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Would that be "Dr. Strangelove?"

I'll cite a few fav set pieces later. It's time for work now!



Wow - thanks for this. I got the idea from the way the term "set piece" is thrown around that it refers to a scene like the Michael Dorsey unveiling in Tootsie (probably my favorite). But now it's much clearer.

The Break Up looks like one of my favorite unromantic comedies, Love Stinks. In Love Stinks, the lovers end up hating each other at the end. I bet in the Break Up, the apartment burns down whilst their love re-ignites....


Jack Nicholson ordering that sandwich in Five Easy Pieces -


I recently saw the play Noises Off at a local theatre and that had some fantastic door slamming.

But my favorite set piece sadly comes from a movie whose title I can't remember. Maybe you can help me. It opens with a studio exec asking "where are all the set pieces" after which he is ritually murdered by the writers. Know the one I'm talking about?


Craig, well done! Here I was thinking this might be a stumper, since the still is from the infamous slapstick set-piece that was CUT from "Strangelove," but clearly you're up on your cinematic history. E-mail me your mailing address and a Mernit "Greatest Hits" will soon be yours, you poor -- sorry, lucky! -- fellow.

Christina, that sounds about right.

Babs, oh, yes, "...then take the two slices and stick them -- " etc. has always been that film's (and young Jack's) finest moment.

JJ: Saw the original B'way "Noises" twice, because I laughed till I literally cried (the movie doesn't do it justice).

I think I know the film you mean -- same one where an Exec uses the Lightbulb Theory in a meeting and later, the writer sticks the exec's head in a light socket and spins him round till he expires? LOL...


The kitchen scene in "Moonstruck."

E.C. Henry


The term "set piece" seams synonamous with, "master scene." Over the cource of a 90 - 120 page screenplay, their will be lots of master scenes, so... a "set piece" would be the capstone, or best, most memorable master scene, right?

Typically on DVDs today certian sequences are marked with titles. Are those what you would consider "set pieces?"

Great post by the way. Good peep talk. Thanks for the added resume boster too. Wasn't aware I could site "Google U."

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


Butch: Ah yes -- "A bride without a head!" "A wolf without a foot!!"

E.C.: I'm not familiar with this "master scene" idea. A "master shot" is the traditional, Old School shot that takes in the whole of a scene, securing coverage for the entire run of that scene, and enabling one to later cut into it for close-ups, etc.

Re: DVD chapter headings, to my knowledge they're generally arbitrary (i.e. created by the producers of the DVD for scene access, period) and aren't intended to signify any particular kinds of scenes or sequences.

Chris Soth

beaten to the punch w/Strangelove, bravo, Craig.

It's a sticky analogy (NO pun intended), but I always liken the set pieces to the "love" scenes in porn...

...they're what we come to see the movie for, and sometimes it's just a writer's job to get from "Pizza Delivery Man" to "Mmm, it's so hot in here, why don't you take off your shirt?" w/out being EGREGIOUS, as it always is in porn (or so I'M TOLD...).

Set Pieces:

Any Car Chase (or other action sequence) in an action movie...

Any Song and Dance number in a traditional musical...

In Sit Com writing they call the comic set piece the "block comedy scene" -- so when Peter Brady has two dates, the dance where he goes w/both of them and tries to convince each she's the one and only...that's the "set piece/block comedy scene" -- likewise in Mrs. Doubtfire, when Mrs. D has to shuttle between two tables in the same restaurant, switching identities each time...set piece, as it will almost always be in any "dual identity" masquerade...

...and like that there.

PS. Anyone notice the paucity of comic set pieces in the Pink Panther remake? ALMOST one w/the ming vases, that's about it...that wouldn't've flown w/Peter Sellers...those movies were but a string to hang those comedy pearls.



This is great advice for us screenwriters to remember. From my own movie-going experience, you usually go to a movie wanting to like it. So, if a crappy movie has 2-3 good set pieces, I usually walk out saying "it was pretty good," even if the dialogue, plot, and acting were atrocious.


the graduate
1) sitting at the bottem of the pool
2) the cross in the door
3) the party where the partents friend
says "plastics"
4) mrs robinson opening up to young ben in the bar at her house

modern times
chaplin getting sucked into, then through and spit out of the machine

defending your life
im not sure- i wanna say the past lives pavillion
scene where the hero is being chased and ends up as dinner, but perhaps i am confusing a scene that i personally liked, with the larger concept.

E.C. Henry


Thanks for the responce. Yes, I meant "master shot" not "master scene." And thanks for the clarification of DVD scene titles.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


I love the dinner scene in "Wedding Crashers." It's a great set piece because it builds with the Visine in the boyfriend's glass, the rude grandmother, the gay brother, and then it climaxes, if you will, with the sister fiddling with Vince Vaughn under the table.

The Marx Brothers always have great set pieces.
-the overcrowded stateroom
-the lemonade cart
-Harpo’s mirror scene

I’m not sure if it qualifies as a set-piece, but I love the hospital scenes from one of my favorite romantic comedies, “Shallow Hal.” They are funny and light hearted in the beginning, but the reveal when you goes back at the end is what really raises the movie in my eyes.

Come to think of it, maybe “Shallow Hal” wasn’t as well received as “Something About Mary” because it doesn’t really have any obvious set pieces. I guess the first nightclub scene after he meets Tony Robbins might qualify, but it’s not a strong as the scenes in “Mary.”

Wow – thanks for the insight. I’ve always wondered why “Shallow Hal” didn’t really hit, and I think this may have something to do with it. But if you haven’t seen it, I think it’s definitely worth a viewing.


