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Author Topic: Setting > Situation > Scene?  (Read 23573 times)
Josh Roby
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« Reply #45 on: November 21, 2005, 08:11:10 PM »

In traditional theater, and especially in film, things are authored dominantly before representation - in theater, the actors of course have a certain level of authorship in the midst of representation, true - but the structure is still worked out beforehand, as the script.

In roleplaying, the balance is crucially different: While there's usually preparation work beforehand, the most dominant, essential time of authorship is concurrent with the representation - we "write" the "stuff of dreams" as we go along.

In improvisational theater, an actor can turn and pick up just about anything on stage and say that it's what they presently need -- or probably more commonly, they mime picking something up.  If it's a phone, they hold it to their ear and say "Hello," if it's a banana, they peel it and put it in their mouth.  I think it'd be very interesting to give players that sort of ability in play through explicit rules.

This is why I need to buy Universalis, as I understand it.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #46 on: November 22, 2005, 11:22:33 AM »

That's my cue!

Rather, I wanted to jump in anyhow, and this is a good segue. In Universalis we simply say that a player "closes" a scene. For whatever that's worth. It seemed appropriate at the time. And it matches Lehrich in that it's about the SIS being a part of the ritual space established. So it's more like religion than film, at the end of an important part you have a closing.

Of course, then, at the beginning we use a film term and call it scene framing. So no consistency there. :-)

BTW, there's a special rule in Universalis called "Fade to Black. Which isn't particularly appropriate, really, but means that the scene itself cannot be "reopened." Because to get that "interleaving" effect in question in Universalis, you'd simply come back to a scene that had been opened previously. You can do this ad infinitum, opening a scene, closing it, and then reopening it, until somebody decides to Fade to Black (which only happens if somebody is worried about people coming back to the scene).

There are also "mini-scenes" which are nested scenes, flashbacks and that sort of thing. Entire scenes can also be flashbacks.

Note that I don't think that the only reason to have scenes is to change the situation, as presented above. Well, from one respect I do. Adding to the situation is changing it, too. That is, I'm not seeing a "should" here, because all scenes alter the situation. There's a scene in which two characters are playing chess that doesn't seem to relate to the rest of the situation? Well, it puts the two characters in a particular place, at a particular time, doing some particular activity. That's all pertinent stuff.

I think too much emphasis is being placed on Situation as dramatic, essentially. Sim aside, from a gamism angle, effective situation is simply setting up a potential for a character to step on up. But there will be some potential zilch-ish play in simply doing management of elements in moving them around. I think that sim situation only requires potential conflict and such if and when there's a hybrid going on, or that conflict is required by genre. That is, one can do "existence" sim in which you don't have to explore this sort of stuff.

So largely we're talking about quality as it pertains to modes of play. Which says nothing about the definition itself. Situation is merely statements about the spatial, or social arrangements of setting elements vis a vis each other. The chair is in the room is situation - every "box text" you've ever read is situation where it is not strictly color. Exploring what a chair is like to sit on is exploration of setting (and a character's response is exploration of character). Exploring why it's in a room is exploration of situation. Exploring what fabric it's made of is exploration of color. Though all of these could be different in different contexts.

Situation is not a subset of setting. It's the element of the inter-relation of such items, which is often the most interesting thing to investigate, though not always. Why is the barkeep abusing his wife? Answering this question is exploring the situation, developing it, changing it.

Remember that these elements do not exist outside of play and the exploration of them. It's not that we have some setting that pre-exists, and then we arrange it to create setting. We explore the setting by introducing bits of it. We explore situation by looking at how they are inter-related. We exlore color through description of the setting that's not otherwise reacted to. Character is "just" a specialized (and possibly the most interesting) form of setting to explore, and mutually exclusive from setting. That is setting is all such elements that are not character. Sometimes it's hard, as with organizations, to tell where the setting ends and a character begins.

