the toughest scene i wrote

The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Cutting a Powerful Moment From Room

Photo: A24 FIlms

Vulture is speaking to the screenwriters behind the year’s most acclaimed movies about the scenes they found most difficult to crack. In today’s post, Room’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Emma Donoghue — who adapted her own novel of the same name — shares the struggle she faced in cutting an emotional scene while writing the movie.

There was one plot point I always assumed would be as crucial in the film as it was in the novel: Long after their escape, Ma (Brie Larson) tells Jack (Jacob Tremblay) that she had a baby girl before him, stillborn because she had no medical care during the birth.

In the novel I offset the drama by having it come up in a low-key way, when Jack asks Ma about something he overheard her say to her lawyer. But for the screenplay, I moved the revelation to a more dramatic, visually evocative point: When Ma and Jack return to Old Nick’s (Sean Bridgers) backyard where Room stands, and see the grave from which the police have excavated the baby’s body — which prompts her to finally share the truth with Jack.

Where that exchange would have gone (article continued below):

The problem was that when the confession happened at that moment — or anywhere else in the script I tried putting it — the scene became an utter downer. Worse: Whereas a book can meander toward its destination, a film has a forward momentum. The stillbirth story slammed the brakes and yanked us back toward the tragic past. So the scene I sweated over longest ended up cut, and I have to grudgingly admit that the film’s better without it.

The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Room