Watch a great movie and within the first few minutes, it’s grabbed your attention and introduced an unresolved problem. In “Star Wars,” the unresolved problem is why is Darth Vader’s starship attacking Princess Leia’s starship? In “The Hunger Games,” the unresolved problem is why is the hero’s little sister so terrified of the Hunger Games and what the heck are the Hunger Games anyway?
Every great story starts off with an intriguing problem that makes you want to know what happens next. Start with a problem and then answer that problem in the end.
Now look at a mediocre movie like “Don’t Worry Darling.” The opening scene simply shows the hero at a party, happy with her husband. Because the hero and the story lacks an initial problem, the opening scenes don’t give us anything to hold our attention. We’re simply watching a seemingly happy woman living in an apparent paradise.
Pick another great movie like “Alien” and the initial problem is why are these people waking up from hibernation and what’s going on? Even though this isn’t the main story problem, it’s still enough to grab our attention until the real problem appears (the alien).
Problems and mysteries grab our attention because we want to know what happens next. In “Harold and Maude,” the opening scene shows the hero (Harold) hanging himself. Then his mother steps into the room and completely ignores him. This creates a mystery of why the mother is ignoring a dead body dangling from a noose.
Watch any movie and study the first seven minutes. If the story holds your attention, the movie might still fail later on, but a good opening scene is a great start. If a story fails to hold your attention in the beginning, then the movie will have a much harder time grabbing your attention much later.