The opening scenes – the first 10 pages..
- How long do you wait – 5 minutes? 10 minutes … possibly 20 minutes before you switch off a movie where you’re just not ‘getting‘ it. There’s a lack of engagement in the story and characters; the rules of the world are unclear – and you don’t want to spend more time getting to the climax of a tale that didn’t grab you in the first place.
- So … as a filmmaker, how do you engage a busy acquisitions executive, with a pile of screenplays to read, to keep going beyond the first 10 pages?
- Personally, I aim to read at least 25 pages – I appreciate how much work has gone into writing & feel bad if I don’t (just in case it gets better – but sadly, it rarely does). However, if it takes on average one page per minute to read a script … you’ll understand why someone with 10 scripts to read will only give you 10 pages of their time.
- We want to be transported – to be taken into someone else’s world for 90 minutes; to follow their lives – everything you show us in the first 10 pages has to illustrate why we have to stick with the story yet to come.
- Q. What does the acquisitions executive want from you?
- A. Engagement with the central character. What is going on in their lives & what are they going to do about it? Make us care about what happens to your protagonist. We want to feel what they are feeling.
- Who is this person?
- What is their motivation?
- Where is this going to happen?
- Why should we care?
- As an ‘audience’ we want to know the quest our central character will take and to follow that to its conclusion. Make your character human – show us who they are:
- Is this a good person – are things going well in their every day life? (Unlikely, or it would be a pretty dull movie!).
- Are they a bad person – that’s fine, Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs, has some cool peccadilloes – he’s very well read; loves fine wine; he’s self assured – lives by his own rules. He does things we wouldn’t dream of doing & our inner selves love that about him. PLUS – he’s going to help Clarice Starling.
- How do the characters react to the world around them – is life throwing them a curve ball? Do they sleep well; drink too much; fight with their partners? Get us to connect to them and then we invest emotionally in their journey – all the blood & guts; car chases; amazing effects mean NOTHING if we don’t empathise with what happens to the people in the story.
- A QUIET PLACE – Parents will go to any lengths to protect their children … when they lose a child, our heart breaks for them. How will they bring a new child into this terrible place and face down the enemy.
- BRAVEHEART – William Wallace suffers brutal loss as a small boy; he finds love but then cruelly witnesses his wife’s execution – both due to the laws of a heartless King of England. We can’t help but want this underdog to get his revenge.
Get the first 10 pages right, the audience are with you … and you’ve only got 80 more pages to go to keep them there! Think about the movies where you ‘switch off’ – ask yourself why; and those where you know, within 10 minutes, that you want to keep going …