Screenplay Edit: “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

Screenshot by the author; © 2001 by Warner Bros.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring tells the story of Frodo Baggins and company as they begin their quest through Middle Earth to destroy the One Ring. The script was written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, based on the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien.

In this scene, Gandalf confronts a balrog in the Mines of Moria as he and the fellowship flee across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

💬 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

INT. BRIDGE OF KHAZAD-DÛM, MORIA - DAYThe FELLOWSHIP run into the SECOND HALL ... the floor is split with fissures that spit flame.GANDALF
(yelling)
Over the bridge! Fly!
They race towards the slender bridge of stone ... without kerb or rail ... at the far end of the hall. The FELLOWSHIP recklessly hurry over the dizzying bridge .. but GANDALF ... the last ... pauses in the middle of the span ... he faces the BALROG ... staff in one hand ... GLAMDRING in the other!ANGLE ON: FRODO looks back in horror:GANDALF (CONT’D)
You cannot pass!
FRODO
(alarmed yell)
Gandalf!
GANDALF
(yelling)
I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn.
FRODO watches as the BALROG puts one foot on the bridge and draws up to FULL HEIGHT, wings spreading from wall-to-wall. GANDALF is a tiny figure, balanced precariously on the narrow bridge.GANDALF (CONT’D)
Go back to the Shadow!
The BALROG slashes at GANDALF with its SWORD OF FLAME ... GANDALF blocks with GLAMDRING ... a ringing clash and the BALROG’S SWORD SHATTERS into MOLTEN FRAGMENTS!GANDALF
(booming)
You shall not pass!!
The BALROG places one foot onto the bridge.ARAGORN
He cannot stand alone! Elendil! I am with you Gandalf!
BOROMIR
(raising his sword)
Gondor!
ANGLE ON: ARAGORN and BOROMIR race forward, swords drawn. GANDALF CRIES ALOUD as he summons his LAST RESERVES OF STRENGTH!!He thumps the bridge with his staff ... a blinding sheet of white flame springs up ... the staff shatters ... the bridge breaks ... right at the BALROG’S feet.The stone bridge drops away into the GULF ... from under the BALROG. For a moment, the great BEAST remains poised in the air ... then it plunges down:SLOW MOTION: RELIEF floods FRODO’S face ... GANDALF remains trembling on the lip of the broken bridge.SLOW MOTION: As the BALROG falls, he lashes out with his whip of fire...SLOW MOTION: The thongs of the whip lash and curl around GANDALF’S knees, dragging him over the brink! GANDALF just manages to hang on by his fingertips.FRODO
(screaming)
Gandalf!
GANDALF
(fierce)
Fly, you fools!
CLOSE ON: GANDALF lets go his grip and falls away ... following the BALROG into the BOTTOMLESS ABYSS!

Line Edit

INT. BRIDGE OF KHAZAD-DÛM, MORIA — DAY

Since the Bridge of Khazad-dûm is a structure inside a place (Moria), and not a place itself, let’s configure the scene heading to indicate as much.

INT. MORIA — BRIDGE OF KHAZAD-DÛM — DAY

The FELLOWSHIP run into the SECOND HALL ... the floor is split with fissures that spit flame.

All-caps is used to denote character-name introductions, camera direction, and sound effects. Thus, since the words styled in all-caps in this sentence do not meet this criteria, let’s remove the all-caps styling. And let’s also replace the ellipsis with a period and capitalize the subsequent the as the start of a new sentence.

The fellowship run into the Second Hall. The floor is split with fissures that spit flame.

💬 The authors of this script make heavy use of all-caps and ellipses, all instances of which require changing. So, to keep things simple, and to avoid repeating the same edits, I have removed the all-caps styling from the relevant lines in this excerpt as well as replaced all ellipses with appropriate punctuation. These changes are indicated in boldface within code blocks.

GANDALF(yelling)

Both the context of this scene and the exclamation points in Gandalf’s proceeding dialogue are sufficient to indicate that Gandalf is yelling. So let’s remove this parenthetical.

Over the bridge!Fly!They race towards the slender bridge of stone, without kerb or rail, at the far end of the hall.

