The term “set” is a theatrical term that has parlayed into film and television. In the days of yore when studios were actually producing movies rather than paying production companies to do so, they had standing sets which could be used as required. They could be a bar, school, library etc.
When a scene called for a new set to be constructed, studios called it a “set piece”. Set pieces had to be big and engaging to the audience to warrant the expense. They are pivotal scenes in the movie, major plot beats. The are often spectacles as evidenced in action movies, in riotous laughs (such as the apple pie scene in American Pie), or a tear-jerking moment in dramas.
Set pieces are the water cooler moments that audience buzz about after watching a movie. Today many set pieces can simply be created by CGI. Consider the glorious scene in “Up” when the helium balloons inflate and Carl’s house levitates.
A good set piece must always augment the story. If it’s inserted for special effect, the audience won’t respond. It must really advance plot, raise the stakes or provide some kind of major revelation. If the story works without these scenes, then they can probably be removed.
The locale is also crucial for set pieces. This is especially important in action movies. Car chases through market stalls, highways and jumping over perilous cliffs on motorbikes have all been done before. Consider a new twist on these.
For in depth Film & TV script analysis visit Script Firm.