The other day I saw a bad movie where the opening scene started like this. First, an airplane taxis to the airport terminal. Second, the hero walks through the airport. Third, the hero gets in a taxi cab and takes off.
Real exciting, huh? Too many bad movie directors and screenwriters mistake mindless and boring action for a script. The problem with this opening scene is that it’s completely trivial, boring, and provides no hint of what’s to come. (It was an action movie, by the way.) Here are some ways to spice up this opening scene.
Romantic comedy: Have the hero walk off the plane, spot a beautiful woman and start walking towards her to get to know her. Then just as he’s about to say something to her, have the woman’s lover suddenly show up and embrace her, cutting the hero off. Now the hero’s disappointed face shows us that he’s looking for love.
Action thriller: Have the hero walk off the plane and someone sitting in the terminal puts down a newspaper and watches him. Then gets up and follows him while nodding to a second man. As the hero walks through the terminal, the two men subtly pull out pistols and close in on the hero. That immediately sets up the story as an action thriller and throws us into the story right away.
Science fiction: Repeat the action thriller scene except when the two men confront the hero, he pulls out some weird gadget that disintegrates the two men. Then he runs away. Now we know we’re dealing with science fiction.
Drama: Have the hero walk through the airport and look around for someone. Finally he spots a woman passionately hugging and kissing a man before the man rushes off. After the man leaves, the woman spots the hero and rushes to embrace him where we find out that she’s his wife. Now the man is crushed but hides his feelings that he saw his wife kissing another man.
The key to the opening scene is that it has to hint what type of story you’re about to tell and it has to grab our attention right away. We may not know what’s going on, but we need to get a glimpse of what’s going on so we’ll be interested in finding out more. Just watching a man walk through an airport terminal is boring. If you want to make walking interesting, have the man walk barefoot across burning coals or have the man walk in a business suit through a swamp. Such unusual settings automatically grab our attention.
The point is that you can’t just show a trivial scene where nothing happens and no hint of anything happens either. If you can’t make a scene interesting, get rid of it. When you eliminate pointless scenes, you make the rest of your story that much stronger.