So I see something like a cut scene, as simply an introduction of new situation to be explored in other scenes. A "change" only insamuch as the overall situation is changed by it being larger. As such, the question of whether or not play "should" advance situation along like plot, is purely a matter of preference. Some people may prefer meandering play that addresses situation only whenever it wants to do so.


Some other notes. LARPS have one scene framed, as I see it, for most of them. That is, you walk into the room, and you enter the scene as it's presented physically to you, usually with an explanation that the room is a spaceport bar, and any other rooms players go to are other parts off the spaceport. I think that the idea of continuous scening is only found in RPGs, and perhaps the movie Rope by Alfred Hitchcock (facetious), and it's highly fascinating. Only in RPGs is there a notion that the whole world can be one big "set" and that there are no cuts really so much as speeding along the action. No, we're not supposed to imagine it this way precisely, but when the GM says, "OK, after three days of travel, you find yourself at the next city" he's not neccessarily cutting per se. Instead imagine that the action is just taking place really, really fast like a sped up film. The point is that in all RPG play this happens. That is, the GM says, "You eat your meal, and a guy comes over to talk to you." You don't do the meal eating in real time unless it's a LARP.

So I agree that "cut" is a good term, but that it should mean moving about inside a scene like in a movie. The quickly eaten meal is not a new scene - the same elements are present and time is not skipped per se - time is merely gone through at a rapid rate so we can avoid having to relate boring details. Similarly, in some play, moving from city to city with "Three days later" is the same thing. It's a very simulation angle that says that the characters exist without dramatic constraint in the game that requires this sort of thinking - note that in such play, if a player says, "Oh the way, I stop off and get X" it's legitimate. Because, essentially, narrating past the opportunity to do that is sort of a "mistake" in a way. Players always have an opportunity to do what "might" be done in the time passed in this sort of play.

I think it's rare around here these days, but I think that most play is really better thought of as single-scene play with lots of cuts, rather than as Framing from scene to scene. Certainly this is what happens in a LARP. For play that tries to match LARP simulation levels, I think it's accurate to say for this play that there's only one scene, generally. Of course there may be exceptions, and variations. Most play probably actually does have occasional scene closures, and framing to new scenes. Sometimes done grudgingly, "Hmm, let's skip the travel parts, howabout, and just go to the next city, OK?"

That's my couple of pennies on the subject.

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #47 on: November 22, 2005, 12:12:37 PM »

Mike, you seem to be using the word "situation" to mean the stuff that's immediate to the player's point of view; that is not, as I understand it, Situation.  It's that level of stuff that I started using "Scene" for, so that Situation can be "stuff that's important."  The definition of "important" gets determined by the group according to their own agendas.  A chair in a room is a Scene (or probably a Set -- add action and it's a Scene); unless the chair is important, in which the chair in the room is a Situation.  Does that jive with your thinking, or are we speaking different languages at eachother?

I agree, Scene does not need to "progress" the Situation, just change it or even comment on it -- I think "address the Situation" covers all contingencies.  Two guys playing chess can address Situation even if they don't rock the world -- it may underscore their characteristics, or express their relationship, etc, and such things are usually important to the players.  But if it's a scene of two old guys on the other side of the planet from the rest of the game and have no significant relationship to the rest of the game... well, it's not addressing Situation, and anybody in the game would be right to say, "Waitaminute, why are we dealing with these old guys playing chess?"  (And then, yes, the good GM/player ties it into the game, but by doing so, he makes the chessplayers significant, and retroactively makes that scene address Situation.)

And yes, Framing Scenes can simultaneously add elements to the Setting.  I'd say most of the heavy lifting of a Scene is selecting elements from the Setting (itself generated, seeded, and modified by prior scenes and other processes) and arranging them, but there's always the possibility of introducing something new, and the most interesting way to do this is by introducing it right into the player-characters' faces (or wherever their PoV happens to be at the time).

