Part of the principle of Contexts in Getting Things Done can be summed up as: Is there anything else I can do here before I go somewhere else?
How does this relate to screenwriting? Take any scene you’re working on and ask yourself what the function of that scene is. In a best case scenario, a scene is going to accomplish more than one thing by the time it’s over. This isn’t a call for over-padding scenes and extending them for seven pages to make sure you cram five distinct functions into each scene. It’s a call to look at the elements you have in a scene and see if there’s anything else you can do with what’s there.
Let’s take a basic scene and see what happens when we play with the concept. A standard scene in a lot of police films and TV shows involves the Chief telling a Detective about the case that’s going to be the focus for the film/episode. What’s the scene’s function? Let the audience know what case we’ll be focusing on.
And if we left it at that, it would be a big, expository infodump. Yes, we’d get the information we needed, but not in a way that would be as engaging as it could be. What elements do we have to work with? We’ve got a Detective, the Police Chief, the Chief’s Office, and a Case.
Starting with character, look at all the angles. How do the Detective and the Chief feel about each other? How do each of them feel about this particular case? About this type of crime? Is there any history with this case, or a similar one, that we could draw on?
Now look to the greater context. What happened before this scene that can inform what goes on in this scene? Was there something that happened moments before that can bleed into the current scene? Are there any things that will happen to either of these characters later in the script that we might be able to start setting up now?
Look at the location. Location is something that can help us set the mood. What time of year is it? What’s the state of the precinct? Is it badly in need of repair, or sleek and modern? What can the Chief’s Office tell us about the world of our story, as a whole?
Every piece of the puzzle; every element should be used to its fullest potential. By making scenes do double, or triple duty, you’re trimming how long you need to tell your story, as well as making every moment count that much more.