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. 

First Ten Pages: Field of Dreams (1989)

Screenplay by: Phil Alden Robinson Kevin Costner stars in this nostalgic fantasy about America's favorite pastime - baseball - and one man's journey to reconcile his fractured relationship with his deceased father. Screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson adapted the screenplay based…

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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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