I'd agree that a lot of games are one long scene.  I'm skeptical of whether this is a good thing.  Lots of games are about dungeon crawls, too, and for some instances that's good and for some that's inappropriate and unfun.  I find Scene Framing as a technique to be another tool in the shed that allows players to focus on what's important (ie, address the Situation) rather than include the important bits along with every other detail that's between them and their target.  Mind, for some kinds of play the 'every other detail' is the important thing, so they have less need for scene framing.

Thanks for the description of Universalis' scene-framing, scene closing (which is also used in teevee, so you were consistent after all!), cuts, and fade to black.  I really need to order me a copy of that -- it sounds like a fun toolkit to tinker with!
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #48 on: November 22, 2005, 01:35:37 PM »

Mike, you seem to be using the word "situation" to mean the stuff that's immediate to the player's point of view; that is not, as I understand it, Situation.  It's that level of stuff that I started using "Scene" for, so that Situation can be "stuff that's important."  The definition of "important" gets determined by the group according to their own agendas.  A chair in a room is a Scene (or probably a Set -- add action and it's a Scene); unless the chair is important, in which the chair in the room is a Situation.  Does that jive with your thinking, or are we speaking different languages at eachother?
Close, but with several quibbles. First, I'm not sure what you mean by "immediate point of view" but I mean precisely that it has to be entered into play. That is, there's no situation until somebody says something  like "there is a chair in the room." That is, setting that we agree exists ala previous discussions about it being entered by gross agreement (to say, play Star Trek), says nothing about situation until a couple of elements have been talked about and their position with regards to each other discussed. So the fact that Whorf is a subordinate of Picard is not situation until somebody introduces both characters into play. I am saying also that situation is often not important. Just as quite often setting elements entered are not important, and color is even more rarely "important." That said, only interesting situation will be acted upon. The whole chair in the room situation is probably not interesting enough to be addressed, but it's situation nonetheless.

Quote
I agree, Scene does not need to "progress" the Situation, just change it or even comment on it -- I think "address the Situation" covers all contingencies.  Two guys playing chess can address Situation even if they don't rock the world -- it may underscore their characteristics, or express their relationship, etc, and such things are usually important to the players.  But if it's a scene of two old guys on the other side of the planet from the rest of the game and have no significant relationship to the rest of the game... well, it's not addressing Situation, and anybody in the game would be right to say, "Waitaminute, why are we dealing with these old guys playing chess?"  (And then, yes, the good GM/player ties it into the game, but by doing so, he makes the chessplayers significant, and retroactively makes that scene address Situation.)
Well, see, I disagree here. That is, the two guys are situation. The importance thing has got to go. One wonders why, if it wasn't important, the players didn't add it. But if they did add it, and it wasn't important, then it's just bad exploration of situation as pertains their CA. But it's still exploration of situation.

So the "should" is only applicable in terms of using said exploration to produce the CA you prefer.

Quote
I'd agree that a lot of games are one long scene.  I'm skeptical of whether this is a good thing.  Lots of games are about dungeon crawls, too, and for some instances that's good and for some that's inappropriate and unfun.  I find Scene Framing as a technique to be another tool in the shed that allows players to focus on what's important (ie, address the Situation) rather than include the important bits along with every other detail that's between them and their target.  Mind, for some kinds of play the 'every other detail' is the important thing, so they have less need for scene framing.
Precisely. Scene framing is an excellent tool for pushing along most Narrativism CAs for example (not that it can't be useful for other things, too). But I think that the problem with "one scene" play is less that it doesn't have framing, but that cuts are used badly. That is, a lot of this sort of play is "propelled" by the GM asking "OK, what do you do now?" That level of passiveness from a GM has, for me, become simply intollerable - even in a one-scene style game, they should be cutting to the next interesting thing as often as the players are providing input (not either/or, but both sides actively participating in adding input).

Just my preferences here, but one can see how for certain styles, cutting can be as important as framing in and out of scenes is in other styles.

Quote
Thanks for the description of Universalis' scene-framing, scene closing (which is also used in teevee, so you were consistent after all!), cuts, and fade to black.
Sans a GM to do this stuff, we had to consider it pretty closely - how do you move play along if there's no one player who's job is to do it? You pass scene-framing to a player as a duty (actually it's rewarded, so they have to bid on the right to do it).