Slender refers to girth, or the measurement of an object’s circumference; thus, the appropriate word to describe the bridge is narrow, as narrow refers to an object’s width relative to its length. However, “slender bridge of stone, without kerb or rail” is a direct quote from the source text, and my guess is that Tolkien preferred the alliteration afforded by slender than he did the precision afforded by narrow. And although this word choice bothers me, let’s respect Tolkien’s decision — as well as that of the authors of this script to uphold it — and leave the description as is. Except let’s remove the commas that surround without kerb or rail, to indicate that this description is of the bridge and not of the fellowship.

They race towards the slender bridge of stone without kerb or rail at the far end of the hall.

The fellowship recklessly hurry over the dizzying bridge, but Gandalf, the last, pauses in the middle of the span.

The description of the fellowship as “reckless” here is inaccurate; I think what the authors mean is that the fellowship are frantic — indeed, they are fleeing for their lives. Still, that the fellowship are “hurrying” is descriptive enough of the way they are crossing the bridge, so let’s remove reckless. And since the bridge is not a circle or a spiral rather a straight line, let’s remove dizzying too, as this sensation is brought about by whirling, not by crossing.

The fellowship hurry over the bridge, but Gandalf, the last, pauses in the middle of the span.

The ancient dwarves of Moria constructed the Bridge of Khazad-dûm as a defense against enemies that might capture the First Hall of the city; to reach the rest of the city, such enemies would be required to cross the bridge single-file, significantly slowing them down and making them vulnerable to arrows and falling. Thus, to illustrate this precariousness, let’s describe the fellowship as crossing the bridge in single file.

The fellowship hurry in single file over the bridge, but Gandalf, the last, pauses in the middle of the span.

The coordinating conjunction but in this sentence is misplaced. But indicates contradiction (or contrast). However, the two parts of this sentence — that the fellowship hurry over the bridge, and that Gandalf pauses in the middle of the span — are not contradictory; indeed, either may occur without impeding the other (because Gandalf is the last in line and as such is unable to block the fellowship from crossing). And although we could improve the logic of the sentence by replacing but with and, a better option is just to remove but and separate the two parts of the sentence into unique sentences. So let’s do this. Also, although this detail is probably understandable for readers as is, let’s specify that Gandalf is the last in line.

The fellowship hurry in single file over the bridge. Gandalf, the last in line, pauses in the middle of the span.

At this point in the scene, Gandalf has already made up his mind about what he’s going to do, so to say that he “pauses” in the middle of the span is inaccurate; no, Gandalf stops in the middle of the span. So let’s replace pauses with stops.

The fellowship hurry in single file over the bridge. Gandalf, the last in line, stops in the middle of the span.

He faces the balrog, staff in one hand, Glamdring in the other!

For Gandalf to face the balrog, he must turn around. And although this motion is implied in Gandalf’s facing the balrog, I think we should nevertheless articulate it for readers, as doing so will enable them to imagine the scene with greater ease and fidelity. So let’s include this action.

He turns around and faces the balrog, staff in one hand, Glamdring in the other!

Exclamation points are used to convey excitement or exclamation. As such, they should be used sparingly; indeed, their value and impact diminish with every use. What’s more, excessive use of exclamation points can be fatiguing for readers. So, since the characters are already stressed and yelling to each other, let’s contrast this high energy with low energy in the narration; let’s remove this and all other exclamation points in lines of action.

He turns around and faces the balrog, staff in one hand, Glamdring in the other.

ANGLE ON: Frodo looks back in horror:

That this line tells us what Frodo does is sufficient to indicate that the “camera” is on him; thus, ANGLE ON is implied. So let’s remove this and all other instances of ANGLE ON. And let’s also replace the colon at the end of this sentence with a period.

Frodo looks back in horror.

Reading this line now, I realize that Frodo’s action is unmotivated; indeed, why would Frodo spontaneously look back in horror? We, readers, know that Gandalf has stopped to confront the balrog, but Frodo doesn’t. Thus, if Frodo were to look back, he would do so only in response to some stimulus, such as hearing Gandalf confront the balrog. So let’s improve the logic of this action by moving it to after Gandalf confronts the balrog.

GANDALF (CONT’D)

Since Gandalf’s next line is not a continuation of his previous line, let’s remove the CONT’D extension.

GANDALF

You cannot pass!Frodo looks back in horror.FRODO(alarmed yell)

The context of this moment is sufficient to convey that Frodo is alarmed, and the exclamation point at the end of Frodo’s proceeding dialogue is sufficient to convey that Frodo is yelling; thus, this parenthetical is implied. So let’s remove it.

