The Words on the Page

Panic Room

Panic Room

Written by David Koepp

Unspecified Draft - February 2000

Thriller, 103 pages

"Take what you want and get out." - Meg

Panic Room sets its tone even before it fades in. Centered in two lines on the top of the first page, the script reads, "This film is short. This film is fast." Koepp isn't kidding. The action almost never stops.

The speed continues in the script proper. The first three establishing shots end with:

"For a second. Literally."

"For another second."

"For another second. No time to waste admiring the scenery."

Koepp's voice is strong, and the tone is set. In the fourth shot we meet Meg, the protagonist, and her daughter, Sarah. They are literally running to keep up with a realtor. The opening sequence sets the pace in a very visual manner and, even on the page, proves exciting.

Within the first ten pages, almost everything we need to know is established through a tour of Meg and Sarah's new town house. In rapid succession, we discover the layout, the history of the home, the elevator, and, of course, the panic room -- and how it works. Many of these elements come into play later and, since they were introduced in a naturalistic manner by an almost disinterested realtor, they avoid feeling contrived. Yes, there is a bit of a convenience to the items stored in the panic room -- and in the fact that these things were not removed from an otherwise empty house -- but that is the world of the film. As it's the biggest leap needed, it didn't bother me nor did it disrupt my suspension of disbelief.

Two very smart tactics are used in this script to simultaneously keep me on the edge of my seat while still giving me a moment to breathe. First is dramatic irony. Consider this action sequence:

"Behind her, the bedroom door moves, silently.


The Man stands there, one finger still on the door he's just pushed open. He stares at the sleeping form of Meg on the bed, whose back is to him. He has no idea she's awake.

Meg lies in bed, eyes wide open, no idea a Man is standing in the doorway to her bedroom.

Noiselessly, the Man moves away, down the hall. The moment his head disappears down the stairwell --

-- Meg flops over again, facing the doorway."

Koepp skillfully keeps us just far enough ahead to be frightened for Meg and Sarah. We want to shout at them to look because, if they knew what was going on just a few seconds earlier, everything would have been okay. This technique, along with the short sentences used to convey it that kept my eye running down the page, lent a sense of urgency to my read.

The second technique that I appreciated was the humor infused through the trio of robbers. They don't know each other, and they don't get along. While they are dangerous, their squabbles gave me enough of a break to take a much needed breath and added dimension to the script. I particularly enjoyed this exchange:

Junior stares at Burnham. Raoul stares at Burnham.

Junior: It's still a good plan. It's just... got a twist.

Burnham: Yeah. Kidnapping.

Junior: Not if we keep 'em here. You can't kidnap somebody in their own house. It's just breaking and entering, unless we take 'em someplace. Or something like that, I'm pretty sure.

Burnham: Pure idiot.

I enjoyed reading Panic Room, and, after going through the script, I definitely want to check out the film.

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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