As soon as possible, make it obvious what your hero wants because that desire will drive the rest of your story. However, you don’t want to come right out and explain what the hero wants. Instead, you want to tease the audience by making them gradually learn what the hero wants.
There are two ways to do this. First, let the audience witness the hero striving and yearning for a specific goal. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero ( a little girl) wants to compete in a beauty pageant so the opening scene shows her watching a beauty pageant on TV and mimicking the motions of the contestants. Although we don’t quite know she wants to compete in a beauty pageant, we do get a glimpse of her dream even if we don’t fully understand what it might be.
In “WALL-E,” the hero is a trash compacting robot who wanders alone in a devastated, trash-filled landscape. We don’t know why the Earth is abandoned with broken down robots and trash everywhere, but then we get a glimpse of WALL-E’s goal when he watches an old movie on TV showing a man and a woman holding hands. Once again, we get a mystery that piques our interest while hinting at the hero’s goal, which is to find a companion to love.
In “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” the opening scene shows the hero asking for pudding for his dinner inside a nursing home. Then he hands his pudding to an elderly woman and shows her a cartoon drawing, which makes her smile. So far, this seems like an innocent scene.
Then as the elderly woman starts eating her pudding, the hero tells her, “Now!” That’s a strange moment, and then the hero suddenly bursts out the door and starts running until a nursing home worker tackles him. Even though we don’t know it, the hero’s dream is to escape from the nursing home.
So the key to an opening scene is to introduce the hero and his or her dream in a way that grabs our attention. To do this, you need to construct your screenplay so this opening scene offers something unusual and lets us guess at the hero’s dream.
Focus on creating the best scene possible for identifying your hero’s dream because that scene alone will go a long way towards making your screenplay clear and focused from the start.