Gandalf!

Frodo’s exclamation of Gandalf’s name in this line is sufficient to convey that Frodo looks back in horror; thus, even after our previous reasoning, the line describing Frodo looking back in horror is unnecessary. So let’s remove it.

GANDALF(yelling)

By this point in the scene, it should be clear to readers that the characters are yelling; they’re running for their lives, in a massive hall that drops to a literal abyss, facing rowdy orcs and a giant shadow-fire monster. So let’s remove this and all other similar parentheticals (with the exception of Gandalf’s booming, later).

I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.

This line is a direct quote from the source text. However, since flame of Anor is used here as a proper noun referring to the name of a power, let’s capitalize flame.

I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor.

The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn.

Udûn (translation: Hell) is the Sindarin name of the balrog’s ancient home, and since there exist multiple balrogs in Middle Earth, and since all of them share this ancient home, each balrog may be considered a flame of Udûn. As such, we needn’t capitalize flame here as we did in the previous line, as the word is used here, not as a proper noun referring to the name of a single being, but as a common noun referring to one of several beings.

Frodo watches as the Balrog puts one foot on the bridge and draws up to full height, wings spreading from wall-to-wall.

That Frodo watches these actions occur is implied by Frodo’s participation in the scene. And even if it isn’t implied, this information is irrelevant to readers anyway, and for two reasons: first, because Frodo’s watching these events occur is inconsequential to the drama; and second, because the relevant action in this scene is, not Frodo watching something occur, rather the something itself occurring. So let’s remove the reference to Frodo at the beginning of this line.

The balrog puts one foot on the bridge and draws up to full height, wings spreading from wall-to-wall.

To “put one foot on” something is simply to step onto it, so let’s simplify this language. And let’s also specify that the balrog is drawing up to its own full height, and not necessarily the height of the hall.

The balrog steps onto the bridge and draws up to its full height, wings spreading from wall-to-wall.

The subject of this sentence is the balrog; however, the subject changes in the second part of the sentence to the balrog’s wings. So let’s maintain consistency and make the balrog the subject of both parts of the sentence by having the balrog spread its own wings. Also, since wall-to-wall is being used here as an adverb to describe how the balrog spreads its wings, and not as an adjective to describe the balrog’s wings themselves, let’s remove the hyphens.

The balrog steps onto the bridge and draws up to its full height, spreading its wings from wall to wall.

Although this line is sufficient to convey the balrog’s action, I think it could be more descriptive of the balrog itself. Tolkien describes “the shadow about [the balrog]” as “reach[ing] out like two vast wings,” and that these wings “were spread from wall to wall” (Book II, Chapter V). This description conjures in my imagination massive, imposing curtains of darkness. However, the detail of darkness (shadow) is missing from the description of the balrog’s wings here in the script. So let’s include it.

The balrog steps onto the bridge and draws up to its full height, spreading its wings of darkness* from wall to wall.

* I chose darkness here instead of Tolkien’s shadow, as Gandalf’s next line is “Go back to the Shadow!” and the repetition of shadow felt awkward.

Gandalf is a tiny figure, balanced precariously on the narrow bridge.

One of the authors of this script (Peter Jackson) is also the director of the film made from it. As such — and as is often the case with scripts written by writer-directors — this line contains a description of a shot instead of a description of action. And this is fine except that shot descriptions should be preceded by shot headings, to designate the descriptions as such; otherwise, readers may become confused or disoriented — or, worse, removed from the story — by the sudden change in perspective.

This said, shot descriptions should nevertheless provide context for the scene or otherwise propel the story forward, just as any other line should. But this line about Gandalf being a tiny figure does neither; it merely illustrates a cutaway. Such lines, then, are better included in shot lists as information for the director et al. of the film, and not in scripts as information for readers. So let’s remove this line.

GANDALF (CONT’D)Go back to the Shadow!

This line is a direct quote from the source text, wherein Shadow is used as a proper noun referring to the name of evil as a force. So let’s leave Shadow capitalized.

The balrog slashes at Gandalf with its sword of flame.Gandalf blocks with Glamdring.A ringing clash and the balrog’s sword shatters into molten fragments.

