TIP OF THE DAY: The Magic of the Prelap

Someone once told me that if you hear something three times, it means the universe is sending you a message.  Well, I haven’t heard this three times yet, but a question came up in my writers group last week… and then I got an email yesterday asking almost the exact same question.  And since I was never good with numbers, I figure two times is as good as three.  So here ya go…

In my writers group, my friend Tony– an up-and-coming screenwriter who optioned his first script last year– was working on a new project and having trouble tying two scenes together.  Here, take a look…

                                    MR. JACKSON
                      Sure, sure.  Well, see you next
                      Saturday.

Daniela, precariously balancing her mother-load of hot dogs, shoots Trevor a less than pleased glance. (The problem was: we see Daniela’s “less-than-pleased glance” here…)

INT. TREVOR’S APARTMENT – NIGHT

The place is totally seventies.  Not hip, retro-cool seventies — but musty, smells like Grandpa, seventies.

Trevor opens the door, pushing aside a pile of mail.

                                    DANIELA
                      Trevor, you promised you’d meet my
                      dad next Saturday.  (…but don’t
                      get an answer till here about what
                      she’s less-than-pleased about.)

                                    TREVOR
                      Sorry, I forgot. How bout this —
                      you invite your dad to come to my
                      game. Huh?  Afterwards, we’ll grab
                      some grub… maybe a beer… maybe
                      two?

Although there isn’t a huge amount of time between Daniela’s “less than pleased” glance and the line that explains the glance, there’s enough time that readers were saying, “Wait– what?  Why is she less-than-pleased?  Did I miss something?”  And even though they get their answer in a moment, any red flag, is enough to bump a reader out of your script.

So Rick, one of the other guys in the writers group, and I suggested using a “prelap” to move up Daniela’s line.

Here’s the thing about prelaps… I love them.  I could write a whole script of prelaps.  I have no idea who invented them, but I think I first discovered them while reading a Joss Whedon script a few years ago.  And since Joss gave us Buffy and Angel, I’m perfectly willing to credit him with inventing the prelap.

The crazy thing is– there’s nothing all that special about them… except they do a great job of making a script feel genuinely cinematic, and when used correctly, they add shades of emotional nuance and foreshadowing.

Basically, a prelap uses a line of dialogue from one scene to end the scene preceding it, allowing the first scene to flow seamlessly into the second.

So here’s what Tony did…

                                   MR. JACKSON
                      Sure, sure.  Well, see you next
                      Saturday.

Daniela, precariously balancing her mother-load of hot dogs, shoots Trevor a less than pleased glance.

                                    DANIELA (PRELAP)
                      You promised you’d meet my dad
                      next Saturday.



INT. TREVOR’S APARTMENT – NIGHT

The place is totally seventies.  Not hip, retro-cool seventies — but musty, smells like Grandpa, seventies.

Trevor opens the door, pushing aside a pile of mail.

                                    TREVOR
                      Sorry, I forgot. How bout this —
                      you invite your dad to come to my
                      game. Huh?  Afterwards, we’ll grab
                      some grub… maybe a beer… maybe
                      two?

Because the second scene’s conflict now begins in the first scene, it carries you into the next.  The scenes are tied together with the prelap, letting one flow right into the other without bumping the reader.  Screenwriting magic!

(I know, I know– I tend to get excited over little things, but come on– you gotta admit: that’s pretty cool.)

(Oh, and by the way– no real comment on Sunday’s Oscars.  I’m still upset that no one put down The Bourne Ultimatum as a write-in nominee for best picture.)

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4 thoughts on “TIP OF THE DAY: The Magic of the Prelap

  1. Salem

    As far as I know, I learned to use "prelap" from Mexican kid’s comedy writer "Chespirito", whose "El chavo" show has a recurring gag of prelap scenes calling back the previous scene with an out of order joke…
    And i’m talking about MY childhood, meaning the 80s… And the show dates back to early 70’s… Waaaaaay before our sacred and beloved nerdmaster Whedon Buffy lammer movie…

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