Screenplay Edit: “Gravity”

Screenshot by the author; © 2013 by Warner Bros.

Gravity tells the story of NASA astronauts Matt Kowalski and Ryan Stone, who, after a debris field destroys their shuttle during a spacewalk, attempt to return to Earth. The script was written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón.

In this scene, debris caused by cascading collisions of satellites interrupts a spacewalk, destroying the astronauts’ shuttle and sending Ryan drifting into space.

💬 Original lines appear as code blocks, edited lines appear as “quote blocks,” changes appear as boldface, and commentary appears as regular text. Original lines that do not require editing are run into the same code blocks as original lines that follow them and do.

Original Text

MATT
Man down! Man down!
Matt PROPELS himself toward Shariff, who is floating away from the Shuttle unconscious.MATT (CONT’D)
(to Ryan)
Disengage!!!
AN IMPACT.A piece of debris pierces through the right wing of the Space Shuttle, creating a five-foot hole.THE SPACE SHUTTLE ROLLS.The arm, with Ryan attached to it, rolls with the Shuttle.MATT (CONT’D)
Explorer has been hit. Explorer do you read? Explorer, over. Explorer--
Another IMPACT.A piece of debris HITS the robotic arm like a cannon ball and DETACHES it from the Shuttle.The broken piece of the arm SPINS AWAY from the Explorer at a great speed with Ryan attached to it. She passes next to-THE HUBBLE as a big piece of debris hits the telescope. The top of the cylinder explodes into more debris, which is expelled in all directions, barely missing Ryan as she spins away attached to the arm.ON THE ARM-Ryan’s panic grows as she spins further into the nothingness of space.MATT (CONT’D)
Astronaut off structure! Dr. Stone is off structure!
With every spin, the shuttle, being punished by debris, diminishes into a tiny dot in the distance.MATT (CONT’D)
(on radio)
Dr. Stone, detach!
RYAN
Nooooo!
MATT
(on radio)
You must detach!
RYAN
No.
MATT
If you don’t detach that arm is going to carry you too far!
RYAN
(frozen)
I can’t!
MATT
(a brief beat, then)
Listen to my voice. You need to focus. I’m losing visual of you. In a few seconds I won’t be able to track you.
RYAN
(She pulls herself together)
Ok. Ok.
MATT
You need to detach. I can’t see you anymore.
The robotic arm keeps on spinning and stars orbit wildly in her field of vision.RYAN
I’m trying. I’m trying.
MATT
Do it. Now!
RYAN
Ok. I'm trying! I can't it's stuck, Hold on.
Ryan’s hands are trembling and she can’t get a grip on the hook.MATT
Houston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone... Houston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone.
As Matt’s VOICE is LOST to STATIC, Ryan squeezes the hook and is......gone, kicking herself AWAY from the robotic arm and FLYING FREE of the rotating arm. She catches a brief glimpse of the arm as it helicopters away, then loses sight of it as she rotates end over end in endless free fall.

Line Edit

MATTMan down! Man down!Matt PROPELS himself toward Shariff, who is floating away from the Shuttle unconscious.

All-caps is used to denote character-name introductions, camera direction, and sound effects; thus, since PROPELS does not meet this criteria, let’s remove the all-caps styling. Also, although Shuttle is a proper noun that refers to the Space Shuttle, the capitalization feels unnecessary; indeed, the name of the shuttle is not Space Shuttle, rather Explorer, so proper-noun references to the shuttle should be Explorer. So let’s remove the capitalization and simply refer to the shuttle using the common noun shuttle. (And to avoid repeating these edits, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of all-caps and Shuttle.)

Matt propels himself toward Shariff, who is floating away from the shuttle unconscious.

MATT (CONT’D)

Since Matt’s next line is not a continuation of his previous line, let’s remove the CONT’D extension. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of CONT’D extensions.)

MATT

(to Ryan)Disengage!!!

Exclamation points are used to convey excitement or exclamation; thus, a single exclamation point is sufficient to convey that Matt is exclaiming. So let’s remove the additional exclamation points.

Disengage!

An impact.

This description is vague, as it fails to specify important information for visualizing the scene — indeed, it is not clear what is impacted, what does the impacting, how large the impact is, or what the consequences of the impact are. And although the following line describes the impact, and we could replace the period with a colon and combine this line with the following line, a better option is simply to remove this line, as the following line is sufficient to convey that an impact is occurring. So let’s do this.

