First Ten Pages
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:
- Establish the tone/genre (is this a comedy, fantasy, spoof, etc.)
- Introduce your main character: interesting, flawed, and if not likeable, at least empathetic… somebody we can hope and fear for.
- Clarify the world of the story and the status quo.
- Indicate the theme or message (Good vs. Evil, Man vs. Nature, etc.)
- 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.
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.Add a comment
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.Add a comment
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.Add a comment
Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman, based on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized biography by Chuck Barris
A screenwriter’s characters are meant to have flaws. It’s these flaws that create the obstacles that must be overcome in the world of the screenplay. A gifted screenwriter makes the flawed characters likeable too. In fact, all screenwriters should make their flawed characters likeable, or at the very least empathetic. If you are unsure how to pull it off pick up a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. Charlie Kaufman understands how to take a flawed (really flawed) character and turn him into the audience’s best friend. And Kaufman’s characters aren’t just flawed, they are strange. Yet, we like them. We empathize. Kaufman has an uncanny ability to honestly define his main characters by simultaneously showcasing their immorality and their sincerity in a single scene, as he does with Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which is based on the the “unauthorized biography” of Chuck Barris…written by Chuck Barris. Strange? There’s more.
Barris was an innovator who never could never direct his talents in the right way. He was able to see the value of reality television in the 1970s, but his vehicle was the insipid, “Gong Show” that he hosted. Barris also claims in his book to have also been a murderous spy for the C.I.A. when not hosting. Strange? Yes. The pairing of the absurd fits perfectly into Kaufman’s oeuvre. It also showcases his ability to establish this absurd world of the story, and his talent for making the audience root for his repugnant and unholy characters.
Note: The following analysis is taken from the 3rd draft of the screenplay, dated May 5, 1998Add a comment
Screenplay by Scott. Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
“Just because some cute girl likes the same bizarro crap you do doesn’t make her your soul mate.”
Has there been a romantic comedy that has managed to capture people’s attention more than (500) Days of Summer? With believable and imperfect characters, a fresh and inspiring narrative style coupled with a premise which speaks to so many of us, it’s no wonder audiences (even rom-com loathers) flocked to it. A testament to its quality, it managed to gross twenty-seven times its budget.
Surprisingly, the grand gimmick at the centre of it, the narrative switching between random days in the story of their relationship is not new. Christopher Nolan illustrated this seemingly random narrative 14 years ago in his low budget debut Following, about an unemployed writer who shacks up with a thief. The results encompass a bunch of jumbled up scenes that tell a much larger and coherent story. What (500) Days of Summer writers Neustadter and Weber did was to take that central idea and apply it to a typical relationship, giving them freedom to jump from timeframe to timeframe without baffling the audience. But crucially, the 90 minute comedy is still rigidly structured, each scene giving us more information, each scene developing its characters and as the film progresses, the stakes are raised. There is nothing random about (500) Days of Summer.
(The following analysis is taken from the script, rather than the feature film. The source is an unspecified draft, dated April 16, 2008. Judging from the date, it is likely that this is the final draft)Add a comment
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