17 April 2009

"It's not within the realm of conventional cinema...but what if?"

Writing is hard, but one of the fucking hard parts is figuring out the perfect opening for your masterpiece. "It was the best times, it was the worst of times," is usually cited as a pretty good opening, and it is; but I tend to prefer a more direct approach like "He always shot up by TV light." As far as screenplays are concerned, yours should begin with a scene that will immediately capture the audience's attention while also introducing them to the soulful personalities of the characters, the careful intricacies of the plot, and the abyssal depth of the themes in your heartfelt, emotional story about, I don't know, hitmen who fuck each other and stuff.

Too often, movies forget about introducing the audience to your achingly deep bullshit and go right to the flash and bang. But what happens when your story begins with a bunch of people sitting around and talking? What if nothing really exciting happens in the beginning because the story dictates that all the cool shit will happen later? Then they rely on the flashforward. I've been thinking about that particular tactic recently, and I've concluded that opening with a flashforward is lazy as hell.

By now, it's become a film trope: The movie opens with a dynamic scene (Swordfish's explosion, Maverick's possible hanging, Mission: Impossible III's maybe shooting someone in the face), and then flashes back to show how the characters ended up in that situation. The problem is that all too often, that scene ends up being the best one in the movie, and is only at the beginning to let the audience know "Hey, some really cool shit's about to go down if you can just bear with us and wade through some expository business for, like, an hour, hour and a half. But we'll get there! And you'll get to see Halle Berry's tits along the way!" Yes, yes, when it's done well, it can be effective (Fight Club, umm...Red Seven?). But that still doesn't mean you should do it.

So how do you capture the audience's attention if your story naturally starts off kind of slow? You can either grow a pair and say "Fuck it, I'll treat the audience like an adult," and let them put up with the characters talking or living or whatever it is they have to do (it helps when you can write dialogue that's any fucking good). Or you can do the James Bond, where you introduce a character or characters by having them do something badass and/or interesting unrelated to the plot.

It doesn't even have to be an action script for this to work. A lot of comedies do this pretty well, and for some reason, the first one that comes to my mind is American Pie. The very first scene is Jim beating off to scrambled cable porn and having his parents walk in on him. In its way, it's perfect: we know all we need to know about Jim (he's young and horny) and we know we're watching a sex comedy. We don't know anything about him making a pact with his friends to get laid yet, we just know that his parents saw his cock wrapped in a tube sock, and that it was funny.

See how easy it can be? Now all you need are some good ideas. Or if you're short in that department, just "homage" another artist while adding your own "flair" to it, and you should be good to go. After all, nothing's really original, is it?

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