No matter what camp of writers you follow or attempt to emulate, all know that the opening scene in a feature film must be attention getting and set the tone for the audience. If it can also introduce the main character, you’re one step ahead, but the second scene is sufficient for an introduction.
Big box office screenwriters prefer to leave the main character’s introduction for a subsequent scene and focus on what some call the First Strike. Some great examples include J. J. Abram’s Star Trek reboot, which opens with an attack from a future century Nero who changes the course of history for Kirk and Spock. Typically in the James Bond franchise, the films open with a special 007 mission with cool effects and explosions that aren’t necessarily related to the story.
In the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the opening is of a man who receives a dried flower that causes him such great turmoil, he must do something different to bring an end to his pain. This scene doesn’t qualify as a First Strike, but rather an emotionally charged atmosphere, although some might argue that his misunderstanding of who is sending the dried flowers could be construed as a First Strike. The challenge for the screenwriter was in making the first scene a clear setup for an investigative thriller.
The screenwriter’s goal is to make sure he raises a question in the first scene that gives the audience a desire to find the answer as they watch the movie. This technique would be dressed in accordance with the story’s theme or genre. The audience expects to be taken to a place they’ve never been before, or experience something they haven’t seen.
If the main character is introduced in the scene, the audience expects to learn something special about the hero or what his typical day looks like. They desire to experience something with him that is either humorous, touching or formulated as a crisis – A shared emotion.
These techniques are designed to hook the audience into watching the entire movie and without it, the audience won’t suspend disbelief and enter the screenwriter’s world. It’s therefore important that the screenwriter touches on all the senses by addressing the following elements:
These important elements, coupled with raising the key universal question that drives the audience to seek the answer, will entertain and hook the audience long enough for the screenwriter to get through the needed backstory. It will also give the audience the confidence that they are watching a film worth their time.