A piece of debris pierces through the right wing of the shuttle, creating a five-foot hole.

Pierce, as it’s used in this sentence, means “to make a hole through”; thus, through in pierces through is redundant. So let’s remove it.

A piece of debris pierces the right wing of the shuttle, creating a five-foot hole.

The shuttle rolls.

Since it’s not immediately clear why the shuttle rolls, let’s clarify the cause of the rolling; let’s remove this line and add its information to the previous line by stating that the debris sends the shuttle into a roll.

A piece of debris pierces the right wing of the shuttle, creating a five-foot hole and sending the shuttle into a roll.

The arm, with Ryan attached to it, rolls with the shuttle.

That Ryan is attached to the arm has already been established, as has the arm being attached to the shuttle. Further, that both the arm and Ryan roll with the shuttle is implied by the shuttle rolling. So we can remove this line. However, I think the authors are using it to illustrate the image of Ryan being swung through space as well as to reiterate, or reinforce, Ryan’s plight. So let’s accomplish this by other means; let’s remove this line and add a simple reminder to the previous line.

A piece of debris pierces the right wing of the shuttle, creating a five-foot hole and sending the shuttle — and Ryan — into a roll.

MATTExplorer has been hit.

Since Explorer is the name of the shuttle, let’s italicize this and all other instances of it.

Explorer has been hit.

Explorer do you read?

Since Matt is addressing Explorer directly (inside which is the shuttle’s captain, the person to whom Matt is speaking), let’s insert a comma after Explorer.

Explorer, do you read?

Explorer, over.Explorer--

Let’s replace the double hyphens with a dash, to inidicate interruption.

Explorer

Another impact.

As with the previous impact, let’s remove this mentioning of the impact and retain only the description in the following line instead.

A piece of debris hits the robotic arm like a cannon ball and detaches it from the shuttle.The broken piece of the arm spins away from the Explorer at a great speed with Ryan attached to it.

That the arm is broken is self-evident, as is the arm spinning away “from the Explorer” and the speed at which it is doing so. So let’s simplify this sentence by removing these details.

The arm spins away with Ryan attached to it.

Now let’s improve the mechanics of the sentence by adding a comma after away, to indicate that what follows the comma is additive and refers to the arm, not the spinning away. And to distinguish the information of Ryan being attached to the arm as reiterative instead of revelatory, let’s describe Ryan as being still attached to the arm.

The arm spins away, with Ryan still attached to it.

She passes next to-The Hubble as a big piece of debris hits the telescope.

Since the first of these lines is a fragment, and since it’s not clear why there is a paragraph break between them, let’s combine them.

She passes next to the Hubble as a big piece of debris hits the telescope.

That Ryan passes “next to” the Hubble is implied by her passing the Hubble. So let’s remove this redundancy. Also, although it may be obvious to some or even most readers that the Hubble in this sentence refers to the Hubble Space Telescope, let’s nevertheless clarify this by moving telescope from the end of the sentence to after Hubble. And let’s also improve the description of the debris hitting the telescope by using more specific, evocative language; let’s describe the telescope as being “torn apart by debris.”

She passes next to the Hubble telescope as it is torn apart by debris.

The top of the cylinder explodes into more debris, which is expelled in all directions, barely missing Ryan as she spins away attached to the arm.

Even if some or most readers know what the Hubble telescope is, few probably know what it looks like. Thus, the description of the “top of the cylinder” exploding is ambiguous, as it is unclear what this description refers to; indeed, unless readers know that the Hubble is cylindrical, they will not know that this description refers the telescope’s shape. And although we could clarify this by replacing cylinder with body, a better option is simply to remove this arbitrary specification and simply state that the telescope explodes. So let’s do this.

The telescope explodes into more debris, which is expelled in all directions, barely missing Ryan as she spins away attached to the arm.

That the telescope explodes “into more debris” is implied by its exploding, so let’s remove this description. And, as with the previous sentence, let’s employ more evocative language; let’s describe the explosion as “expelling shrapnel” in all directions. Also, it should be clear by now to any reader that Ryan is attached to the robotic arm; thus, the description of her being “attached to the arm” is unnecessary. So let’s replace this description with new information; let’s describe Ryan as spinning further into space.

The telescope explodes, expelling shrapnel in all directions, barely missing Ryan as she spins further into space.