Mike
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contracycle
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« Reply #49 on: November 23, 2005, 01:54:56 AM »

Based on what I commented for Joshua above, I see only one way to approach this (might well be because of my current poverty of vision): The type of interplay inherent to the Scene should be analysed down to elements that create the basic tensions establishing that interplay.

To concretize, here's a quick sketch of the direction this could take us, if pursued:

Looking at a game situation from a Scenic viewpoint, you would not merely have character called John, character called Jane, so forth: you would also define them with "roles" that make up the Scene, as "forces" in play. Thus, John could be defined as the "Adversary of Jane", a "Humorous Distraction", or perhaps a "Figure of Repentance" etc. (These terms are just depictive phrases to sketch the idea I'm after, not well-honed terms of Scenic roles.)

This way you could superimpose the definitions of the Scene on the ongoing play - to make a sort of Scenic lens, if you will.

OK, I like this a lot at first glance.  Unfortunately it doesn't help me much more than the previous remark that a scene should do what I want it to do - my question is, rather, how should scenes be constructed with an eye to such a purpose?  Like the interactions you mention.

I'll try to illlustrate with a negative example.  I once saw an odd and frankly unwatchable French film which was basically one scene.  A couple in a long tailback abandon their car and start walking along the road, having a conversation/argument I couldn't follow.  As they walk, the camera strafes alongside as they pass abandoned car after abandonded car; every now and then, little half-seen vignettes of other people trapped in this circumstance flicker by.  Very odd.

Now this was, obviously, a deliberate design choice, and perhaps if I understood French the conversation would have contextualised it for me.  Nevertheless, the overall experience was mostly illustrative of why normal movies do use scene changes, because it was relentlessly dull.  But I note similar problem in RPG, certainly mine as a teenager - a phenomenon I have described as being trapped in continuous time.  In this situtation, the gamers don't know when or why to stop a scene, and so it drags on and on with increasingly frantic questions of "so what do you do".... and nobody does anything much, because nobody is aware of what the "interplays" in the "scene" are supposed to be.  In short, nobody understands what the scene is FOR, I think.

Thats the angle I'm coming from.  The single scene approach is so obviously weird that it prompts me to wonder about the purposefulness of scenes.  So, how does a director then decide on what scenes to establish and shoot, or which scene should follow on from which?  I suppose one might this as, how does one go from a general overview of a story to a model of the scenes by means of which the story can be told?

While tools or similar that tackle scenes as manipulable entitites that can be modified on the fly do indeed sound worthy, I suspect that an understanding of the principles of scene constructiuon and, significantly, scene ending, might be very useful as a starting point.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #50 on: November 23, 2005, 10:28:51 AM »

Quote
Now this was, obviously, a deliberate design choice, and perhaps if I understood French the conversation would have contextualised it for me.  Nevertheless, the overall experience was mostly illustrative of why normal movies do use scene changes, because it was relentlessly dull.

This is why I mentioned Alfred Hitchcock's film Rope. Not only is it shot as one continuous scene, it's shot such as to give the illusion that there are no cuts at all in the film. The entire thing is in an apartment, and the camera simply pans back and forth and follows the characters around it, much like as if one were there in the scene. There actually were cuts in the movie, but they were cleverly hidden by passes behind furniture and such. So that Jimmy Stewart and the rest of the cast could take a break, and they could change the film reel. Most of the segments are eight minutes long, or so, however, meaning that each had to be played carefully.

Now here's an interesting thing. Many people who've seen the film don't realize that there are no visible cuts. When it's over, and you ask them if there was anything odd about the film, some will say that there was something, but can't put their finger on it. Some realize that it's only one scene. But very few realize that it's continuous.

And it's not a bad film. I like it, and many people do. I recommend seeing it if you have a chance.

