Before FADE IN
Don’t neglect the first thing we hear
January 31st, 2014
Scott Frank is known for never starting his screenplays with FADE IN. Doesn’t do it. Why? He's not even real sure but he did tell me once, “I can’t move forward until I have my opening." Read one of my interviews with him (here, here, and you can search for more here.) You’re usually told that your first ten pages are crucial; and they are. But do not neglect the very first thing your audience hears.
The first line of your story, the first bit of dialogue, or the first thing the reader encounters can have a lasting impact. Some professional script readers say the cover of your script can tell them if your writing is going to be good or not. I’m not going to go that far! But I do believe the opening creates the tone, and can instantly hook your reader for at least a short time.
From there once you have FADED IN, you obviously continue to create and establish tone. Whether it’s a simple character action, or a bit of dialogue, and/or an important setting. After that your script -- hopefully -- really starts to take off. And indeed, those first ten pages are so very important.
No ground breaking advice, I know, and it’s not a “screenwriting rule” or some BS like that. This is one way to start your story; it may or may not work for you. Here’s some examples, first from Frank himself, and then a few others I have found that start before FADE IN:
MINORITY REPORT, by Scott Frank
BLACK We hear a woman WHISPER: WOMAN’S VOICE Murderer. FADE IN: A SERIES OF IMAGES
GET SHORTY, by Scott Frank
BLACK MAN'S VOICE Looks fuckin' cold out there. EXT. VESUVIO'S RESTAURANT -- MIAMI DAY
OUT OF SIGHT, by Scott Frank
BLACK We hear TRAFFIC, some STREET NOISES, then... FADE IN: A MIAMI STREET - DAY
CONFIDENCE, by Doug Jung
BLACK: JAKE (V.O.) So I'm dead... FADE IN:
THE HURT LOCKER, by Mark Boal
BLACK SCREEN Over the BUZZING sound of an electric engine we-- CUT TO: EXT. STREET/DAWN
FIGHT CLUB, by Jim Uhls
SCREEN BLACK JACK (V.O.) People were always asking me, did I know Tyler Durden. FADE IN:
And here's a wonderful interview with Scott Frank you can watch!
About the Author
(Follow on Twitter) Christopher Wehner is an author and screenwriter. Currently his screenplay, EL CAMINO (Co-written with Ted Melfi) is in pre-preproduction with Netflix and Goldenlight Films which recently produced ST. VINCENT . His IMDB page. In 2001 he published the groundbreaking book Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing and Selling Your Script on the Web, and has been a leader in Internet marketing and promotion.
To contact Chris: chris -at- screenwritersutopia.com