Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Beginning of My Screenplay is Boring

The most crucial part of the script is the beginning for it determines whether the rest of the script will be read. However, a tedious build-up promising a compelling storyline may never come if the reader chucks the screenplay in the slush pile by page two. What is the secret to writing the ideal opening scene to a script?

What Film Producers Hate in a Screenplay

The main story could have the plot twists of a cold war thriller and characters with the hidden depths of a Stephen King story, but could all remain unrealised thanks to a poor opening scene. If the story does not grab the reader by page ten, the screenplay is destined for the return post. The most common issues could be the following:
  • Writing a prelude scene or scenes serving to explain what is about the happen in the story.
  • Creating an opening scene serving to introduce the characters or to help the reader make sense of the plot.
  • Allowing chitchat about the weather or similar small talk to leak into the opening dialogue.
  • In literary fashion, opening the screenplay with descriptions of the weather or the street or the inner thoughts of the characters. In such cases, the screenwriter needs to establish the difference between the novel and the screenplay.
Mistakes Screenwriters Make on Act One

The following are also a no-no for sciptwriting.
  • Spending too many pages on the build-up to an event in a bid to surprise the reader by page 11.
  • Conversely, putting everything in the first ten pages, from revelations of secrets to explosions, making the reader feel beaten about the head and the scenes become a blur.
  • Including stereotypical or copycat elements within the opening pages from characterisation (the alcoholic cop) to events (the car crash on New Year’s Eve) unless this is to serve a greater purpose.
  • Of course, grubby pages, typos grammatical errors are banned.
The Best Scene Opening for a Play

If the scene opener to a play or film sinks like a lead balloon, the following suggestions might help:

Look for a scene later in the screenplay and consider moving it to page one. This will inevitably change the dynamics of the play but could open fresh possibilities for new plot twists and better climaxes in acts two and three.

Alternatively, cut out the first five pages of the screenplay and see what happens. Starting a scene as late as possible serves to trim the sludge and the unnecessary preliminaries the reader does not really need to know.

In similar fashion, examine the dialogue and the action description and cut, cut, cut. Cut unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, wordy dialogue (unless it is to illustrate a chatty character). And cut superfluous characters that serve no purpose. Cutting may seem drastic, but it frees up the first pages for more to happen earlier. Aim for lots of white spaces around the screenplay text. Agents like to see white spaces around words of which every one counts.

Tips for Screenwriters on Writing Act One

The first ten pages of a script need not contain violence or shouting to hook the reader. It is often the gaps, the unsaid and the unexplained that turns the pages. Without being annoying about it, make the reader ask questions. Why did that man hide that letter in a box in the garden? Why did the bailiff take everything but that gold necklace? Subtly is often the key to creating a great opening scene.

Tips for Screenwriting Opening

Stamp out mimicry and stereotypes to strive for originality. See what happens if the opening scene occurs in another location, or if a character or trait is replaced by another. A lover’s tiff does not have to happen in a car, try a library. The tension of having to keep quiet could add elements of embarrassment and bottled emotions.

Perhaps the cop hates alcohol on account of an alcoholic father, and he (or she) runs the local AA and uses it to pry into other people’s lives in order to manipulate them. The reader may read on wanting to find out, “why is he doing this?”

A Great Hook for a Screenplay

Ensure the opening scene delivers what it promises in that it must not be the most dramatic or climatic scene in the screenplay. It must be relevant to the story and echo in some way throughout the screenplay. Save scenes with higher stakes until later.

Finally, imagine the reader to be a cheesed off, underpaid and overworked individual who is keen to clock off early. Prior to sending the screenplay, ask the honest opinion of a (trusted) fellow writer or tutor to weed out any issues with the opener. You don’t have to follow the advice, but it might bring forth issues unrealised. Alternatively, put the script away for a few weeks before reading it from an objective viewpoint.

Links to Advice on Screenwriting

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