Can a movie have more than one? I tried to think of the set piece for my favorite movie - The Princess Bride. There are so many that it's hard to pick. The fencing scenes? Miracle Max? The ROUS's? The dungeon torture scene? Perhaps it's the Battle of Wits with Vizzini. Inconcievable!


Chris: Thanks for the "block scene" info, that's interesting. I guess Panther proves the maxim, "Funny accent doth not a set-piece make."

Neil, that's totally true -- many a lackluster comedy has been redeemed (partially) by including a memorable S.P. -- witness about half of the "Naked Gun" franchise.

Uh-jim: "Graduate" also has the classic hotel tryst sequence of back-to-back S.P.s: lobby -- w/ paranoid Hoffman confronting snarky desk clerk Buck Henry ("Are you here for an affair, sir?"), followed by hotel room -- "Mrs. Robinson, I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends."

Craig: the brothers Marx never met a S.P. they didn't like. What I remember from Hal is the rowboat scene, and you're right, the S.P.s had a quick, under-developed feel.

Welcome back, Brooke! It's good to see you up and about in Bloglandia again. Oh Lord, "Bride" -- it's a S.P. bonanza, thanks for reminding me (whenever someone starts talking about this movie I always want to see it again), and yes, it supports the theory that if you're On, and genuinely inspired, it's not Inconceivable that any number of S.P.s can be launched in a given movie.

Come to think of it, "Inconceivable!" is a textbook example of the Running Gag, a device that could be subject for a subsequent post...


I'm still thinking about this subject two days later, reviewing all of the comments and having a few a-ha moments. Like Craig's observation that the Shallow Hal may not have had many set pieces - Yes! I agree that may have made it less of a blockbuster comedy. When I finally saw it, I was befuddled - I thought it deserved much more acclaim than it received.

So, I think this is a set piece - will you confirm? In My Best Friend's Wedding, in the 3rd act, when the Julia Roberts character kisses her best friend and the to-be bride sees, and then a chase ensues through the grounds of the wedding and into the streets of Chicago.... That whole sequence - set piece? Or, what part is the "set piece" part? I really enjoyed that movie, though I maintain the protagonist had no arc. Could it be the set pieces made the movie?


After reading only the beginning of your post I paused and tapped out my own admittedly cynical definition of a set-piece:

“The various major scenes in a movie where most of the production money will be spent. These scenes may or may not have plot or character significance.”

I’m glad yours was sans cynicism and practical. I also was thinking of Moonstruck but I think you could pluralize and say the kitchen scenes – near the beginning (“you’re a wolf”) but even more so the final kitchen scene where all the characters come together.

In drama, I think Ben-Hur’s chariot scene is a set-piece (ending in the death of Messala).

I think my cynical definition came about because I’ve seen too many movies (especially of the action kind) where the set pieces make little or no sense, and seem to be an excuse to blow up as much as possible and see how many edits can be squeezed into a nano-second.

This was a great post - great explanation and great examples.

Noah Brand

One note on SOME LIKE IT HOT: Tony Curtis wasn't pretending to be impotent. You'll recall he says he's unable to feel anything emotionally for a woman, and his family's very ashamed of the problem... he was pretending to be gay. Which if you ask me is funnier on half a dozen levels.


Christina, yeah, I'd say that Friend's "chase" is sort of an extended set-piece, though not wildly memorable; the family sing-along in the restaurant is more of a traditional self-contained S.P. According to Ron Bass (I got to interview him live about this at a screening) Julia's arc is from selfish-to-selfless, finally. Though I agree with you, in that the "arc part" feels squeezed quickly into the back end of the movie.

Bill, glad you enjoyed it, and yup, that ensemble comedy scene in the kitchen at the end is one of the greats, with a classic topper ("Do you love him, Loretta?" "Yeah, Mom, I love him awful." "Oh, God, that's too bad.")

Welcome, Noah: Interesting. I'll say 'sure,' and it does make it funnier. But I think the scene was written (deliberately) open-ended enough so that one could interpret it either way.


Noah - I have to disagree. Tony Curtis can't feel anything for women since his girlfriend fell into the grand canyon. And I don't believe he ever say his family is ashamed. I've never gotten the impression that Curtis is playing it gay. I've seen SLIH at least a dozen times and I've always read it as impotence.


Yes, when I said the kitchen scene from "Moonstruck," I actually meant the scene at the end. So much to love, including the grandfather with his hand over his face.
"Whatsamatta, Pop?"
"I'm confused."


So in comedy, would you say one key element of "set piece" is someone acting irrationally, but in a funny way?

I think the physical humor is easy to envision but the various reasons why a character would suddenly "go large" or "over-the-top" would be good to explore in another post.


Oh, my vote is "Vacation", which is 1 set piece after another, but of course the amusement park is the culmination.

And everyone always remembers the aunt croaking in the car and them putting her on the roof.


Kristen: Definitely. Irrational is HUGE in the comedy universe anyway... the obverse being a character acting funny in a rational way (e.g. Cary Grant's almost non-stop mugging as he tries to get a word in edgewise with Kate Hepburn for the entirety of Bringing Up Baby).

Aunt on the Roof = priceless.


RAISING ARIZONA, one of the great comedies of all time is chalk full of them. The Arizona home, the trailer, the prison, the chase sequence in the grocery store. The film weaves compelling characters and situations together masterfully into 10-15 minute humor blocks. The title card doesn't even appear until the 11th minute of the film as the Coen's follow Vonnegut's 8th rule to a "t".

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