THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

OPENING GRABBERS


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You want to grab the reader with the very first WORDS if you can. If you think that's because modern audiences don't have patience, you'd be wrong - Edgar Allan Poe said if you don't grab a reader with your first sentence, you've failed. That was in the 1800s. You can't expect anyone to read your whole script, you can't expect them to read the first act, you can expect them to read the first ten pages, you can't expect them to read the first page or even the first sentence - you have to EARN their attention. You have to grab them with something interesting right away.

Best thing to do is to start with some sort of conflict or mystery. The conflict doesn't have to be a car chase or shoot out - it could be a guy trying to get across a crowded club to ask a girl to dance. You might start on a guy seeing a girl on the opposite side of the dance floor - she's beautiful, and he's staring at her. She catches him staring (busted!), but she smiles at him. He smiles back. Hey - this could be his dream girl! He squeezes his way across the crowded dance floor, lots of people getting in his way - he's got to *struggle* to get around them, get past them... but some other guys gets there seconds before him and starts dancing with her. His dream girl is lost!

Okay - our guy who just missed dancing with the woman of his dreams - do you care about him? I think you will, even though he has no name, yet, and we really don't know much about him. That's one of those important things - movies are about people. So put someone in a conflict - even something simple like trying to get through a crowd to reach a girl he finds attractive. But make sure the conflict is about *someone* rather than someTHING.

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Why can't scripts be like the old days? Good question! In my Script Secrets Class I use a clip from THE GODFATHER PART 2 (from those edgy, indie, anti-Hollywood 70s) to illustrate how quickly a good script hooks the audience and sets up the story. The opening *minute* is a sniper killing young Vito's family members at a funeral procession for his *father*. Mourners scrambling for cover! Vito's older brother is killed. The great thing about this scene is that it contains all of the elements of the film: Family, Pageantry, Violence. It doesn't just involve us, it sets up the rest of the film. The first ten minutes of GODFATHER PART 2 are amazing - things just keep building!

I use a clip from VERTIGO (from the 50s) to show how the first MINUTE of a script can involve the audience. You read that right - minute. With our page a minute ballpark, that is your very first page. You need to hook us on page one... then don't let go!

You don't need snipers and roof-top chases to engage the audience's interest. A few weeks ago I caught an old movie on Turner Classics called FAST COMPANY (1938 - I think the script was by the great Harry Kurnitz) that managed to grab me right away without any car chases or shoot outs. This film was so popular it spawned a couple of sequels - yes, there were sequels and remakes in the 1940s!

The story opens with married rare book dealer JOEL SLOANE entering his New York office. His secretary GARDA is typing a letter.


		SLOANE
	Morning, Garda.

		GARDA
	Good morning, Mr. Sloane.

		SLOANE
	My wife around?

		GARDA 
	I'm the only one here.

Sloane looks over her shoulder at her typing.

		SLOANE
	What's this? Two mistakes in 
	one line!

		GARDA
	Where?

		SLOANE
	Right there.

Sloane puts his arm around her.

		GARDA
	Mr. Sloane! What *are* the duties 
	of a secretary in this office?

Sloane pulls her into his arms and tries to kiss her.

		GARDA
	No! No! A thousand times....

His lips meet hers, and they kiss. One heck of a kiss. 
She gets weak at the knees. She can't help but kiss back.  
The office door is right behind them - will Mrs. Sloane arrive
and catch them making out? When Sloane releases her she smiles 
at him. 

		SLOANE
	I'll take that out of your salary.

Okay, we have this married guy lip-locking his secretary in the opening minute of the film! Im intrigued. I want to know what happens next. Will his wife return? Will she catch them fooling around? The first minute of the film creates a potential conflict - we have a married guy who expects his wife to show up at his office tongue-kissing his secretary! The next minute escalates the conflict by having Garda sit on Sloane's lap...

		GARDA
	Now I feel like a secretary.

		SLOANE
	Now I feel like a boss.

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You just know the door is going to open and Sloane's wife will catch them! But we find out soon after this that his wife is already knows about their relationship... even knows that they are sleeping together! Garda is not only Sloane's secretary, she's also his wife (twist!). The film could have just opened with Sloane and Garda coming to work, or already in the office, but that wouldn't have been INTERESTING. Our job is to find the most interesting way to tell our stories, and here the writer found a way to grab us while establishing Sloane and Garda and their relationship. They may be married, but they are still hot for each other.

Make us care about the character - by creating a conflict that we want him to overcome. That hooks us. Even if you just create a silly little grabber conflict like FAST COMPANY does will pull us into the story WHILE you are establishing the characters and situation. Find the most interesting way to tell the story.

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You could also begin with something mysterious - make the audience wonder what's going on. The script for BLACK THUNDER opens with a pair of Airforce pilots chasing a plane... that literally disappears. It just vanishes. Now you have the audience wondering how that's possible - and they're going to stick around to find out. That may have been a silly Showtime movie, but it was a cool enough story that Sony Pictures remade it ten years later at six times the budget.


MORE OLD GRABBERS

Another film from the good old days I caught on Turner Classics is THE FALCON IN DANGER (1943) with a screenplay by the amazing Craig Rice. The film opens at an airport. Though I'm not sure, the airport looks a lot like Burbank, where CASABLANCA was shot and where I fly out of when I'm headed to Vegas or the Bay Area - they still have roll up stairs in 2012! A group of people are waiting for a plane to arrive. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers - a typical group of people waiting for their loved ones' plane to land.

The plane starts to land and someone notices the wheels aren't down.
Something's wrong.
The tower radios for all emergency vehicles to prepare for a crash landing.
Those husbands, wives, and mothers watch as fire trucks and ambulances roar onto the runway.
The plane lands... hard... flipping over once and crashing at the end of the runway.
The fire trucks and ambulances roar to the wreckage.
Firemen hose down the plane as ambulance rescue crews tear open the plane's passenger door and rush inside to help the injured...
But there are no injured in the passenger section of the plane - it's empty!
They race to the cockpit and open the door to ask the pilots what happened to the passengers...
But the cockpit is empty, too.
The entire plane is empty!
Where did everyone go?
How could the passengers and flight crew disappear in mid-air?

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That's the opening couple of minutes of the film, and we're already intrigued. The next scene has a beautiful woman who was at the airport to greet her father asking gentleman detective The Falcon (played by the suave Tom Conway) to help her figure out where her father disappeared to, how he (and the other passengers) were taken off a plane in mid-air, and why anyone would go to all of this trouble to snatch her dad. After that opening scene, don't you want to know the answers too? The movie was showing at about 2am on Turner Classics - I was getting ready to go to bed - but I stayed awake to find out how the bad guys did it (and why). That opening scene grabbed me and wouldn't let me go! It creates the mystery The Falcon must solve... in the most interesting way possible. You no longer need to stay up until all hours - Warner Archives now has a great boxed set of the first 7 FALCON films including this one!

Hook the reader right away, then once you have them hooked you can fill in the details. A big mistake is starting with the dull stuff and then getting to the interesting stuff on page 2 or 3. Do the opposite - START with the interesting stuff. If your story is about a housewife who moonlights as an assassin, start with her as an assassin (interesting) then show her baking cookies with her kids. You get the same information as if you started with the housewife stuff and then showed she's an assassin - but it's a hundred times more interesting. This killer has kids? She's baking cookies? Does her husband know her secret? You want to grab them right away! Then, don't let them go!

Remember - grabbing the audience is about involving us in the problems or mysteries of *people*. An explosion is not involving - it's just an explosion... a thing. We want to focus on the *people* in our opening grabber scenes.


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