ON THE ARM-Ryan’s panic grows as she spins further into the nothingness of space.

Although not styled as such, the first of these lines is a shot heading, and the second is a description of the shot. However, the shot heading is implied by the shot description, and the shot description is implied by the situation — meaning, both are unnecessary. Further, since we changed the previous line to describe Ryan as “spin[ning] further into space,” the description of her doing so here is redundant. So let’s remove these lines.

MATTAstronaut off structure!Dr. Stone is off structure!With every spin, the shuttle, being punished by debris, diminishes into a tiny dot in the distance.

Since this line describes Ryan’s point of view, let’s indicate as much by beginning the sentence with the run-in shot heading RYAN’S POV. And let’s replace into with to.

RYAN’S POV: With every spin, the shuttle, being punished by debris, diminishes to a tiny dot in the distance.

MATT(on radio)

Given that the characters are on a space walk, Matt speaking into his radio has already been established and is also self-evident; indeed, all of the characters are speaking into radios. So let’s remove this and all other references to Matt speaking into his radio.

Dr. Stone, detach!RYANNooooo!

One o is sufficient.

No!

MATTYou must detach!RYANNo.

The period at the end of this sentence feels out of place, as it lowers the energy and momentum of the scene. So let’s replace it with an exclamation point.

No!

MATTIf you don’t detach that arm is going to carry you too far!

Let’s improve the mechanics of this sentence by adding a comma after detach, to indicate what precedes it as an “if clause” as well as to clarify that detach refers to Ryan and not to the robotic arm.

If you don’t detach, that arm is going to carry you too far!

RYAN(frozen)I can’t!MATT(a brief beat, then)

“A brief beat, then is simply a beat. So let’s simplify this language.

(beat)

Listen to my voice.You need to focus.I’m losing visual of you.In a few seconds I won’t be able to track you.

Since this sentence is closely related to the one before it, let’s combine them with a semicolon. And let’s also insert a comma after seconds, to indicate what precedes it as an introductory clause.

I’m losing visual of you; in a few seconds, I won’t be able to track you.

RYAN(She pulls herself together)

That Ryan pulls herself together is self-evident in her proceeding dialogue. So let’s remove this parenthetical.

Ok. Ok.

Although this spelling of OK is fine, I prefer okay, as, whereas OK is an acronym and ok is a variant of the acronym, okay is a word and is therefore better suited for dialogue. So let’s replace this and all other instances of ok with okay.

Okay. Okay.

MATTYou need to detach. I can’t see you anymore.The robotic arm keeps on spinning and stars orbit wildly in her field of vision.

As with before, since this line describes Ryan’s point of view, let’s indicate as much by beginning the sentence with the run-in shot heading RYAN’S POV. Also, that the robotic arm “keeps on spinning” is obvious and therefore needn’t be reinforced here, so let’s remove this reinforcement.

RYAN’S POV: Stars orbit wildly in her field of vision.

The native language of the authors of this script is Spanish, in which field of view is campo de visión, or, literally, “field of vision.” So let’s improve the translation by replacing vision with view.

RYAN’S POV: Stars orbit wildly in her field of view.

RYANI’m trying. I’m trying.MATTDo it. Now!RYANOkay. I'm trying! I can't it's stuck, Hold on.

Although sometimes difficult to spot, the apostrophes in these sentences are straight apostrophes instead of curly apostrophes and are therefore inconsistent with the rest of the script. So let’s replace them with curly apostrophes. And let’s also improve the mechanics of the sentence by inserting a semicolon after I can’t, to separate the independent clauses, and replacing the comma after stuck with a period.

Okay. Im trying! I cant; its stuck. Hold on.

Ryan’s hands are trembling and she can’t get a grip on the hook.

Let’s improve the mechanics of this sentence by including a comma after trembling, to separate the independent clauses. Also, to “get a grip on” something is simply to grip it, so let’s simplify this language. And instead of describing what Ryan can’t do, let’s describe what she can do (or is doing) by replacing can’t with struggling to.

Ryan’s hands are trembling, and she’s struggling to grip the hook.

Since it’s not clear what hook this line is referring to, let’s specify the hook as that on Ryan’s harness.

Ryan’s hands are trembling, and she’s struggling to grip the hook on her harness.

MATTHouston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone...

