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. 

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...
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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...
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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...
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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

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...
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(500) Days of Summer (2009)

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,
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