The “ringing clash” produced by the swords colliding is a description from the source text; however, the way this description is included here has produced a sentence fragment. And there are two ways to fix this: either we could state that “there is a ringing clash,” or we could forgo the ringing and simply state that “the swords clash.” I prefer the second option, as it better specifies the source of the clash. So let’s go with this. Oh, and let’s also insert a comma after clash, to separate the independent clauses.

The swords clash, and the balrog’s sword shatters into molten fragments.

GANDALF(booming)You shall not pass!!

The parenthetical booming is sufficient to describe how Gandalf speaks this line, and a single exclamation point is sufficient to indicate that Gandalf is exclaiming. So let’s remove the second exclamation point.

You shall not pass!

The balrog places one foot onto the bridge.

As with before, if the balrog “places one foot” onto the bridge, then the balrog simply steps onto the bridge. So let’s simplify this language. And since the balrog already stepped onto the bridge in a previous line, let’s clarify here that the balrog is stepping further onto the bridge.

The balrog steps further onto the bridge.

ARAGORNHe cannot stand alone!Elendil!

Elendil is the given name of the noble first high king of Gondor, the rights and responsibilities of whom Aragorn is heir. Aragorn, then, is here, as he does, invoking Elendil’s name as a source of courage and strength. In the source text, Tolkien italicizes this invocation — perhaps because Elendil is an elvish word (and Tolkien italicizes elvish words), or perhaps to designate it as an invocation. Whatever the reason, italicizing the word seems appropriate, so let’s do the same here.

Elendil!

I am with you Gandalf!

Since Aragorn is addressing Gandalf directly, let’s insert a comma before Gandalf.

I am with you, Gandalf!

BOROMIR(raising his sword)

Although the information in this parenthetical is appropriate, I think it would be better suited in a line of action before Boromir’s dialogue, as here it feels like it disrupts the flow of events; indeed, readers expect that what follows Boromir’s character name will be dialgoue but instead must recalibrate to imagine Boromir raising his sword. So let’s place this action in a line of action before Boromir’s character name.

Boromir raises his sword.

BOROMIR

Gondor!Aragorn and Boromir race forward, swords drawn.

Since Boromir has already drawn his sword (and, presumably, Aragorn too), let’s remove the description of their swords being drawn here.

Aragorn and Boromir race forward.

Forward is vague, as it does not indicate which direction the characters are facing relative to the action; thus, forward could be any direction. So let’s specify the destination of their running instead of the direction of their running.

Aragorn and Boromir race to Gandalf.

Gandalf cries aloud as he summons his last reserves of strength.He thumps the bridge with his staff.

Since there are many ways that Gandalf could “thump” the bridge with his staff, let’s specify the he uses the bottom of his staff. And although I like the word thump, a better, stronger, and more accurate word is smite; indeed, this is the word that Tolkien uses to describe Gandalf’s action. So let’s replace thump with smite.

He smites the bridge with the bottom of his staff.

A blinding sheet of white flame springs up.

Since it’s not clear what produces the white flame or from where the white flame “springs up,” let’s specify that the white flame springs up from the point of impact between the staff and the bridge. And since the direction of the springing is implied by the springing, let’s remove up.

A blinding sheet of white flame springs from the point of impact.

The staff shatters. The bridge breaks right at the balrog’s feet.

Both of these lines are consequences of the smite and the sheet of white flame. So let’s indicate as much — and also improve the flow of the lines — by combining them, replacing the period in the first sentence with a comma and inserting the coordinating conjunction and between the resulting clauses.

The staff shatters, and the bridge breaks right at the balrog’s feet.

The description of the bridge “break[ing]” at the balrog’s feet is vague, as what exactly does it mean for the bridge to break? Does the bridge crack, explode, crumble? The next line in the script states that the bridge “drops away into the gulf from under the balrog,” which conjures in my imagination the bridge crumbling beneath the balrog. So let’s combine this line with the next line and state that the bridge crumbles beneath the balrog.

The staff shatters, and the bridge crumbles beneath the balrog.

For a moment, the great beast remains poised in the air, then it plunges down:

To “remain poised in the air” is simply to hover, and to “plunge down” is simply to plunge. So let’s simplify this language. And let’s also remove the pronoun it and replace the colon at the end of the sentence with a period.

For a moment, the great beast hovers, then plunges.

Although it is implied in the balrog’s plunging, let’s add finality to the line by specifying that the balrog plunges into the abyss.

For a moment, the great beast hovers, then plunges into the abyss.

