With your first page, your screenplay has to grab your audience. As quickly as possible, you have to establish who the hero is and what the problem is in a visually interesting way. In “500 Days of Summer,” the opening sets the tone for a comedic love story. The first page of the screenplay simply says “”NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS A WORK OF FICTION. ANY RESEMBLANCE TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL.”
That seems fairly benign and pointless. Then the second page hits us with the punchline: “ESPECIALLY YOU JENNY BECKMAN.”
The third page hits us with another punchline: “BITCH.”
Right away, before we even see anything, we know the tone of the story and its basic problem. That’s what you need to do with your screenplay.
“Star Wars” opens with its scrolling story line that tells us the background story as the words slowly disappear out of sight. Again, this is different and visually interesting, so we right away know the basic story before we even see the first scene.
Remember, your opening needs to serve several purposes. First, it has to set the tone so we know whether the story is a comedy, a drama, a thriller, or a horror story. Second, it has to tell us what the problem is, even if we don’t quite understand it. In “Rocky,” the opening scene is Rocky fighting another boxer so we know right away that the story is about boxing.
In “Harold and Maude,” the opening scene is a young man hanging himself. That initially seems tragic until we see his mother come into the room, stare at him, and continue making a phone call as if nothing has happened. Although we’re not aware of it at the time, we already know the basic story of Harold trying to get attention by faking suicides all the time.
Make your opening scene interesting, memorable, and unique while setting the tone for your story and hinting what it’s about. When you can craft a compelling opening, it sets the tone for a successful and interesting story for the rest of your screenplay.