Which is to say that it's not really so much cutting and framing that's important at all, IMO. It's getting to the interesting moments that's important. This is why LARPs are designed the way they are - they're like the movie Rope. They put X characters with conflicts into some rooms, and let it all "play out." Most "adventurous" genres require changes in locale to happen, so this is unlikely to be useful for much tabletop play. But the point is that you don't frame for the sake of framing, but only when the current scene has used up it's potential. Some scenes continue to generate new situation internally, and go on, and on, and on.

Mike
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contracycle
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« Reply #51 on: November 24, 2005, 03:15:35 AM »

Which is to say that it's not really so much cutting and framing that's important at all, IMO. It's getting to the interesting moments that's important.

I couldn't disagree more - the cutting and framing are primary tools for intervening in the imaginary space.  Consider that you can entirely "re-dress the set" by framing to a different scene.  So, the cuts and frames are fundamental to the actual experience of play; they are a mechanism by which you get to the interesting moments, and minimise the unintersting moments.

Quote
But the point is that you don't frame for the sake of framing, but only when the current scene has used up it's potential.

Right - but how to do you determine that?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #52 on: November 28, 2005, 07:10:37 AM »

On you're first point, I'm not trying to say that cutting and framing aren't effective tools - I couldn't personally do without them myself anymore. I'm saying that they're only important insamuch as they get us to the important stuff. If there is another way to get us to the important stuff, then that's just as effective. Basically I'm trying to focus in on what the priority is in terms of using these things.

Which is the second point. To always be moving to the important stuff. How do you know when a scene has lost it's potential to contain important stuff? Well, first, you have to know what the important stuff is. This is a matter of understanding the agenda that everyone is enjoying primarily, and we could have a whole thread just on that subject. Secondly, not to hand wave it, but often you just "know" that it's time to move on. That is, if the current scene is boring, and you can't think of how to make it non-boring, then perhaps rearranging the elements with some framing is what you need to adjust the situation so that things are interesting again. But, lastly and more precisely, a more conscious way is to watch the players for what they're responding to, and what they aren't responding to, and adding more of what they're responding to. If the current scene can't reasonably handle more of such additions, then it's time to frame to a scene that does.

Aesthetics comes into the picture as well, of course. I've made the mistake, more than once, of "framing in", or having enter a scene, one character too many. That is, often the best way to alter the situation to make it continue to be interesting is to have a character arrive just then. After about three entrances, however, it can start to seem really contrived. The level to which they seem contrived, of course, being related to how contrived each is individually. That is, if the scene is supposed to be a meeting where everyone is expected to arrive, then each of these arrivals isn't at all contrived, but just part of continuity. Again, it's about three "just happened along" entrances where things start to seem stretched. Perhaps more for different groups (maybe only one every other scene or less for some groups that are really into continuity as an end). The point is that when you reach that level of aesthetic boundary for this sort of thing, it's often best to end the scene, and start others with the characters in question who you want to include in the action.

This doesn't always work, of course, given that it might only be the confluence of a certain set of characters in certain relationships that creates the fun situation. For instance, if two characters are in bed together, and one's husband comes in, that's a pretty standard interesting situation (if cliched). If you frame the wife to the husband in the next scene, you don't have the situation in question. In that case, the only way to engineer it is with a "coincidental" arrival.

So, obviously it's a balancing act. Add to the current scene where it doesn't blow the group's plausibility meter, and as is required to take advantage of the opportunities that the scene offers. Which is not to say to always take them all - having the husband show up every time becomes boring itself. But just to make as much new situation you can with what you have to work with. And as soon as that situation has played itself out, and mixing it up further is no longer as interesting as framing to some other combination of elements, it's time for a new scene. When that's true is going to depend on the group playing and their agenda, and other aesthetic considerations that we can only make gross generalizations about.

Mike
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« Reply #53 on: November 28, 2005, 11:02:27 AM »


But the point is that you don't frame for the sake of framing, but only when the current scene has used up it's potential.
Right - but how to do you determine that?

Roughly, I would say that the simplest way to know to cut is when player interest is lagging and you (collectively) have nothing more to add to the current scene. 

