The opening of a script is pretty important. It sets the tone. It introduces the story. It introduces the characters who are going to be in the story–might be the lead, might not. And there’s lots of advice: open as close to the beginning of the story as possible or open with something visual and exciting or open with a mystery or… on and on.
There are lots of ways to open a script (both for plays and for TV/film.) And all of them CAN work. Unless they don’t.
When I write, I generally do have an idea of how the script opens. It’s generally what I think of first–the first thing the audience sees or hears. The opening is generally my way of getting into the story that I want to tell. For example, my play On The Night of Anthony’s 30th Birthday Party, Again. I knew the play was going to take place in one room, with lots of entering and exiting, a single door farce. Since all of the action would take place in one room, I thought it would be funny to start the play OUTSIDE of the room. The audience can only hear the dialogue, they are introduced to the characters ONLY through dialogue.
I feel pretty confident in my openings. Until… yep, you guessed it, they don’t work. And then I STRUGGLE. MAN, do I struggle.
I struggle because what I thought was THE idea suddenly unravels. If that SINGULAR idea doesn’t work, well, then, there are MANY ideas that just MIGHT work… And it’s choosing from any of them. And that’s where it gets difficult. Because some openings do ONE thing, while others do something else. So, which do you choose? And, maybe the opening that you’re working on changes the scenes that follow… suddenly you just might be rewriting the whole thing. Which isn’t always wrong…
(There aren’t a lot of rights and wrongs, just what works.)
I struggle because I begin to doubt, I begin to get lost in what do I want to keep and what am I ok with changing. In actuality, I should probably be ok with changing anything and everything (with the rule of finding what works.) But, there are somethings that I really like (which should be the thing to cut first.) I want the piece to start off with a bang, bring in the main character and get things going… fast. Those are my goals with any opening. But with so many options…
Openings are hard. And they are worth spending time on. To get them to work. A director once said (and, no, I don’t remember who, let’s say Billy Wilder–he’s great) that an audience will decide within the first seven minutes whether or not they want to keep watching a movie. That was decades ago–if it was Billy Wilder. So, imagine what it is now. Those first few moments are so crucial in keeping an audience, it’s worth the time and effort to make it work.
Which means… I got some work to do.