I’ve been listening to a lot of the Scriptnotes podcast recently. One episode a week just wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I had to subscribe to their app and get access to all of the old episodes. As someone seemingly forever trapped in a fascination orbit around the work of writer/director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), I, of course, listened to his episode first. He talked about scope creep, a phenomenon his work suffers from wherein the scope of a project continues to grow and get more unwieldy the longer he works on it. The effects of scope creep are obvious in Southland Tales and The Box. Southland Tales became practically unintelligible as a stand-alone picture, and The Box gets derailed by unnecessarily exploring the mind-boggling mechanisms used by the shadow organization pulling the strings. Kelly just seems to get intrigued by tangential aspects of the story he’s telling and wants to pull them all in until it’s completely unwieldy and the audience’s investment gets smothered underneath the weight of so much extraneous stuff.
I’ve experienced scope creep over the course of PoPS, as well. Obviously. There were certain plot devices and ideas I wanted to explore at the outset, but other things came into play as we went on. Some of them were direct results of feedback I was getting from the audience. In episode 7, a lot of people were really excited to see the girls up and fighting. Other members of the audience brought my attention to the ways in which the fight scenes were lacking. So the main plot of episode 8 became about proving we could do better fight scenes. The whole damn episode is called Fight. I mean, Eliza had mild whiplash for a few days after shooting her fight scenes we got so specific about the head snapping involved in taking a punch.
Originally, the entirety of PoPS was supposed to happen in 10 10-minute episodes. Episode 8 was 61 friggin minutes long. That’s technically a feature by most film festival standards. I just got more interested in the characters and how they were coping with these powers and with each other. And the more characters we got, the more I wanted to flesh out each of them. Give them more storylines. See how they handle different scenarios.
Most of my scope creep comes down to making sure things feel justified. In order to make crazy things happen, you sometimes have to spend time moving people and circumstances into place. The crazier the payoff, the more time it takes to set up justifiably.
Sometimes you realize that the characters have to take time processing the aftermath of some of these things. We’ve devoted many minutes of screen time to characters discussing things we’ve already seen to try and process them like actual people do. That’s kind of counter intuitive in screenwriting. “We’ve already seen that! Why are they still talking about it?!” But those are some of my favorite scenes.
I think scope creep is justifiable if it’s more about keeping characters grounded rather than trying to make a world larger and more complicated.
Thanks for reading.