When writing any scene, ask yourself three questions:
- Why today?
- Why this person?
- Why this location?
In the opening scene of “The Matrix,” there’s a short dialogue that explains why this scene is occurring today. It’s because they think they’ve found the chosen one (Neo).
In this same opening scene, why focus on the woman hacker (Trinity)? It’s because she’s part of the resistance group that can help free the human race.
This scene is at that location because it’s the city where Neo lives.
Take any scene in a good movie and you can answer these questions fairly easily. Think about the opening scene in “E.T.”
Why today? Because it’s the day E.T. gets stranded on Earth after his spaceship leaves without him.
Why this person? E.T. is the focus of both the aliens, who want him back, and the humans, who want to capture and study him.
Why this location? E.T. gets lost near Elliot’s house so he can find his way to Elliot.
Fail to answer any of these questions and you can quickly see how the scene no longer supports the story. What if the opening scene started with someone who has nothing to do with the story of Elliot finding E.T.? Then there’s no reason to meet this person.
What if a scene occurs a week before E.T. gets lost? Then there’s no reason to know what happened in the past because it has no relevance to the story of Elliot and E.T.
What if the scene takes place in another country, far from Elliot’s home? Then there would be no way for E.T. to meet Elliot.
Remember, stories must mold scenes to tell a compelling story. Real life isn’t like that so don’t try to be realistic. Try to be compelling and to do that, you have to adjust time, location, and people so they just “happen” to tell a great story.