it doesn’t match sequence A. So B needs to go right after A.

That leaves us with:

A) She doesn’t like how she looks. Her friend invites her out.
B) Therefore, she goes out, but the interaction with the neighbor drives her back to the house.
F) And then, she goes out again and another neighbor interaction drives her back to the house.

There’s repetition and an “and-then” transition. Both are problematic.

Enter D. And the advantage of a silent film: we can easily change the dialog by changing the texts. So we can repurpose D, insert it between B and F, create a “therefore” transition that makes sense of the repetition. The end result is the following:

A) She doesn’t like how she looks. Her friend invites her out.
B) Therefore, she goes out. But her body-image issues force her back to her house.
D) Therefore her friend texts her to ask why she didn’t come over. She responds that she was sick but will try again tomorrow. (Note how we repurposed the friend-texting scene by changing the texts.)
F) Therefore, she goes out again. But that ends badly and she binges out on hohos in her car. (Note that the D sequence motivates her trying to go out a second time, so having sequence F repeat sequence B, by showing a second failure in an attempt to go out, escalates the tension and excuses the repetition.)
G) Because she’s upset, she tries to find more food to eat. She finds ant-covered cookies.
E) Therefore, she calls the exterminator.
G) Therefore, the exterminator arrives.  She has a meltdown.
H) But her friend comes and comforts her, big finale.

Now all of the transitions are either “but” or “therefore” transitions and the plot is propulsive. The tension definitely grows.

The key, though, is that by breaking the story down into sequences and moving those sequences around with “therefore” and “however” transitions in mind, we turned a story that wasn’t working into something that tells a compelling and propulsive story.