When it comes to screenwriting, you only have so much time, so many pages, so you don’t have the luxury to meander, and this is especially true in your first ten pages. You must maximize script economy and move the story forward immediately because you’ve only got about 10 pages to accomplish five major components:

  1. Establish the tone/genre (is this a comedy, fantasy, spoof, etc.)
  2. Introduce your main character: interesting, flawed, and if not likeable, at least empathetic… somebody we can hope and fear for.
  3. Clarify the world of the story and the status quo.
  4. Indicate the theme or message (Good vs. Evil, Man vs. Nature, etc.)
  5. Set up the dramatic situation – that is, what the story is going to be about.

It’s important to note that there is no absolute order in which these five rules are applied. Often a screenplay begins with main character and his/her status quo, but sometimes the dramatic situation comes first, and occasionally all five elements will be covered in one scene alone.  As long as these five core elements are executed well and established early on, you’re screenplay is one step closer to achieving success.

Each analysis of selected features takes a detailed look at how each of these five essential elements is established in the first ten pages of the screenplay. 

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

When I saw Machine Gun Preacher in my screenplay’s to read queue, I thought I was in store for another Robert Rodriguez/Trejo flick, but I was completely and totally wrong. Sure, Gerard Butler was one the poster, so that gave…

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Thirteen Days (2000)

Screenplay by: David Self Kevin Costner stars as Kenny O'Donnell, Special Assistant to President Kennedy in this taut, harrowing dramatization of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Screenwriter David Self manages to intertwine the 5 major rules within the first 10…

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Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Edward Scissorhands (1990) Screenplay by Caroline Thompson. Story by Caroline Thompson and Tim Burton. If there were ever two performances that marked a director and an actor through and through, it’s Edward Scissorhands. For director Tim Burton, the film encompassed all that Burton felt about society when he was a child. And for actor Johnny Depp, it was the ticket he needed to escape the shackles of teen idol status. The following analysis (focused on just over one script page) will illustrate elements of character, plot, theme, and genre. I will start on page 9 of the screenplay, with the introduction of Edward Scissorhands to Peg. And even though this scene may not be the most memorable minute of Edward Scissorhands, it not only introduces our protagonist to Peg and the eventual outside world, but it also nails genre and tone as well as establish the theme of the film, while setting up the dramatic premise that propels the story forward.…

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Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke (1967) Screenplay by: Donn Pearce (from his novel) and Frank R. Pierson Paul Newman was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award and George Kennedy won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in this acclaimed prison drama following Luke Jackson (Paul Newman), who is sentenced to a stretch on a southern chain gang after he’s arrested for drunkenly decapitating parking meters. In this examination of the opening pages of this 1967 classic, screenwriters Pearce and Pierson do a masterful job delivering the 5 major rules within the first 10 script pages. In fact, they do it in five.…

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The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski (1998) What makes The Big Lebowski memorable is its premise, in which it takes an age old narrative of the detective story and approaches it from an entirely new angle: what if everybody involved in the film thought they knew everything and in fact knew nothing? Loosely based on the Raymond Chandler novel The Big Sleep, it has such a strong identity and a telling narrative style that there is only one film making team that it could have come from: The Coen Brothers.…

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