Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Opening Scene

By Olga Agafonova

At the beginning of September, I finished the first draft of my screenplay. My goal now is to revise and polish it until I am comfortable enough with the result to consider submitting it to various competitions. To that end, I have enrolled in a screenwriting class through the Academy of Film Writing.

The class focuses on the first thirty pages of a script, roughly the first act of the play. Our first assignment is to analyze the opening scene in several movies. What I saw in five movies I like is as follows:

Michael Clayton (2007)

We hear Arthur's manic monologue as the opening titles flash on the black screen, which forces us to pay close attention to what Arthur is saying. The first image is downtown wherever, the skyscraper offices of the law firm that Arthur and Michael work for. The tone is ominous, tense.

Up in the Air (2009)

Images of clouds and bird eye's view of various locations in the United States. Our protagonist is clearly going to be doing some traveling by plane. The mood is upbeat, so we expect this movie to have at least a few light-hearted moments.

Solaris (1972)

Underwater vegetation with a camera pan to a man standing by the pond. No soundtrack. Nothing so far suggests space travel or any science fiction theme.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Peaks of mountains covered by clouds. A voice talks about the rumors of a doomsday device being developed by the USSR.

Trading Places (1983)

Sequence of New Jersey images with classical music playing in the background. Most images are regular people going about their day. I'm guessing the music and the sequence is there to setup the contrast between Eddie Murphy's and Dan Aykroyd's characters.


Of all these, I find the opening for Michael Clayton the most effective because Arthur's monologue is so powerful and tells me everything I need to know about the law firm. The entire screenplay, written by Tony Gilroy, is taut, compact -- the dialogue is right where it needs to be in terms of content and length. This is definitely something I'll be shooting for in my second draft.

1 comment:

Buck Brinson said...

So very interesting, Olga. The opening of "Glory" (Battle of Antietam) sets a clear tone of the viciousness of 19th century warfare. Tree limbs exploding and falling, gun smoke masking the sun, a line of men marching forward and simultaneously ducking from explosions as if they are part of one massive organism. Leaves little doubt that infantry assaults were not for the faint of heart. I had not thought of this kind of placement and tone-setting until I read your entry. Nice.