The purpose of an ellipsis is to denote omission or trailing off, and the mark is also sometimes used in dialogue to denote hesitation or pausing; thus, since the ellipsis in this sentence is not serving any of these functions, let’s replace it with a period.

Houston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone.

Houston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone.As Matt’s voice is lost to static, Ryan squeezes the hook and is...

Although squeeze is an accurate word for describing Ryan’s action in this line, it is ambiguous, as it fails to specify how or allude to why she is squeezing the hook; indeed, that she “squeezes” the hook indicates the mechanism of the hook, which implies that the hook is released when squeezed. So instead of implying that the hook is released, let’s simply state that it releases and imply the squeezing; let’s replace squeezes with releases.

As Matt’s voice is lost to static, Ryan releases the hook and is...

...gone, kicking herself away from the robotic arm and flying free of the rotating arm.

Although the paragraph break between this line and the previous line helps illustrate the moment, the break is unnecessary, as the ellipses are sufficient to indicate a dramatic pause. So let’s combine this line with the previous line and connect them with a single ellipsis. Also, that Ryan “kick[s] herself away from the robotic arm” is sufficient to convey that she flies free of the arm, so let’s remove this redundancy.

As Matt’s voice is lost to static, Ryan releases the hook and is...gone, kicking herself away from the robotic arm.

She catches a brief glimpse of the arm as it helicopters away, then loses sight of it as she rotates end over end in endless free fall.

Although this description is illustrative of Ryan’s situation, it nevertheless feels unnecessary; indeed, it’s not clear how or why Ryan glimpsing the arm and then losing sight of it is dramatically relevant, as these actions do not inspire Ryan to act or otherwise move the story forward, nor do they enhance our understanding of Ryan’s situation or reveal new information about it. So let’s remove this description — however, Ryan “rotating end over end in endless free fall,” although wordy, is dramatically relevant, so let’s retain this part but simplify rotating end over end to tumbling, and let’s add this information to the previous sentence.

As Matt’s voice is lost to static, Ryan releases the hook and is…gone, kicking herself away from the robotic arm, tumbling away in endless free fall.

It makes more sense that Ryan would kick away from the robotic arm before being described as “gone,” so let’s swap the order of this information. And since the away in tumbling away is implied by Ryan kicking “away from the robotic arm,” let’s remove this redundancy.

As Matt’s voice is lost to static, Ryan releases the hook, kicks away from the robotic arm, and is…gone, tumbling in endless free fall.

Edited Text

MATT
Man down! Man down!
Matt propels himself toward Shariff, who is floating away from the shuttle unconscious.MATT
(to Ryan)
Disengage!
A piece of debris pierces the right wing of the shuttle, creating a five-foot hole and sending the shuttle - and Ryan - into a roll.MATT
Explorer has been hit. Explorer, do you read? Explorer, over. Explorer -
A piece of debris hits the robotic arm like a cannon ball and detaches the arm from the shuttle. The arm spins away, with Ryan still attached to it.She passes the Hubble telescope as it is torn apart by debris. The telescope explodes, expelling shrapnel in all directions, barely missing Ryan as she spins further into space.MATT
Astronaut off structure! Dr. Stone is off structure!
RYAN’S POV: With every spin, the shuttle, being punished by debris, diminishes to a tiny dot in the distance.MATT
Dr. Stone, detach!
RYAN
No!
MATT
You must detach!
RYAN
No!
MATT
If you don’t detach, that arm is going to carry you too far!
RYAN
(frozen)
I can’t!
MATT
(beat)
Listen to my voice. You need to focus. I’m losing visual of you; in a few seconds, I won’t be able to track you.
RYAN
Okay. Okay.
MATT
You need to detach. I can’t see you anymore.
RYAN’S POV: Stars orbit wildly in her field of view.RYAN
I’m trying. I’m trying.
MATT
Do it. Now!
RYAN
Okay. Im trying! I cant; its stuck. Hold on.
Ryan’s hands are trembling, and she’s struggling to grip the hook on her harness.MATT
Houston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone. Houston, I’ve lost visual of Dr. Stone.
As Matt’s voice is lost to static, Ryan releases the hook, kicks away from the robotic arm, and is...gone, tumbling in endless free fall.

I hope this demonstration has been useful to you, and that it furthered your understanding of editing as well as enabled and encouraged you to improve the quality and efficiency of your own work. See you next time.

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