SLOW MOTION: Relief floods Frodo’s face. Gandalf remains trembling on the lip of the broken bridge.

That a shot is played in slow motion is important technical information for the filmmakers; however, it is not important dramatic information for readers. As such, this information is better included in shot lists. So let’s remove this and all other instances of slow-motion shot headings.

Relief floods Frodo’s face. Gandalf remains trembling on the lip of the broken bridge.

Since Aragorn and Boromir are also players in the events thus far, let’s add a line that describes their responses to the balrog’s fall.

Relief floods Frodo’s face. Aragorn and Boromir relax. Gandalf remains trembling on the lip of the broken bridge.

Unless Gandalf has been described as leaving the lip of the broken bridge, readers will assume that Gandalf has remained there. So let’s remove this description.

Relief floods Frodo’s face. Aragorn and Boromir relax. Gandalf trembles.

As the balrog falls, he lashes out with his whip of fire.

Two lines ago, we stated that the balrog fell into the abyss. Thus, to describe the balrog here as falling — even if this description is accurate — is illogical. So let’s replace As the balrog falls with, say, From the abyss. Also, to “lash out with” is simply to fling, so let’s simplify this language.

From the abyss, the balrog flings his whip of fire.

Although the balrog is male (as are all balrogs) and it is therefore technically correct to use the pronouns he, him, and his to refer to it, the authors have used the pronouns it and its to refer to the balrog thus far. So let’s maintain consistency and replace his with its.

From the abyss, the balrog flings its whip of fire.

The thongs of the whip lash and curl around Gandalf’s knees, dragging him over the brink.

Since it’s obvious that the thongs in this sentence are of the balrog’s whip, let’s remove the specification of the whip. Also, the next line states that “Gandalf just manages to hang on by his fingertips.” However, for this to be possible, Gandalf must not be dragged over the brink rather dragged to it. So let’s replace over with to.

The thongs lash and curl around Gandalf’s knees, dragging him to the brink.

Gandalf just manages to hang on by his fingertips.FRODOGandalf!GANDALFFly, you fools!CLOSE ON: Gandalf lets go his grip and falls away, following the balrog into the bottomless abyss.

Since the run-in shot heading CLOSE ON is technical information relevant to the filming of the script, and not dramatic information relevant to the story, let’s remove it. Also, that Gandalf both falls “away” and “follows the balrog into the bottomless abyss” are implied in Gandalf’s falling into the abyss. So let’s remove these redundancies. And since abysses are bottomless (or, at least, immeasurably deep), describing the abyss as bottomless here is redundant too. So let’s remove this redundancy as well.

Gandalf lets go his grip and falls into the abyss.

Edited Text

INT. MORIA - BRIDGE OF KHAZAD-DÛM - DAYThe fellowship run into the Second Hall. The floor is split with fissures that spit flame.GANDALF
Over the bridge! Fly!
They race towards the slender bridge of stone without kerb or rail at the far end of the hall. The fellowship hurry in single file over the bridge. Gandalf, the last in line, stops in the middle of the span. He turns around and faces the balrog, staff in one hand, Glamdring in the other.GANDALF
You cannot pass!
FRODO
Gandalf!
GANDALF
I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn.
The balrog steps onto the bridge and draws up to its full height, spreading its wings of darkness from wall to wall.GANDALF
Go back to the Shadow!
The balrog slashes at Gandalf with its sword of flame. Gandalf blocks with Glamdring. The swords clash, and the balrog’s sword shatters into molten fragments.GANDALF
(booming)
You shall not pass!
The balrog steps further onto the bridge.ARAGORN
He cannot stand alone! Elendil! I am with you, Gandalf!
Boromir raises his sword.BOROMIR
Gondor!
Aragorn and Boromir race to Gandalf.Gandalf cries aloud as he summons his last reserves of strength. He smites the bridge with the bottom of his staff. A blinding sheet of white flame springs from the point of impact. The staff shatters, and the bridge crumbles beneath the balrog. For a moment, the great beast hovers, then plunges into the abyss.Relief floods Frodo’s face. Aragorn and Boromir relax. Gandalf trembles.From the abyss, the balrog flings its whip of fire. The thongs curl around Gandalf’s knees, dragging him to the brink. Gandalf just manages to hang on by his fingertips.FRODO
Gandalf!
GANDALF
Fly, you fools!
Gandalf lets go his grip and falls into the abyss.

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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