Try to have a second layer in a scene. Not just one thing going on, more than one. Maybe more than two. Try to have them all relate to the one main goal of the scene, if you can. Don’t add more layers in every scene, of course, but be aware that you can bring in extra elements from time to time, to make a scene more interesting. For depth.
THE OFFICIAL STORY takes place in Argentina, during a time of intense political turmoil. People disappear for political reasons. No one is sure who to trust.
A child’s birthday party in an apartment… In the kitchen, Grandmother is all over the maid, and the maid threatens to quit. A magician is in the living room with the children, and we see several innocuous tricks as the scene progresses. He makes a dove appear… later, come back to him and he’s pushing a knitting needle into a balloon… Meanwhile… Mother and a male friend are complaining that the birthday girl’s father hasn’t come.
The back and forth cutting from maid’s “story,” to the magician’s “story,” to Mother’s “story” is nearly frantic. The scene has a massive amount of weight and power, because each story can be got to in mid stride… you never have to show anything warm up, you can always cut to the heat of the action of each particular moment.
Because the story is about disappearances and political agony, the magician adds tension by threatening to poke the dove in the head with the knitting needle and the children go BERSERK. They cry hysterically, pushing the birthday girl to wander up to her bedroom while Mother makes a phone call to her husband, wondering why he’s not at his daughter’s birthday… as, in b.g., kids shoot ray guns and run around yelling…
In her bedroom, the little girl puts her doll to bed, singing… it’s a tender, silent moment, and then the screaming cousins bust in with the rifles, scrambling round the room playing shoot ‘em up and it terrifies her. Their father come in and yanks them out, screaming, while Mother comforts the daughter, holding her on the bed… saying she can’t believe that it’s been five years since she was born.
And the scene ends. It lasts around five minutes, but they’re an a jam packed five minutes. A LOT is going on. Lots of layers.
The next scene only has one thing going on… the mother confronts the father about where the baby came from, as she was unable to have children… she wonders if the father paid the baby’s mother or was the child was stolen from her real mother. There are no second layers in that scene, just the one conversation, but it’s plenty.