Still, I would throw a few more thoughts here.  One of the issues scene framing is that they inherently release tension to a degree.  By skipping forwards in time, you're allowing that there isn't current tension over what will happen in the next moment.  The few movies which have continuous time often play on that interest.  For some of the better examples, see Hitchcock's Rope (as already mentioned) and Running Time

There is also a price to be paid in exposition.  By cutting in time and place, you generally have to re-establish the time and place and immediate circumstances.  i.e. Where have we cut to?  How long has it been?  What is happening?  If you can instead introduce new elements into an existing scene, then these questions are already answered.  Within feature films, there are a few dialogue films like My Dinner With Andre and various monologue or concert films (like Eddie Murphy Raw or Swimming to Cambodia).  If the time and place aren't so relevant, then cutting may not be justified. 

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« Reply #54 on: November 29, 2005, 06:29:13 AM »

Still, I would throw a few more thoughts here.  One of the issues scene framing is that they inherently release tension to a degree.  By skipping forwards in time, you're allowing that there isn't current tension over what will happen in the next moment.  The few movies which have continuous time often play on that interest.  For some of the better examples, see Hitchcock's Rope (as already mentioned) and Running Time

Right, thats the sort of thing I want to discuss.  I agree with your analysis of tension; you may recall that you helped me lay out an idea for using one or more lines of tension that the action is attempting to resolve, and proposing that play moves along these tensions, possibly interleaving them.  I think there may be some confusion over tension that results in the phenomenon of getting bogged down in the know; perhaps the GM is waiting for someone to release something, or the players are wrongly under the impression that something dramatic is about to happen.

Confusing the issue further is the presence of player sub-plots; it may be the case that only one player is engaged with something tense, sand the others are twiddling their thumbs.  This is why I think there would be some purpose in explicitly indicating what tensions are operational in a given scene, and what the scene is waiting to resolve.

Quote
There is also a price to be paid in exposition.  By cutting in time and place, you generally have to re-establish the time and place and immediate circumstances.  i.e. Where have we cut to?  How long has it been?  What is happening?  If you can instead introduce new elements into an existing scene, then these questions are already answered...   If the time and place aren't so relevant, then cutting may not be justified. 

Granted.  But no bad thing, IMO, because every time the situation is re-established, the singular narration also forces a convergence of IS's.  I agree, though, that it is very definitely a conscious selection of time and place at which the new scene will occur.  The question of 'how long has it been' is quite thorny if any of the characters have some kind of project on the go, or if one of them is healing say, or even quite prosaically, if they are paying for their own support.  What intrigues me is this aspect of time in scenes, and the fact that we have the observation "system lends time to the imaginary space".

From that perspective I wonder if it might be possible to establish something like a "scene change consent" indicator.  A simple token with two differently coloured sides could do this, for example.  If each player had one, say set to "Red" by default, then when each feels they have no more business to discuss at the present, they can flip it to "green" to show they are ready to go.  The GM can then observe the player manipulation of their tokens to understand when the players are ready.  Thoughts?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #55 on: November 29, 2005, 02:24:32 PM »

This is really cool stuff, but are we still on topic? Perhaps a new thread on honing cutting technique instincts.

I generally think that often in RPG play the tradition is to let a scene go on until the GM asks, "Anybody want to do anything else? No? OK, then on to the next scene." For a lot of groups, however, like ones looking for tension (I don't think all are - especially not all the time), that's probably after the boat has sailed. Doing a good job of cutting before you've dragged on too far, and the tension has drained out of the scene, is a difficult talent to practice, but a good one to have.

I do alright, but am too "sharing" a GM to make early cuts unless I really know that it's time.

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #56 on: November 30, 2005, 09:43:14 AM »

I concur with Mike.

I've got a lot of good stuff out of this thread, but if we're going to start talking about cut techniques, it's time for a new thread.

I think this thread is done, but if anybody has anything to add about the distinctions between the Setting, Situation, and Scenes, by all means post here.
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