WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

A HERO'S ENTRANCE


First impressions are very important in the film biz. You want to make sure your opening ten pages hook the reader, you want to make sure your first page involves the reader, and you want to make sure you don't show up for your first meeting with the producer with spinach between your teeth. But first impressions are also important with characters... and actors know this.

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In ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE William Goldman says: "There is no single more commercial element in screenplay writing that the star part." You may not see a movie because Tom Cruise stars in it, but for millions of other people the star may be more important than the story. People are Tom Cruise *fans*. They see a movie because he's in it - and producers know this. So they want to do whatever it takes to make the project attractive to Tom Cruise so that he'll sign to make THEIR movie instead of that other producer's film.

One thing that stars care about - having a great entrance. They don't want to just walk into a scene like anybody else, they want an entrance that will have the audience cheering. Look at the way Tony Stark enters the film in IRON MAN 2 - like a rock star!

That's part of *our* job (along with giving them great lines and a handful of great dramatic moments that the Academy will remember around Oscar time). You want to create a cool, memorable entrance for your starring role.

We also want an introduction to the character that will tell the audience who this character is. In Secrets Of Action Screenwriting I use a scene from DIRTY HARRY as an example of packing a bunch of character information into a single introduction scene. We learn almost everything we need to know about Harry Callahan from the scene where he foils the bank robbery on his lunch break. In my Visual Storytelling Blue Book I use the first scene from ROAD WARRIOR (MAD MAX 2) to illustrate how much we learn about Max and the world he lives in without a single word of dialogue. After that opening scene that introduces Max, we jump straight into the story. We learn over a dozen things about Max from that one introduction scene.

So we're looking for a scene that not only gives the audience information about the character - this scene will also serve as a great entrance scene for the movie star. A scene that people will be talking about long after the movie is over.

A great example can be found in Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio's PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (great DVD writer's commentary track, by the way) - which spawned three hit sequels and brought back the pirate genre. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) makes the greatest entrance of any character of the summer - a scene people will be talking about for years.

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We first see Depp standing proudly on the crow's nest of his ship, the setting sun behind him. This guy is obviously the hero. Then we see his ship - it's a dinghy only a dozen feet from bow to stern. That gets a laugh... he's the proud captain of a one man boat (what does that tell us about the character?). But there's more - the boat is filling with water! Jack scrambles down the mast and uses a wooden bucket to bail out his "ship". More laughter. But Jack doesn't keep bailing - ship captains don't do that sort of thing. He goes back to the crow's nest, standing majestically on his sinking ship as it barely makes it to port. Just as the crow's nest is about to submerge, Jack steps onto the pier as if he's done this a million times. Gets another laugh. Before he leaves the pier he will have paid the 3 shilling docking fee and stolen the dockmaster's money.

This scene tells us a lot about the character of Jack Sparrow: He's unflappable, optimistic, resourceful, when bad things happen to him - he doesn't seem to care, he's the center of his universe, he has really bad luck (it's not only a dinghy... it's a *sinking* dinghy), he confidently rides out the problems and things *always* work out for him (he *does* get all they way to port before the rest of the boat submerges), he's above everybody else - regal - and *belongs* up there on the crow's nest, he does exactly as much work as is needed - and not a bit more (he probably wouldn't have done any bailing at all, except the ship was sinking faster than it was moving), he's the captain - even if he's the only one on the ship, he's honest enough to pay the 3 shillings but pirate enough to steal the dockmaster's money afterwards, he's Captain Jack Sparrow! But we get all of this information in a scene that is funny and memorable - a great entrance for a movie star.

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Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) doesn't get the movie star entrance, but he's introduced in a fun scene that uses the minor mischief trick. While waiting to deliver a custom crafted sword to the Governor he's admiring an ornate lamp... and breaks it. After making sure that no one is looking, he hides the broken part of the lamp and pretends that nothing happened. A little embarrassment and a clever cover-up has us on his side. Add the relationship with the Governor's daughter Elizabeth and we're firmly in his underdog shoes for the rest of the story.

In ON STRANGER TIDES (PIRATES 4) Penelope Cruz has a great entrance scene (which I won't spoil for you).

The best way to write that great introduction scene for your character is to make a list of everything that defines them. Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 10 and come up with ten things or a dozen things. These are the things we need to know right up front to understand your character - who they are, what their attitude is, what sort of person they are, how they might react in a situation, where they draw the line... the *character* of the the character. Then come up with a scene that illustrates as many of these important points as possible in an entertaining way. You might even take your list of traits and brainstorm some amusing ways to show those traits, and build a scene around those things. Showing us the character through their actions. This is not easy, and you don't have to tell us everything about the character in this one scene - just the things we need to know in order to know the character.

The star of the movie only gets one big entrance - and they want it to be something special. Is your introduction scene both informative and a great star introduction scene? Does your lead character make an ENTRANCE? Or just show up in the scene? Your hero only gets one chance to make a first impression - come up with a scene that has us cheering!



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