From development to distribution, your film lives and dies by its first five minutes.
Starting with your script, you’ve got to grab us in the first 10 pages. What’s different and exciting about your film? Do your characters leap off the page? Can you make us hungry to read more?
Why the first 10 pages? Script readers at production companies are overworked and underpaid. They’ve got piles and piles of scripts to get through every day and write coverage on. They love film. They love story. They love reading, but they just don’t have time to get through everything cover to cover.
I was having dinner with a friend who’s a script reader. It was 10:30pm. She’d got out of work an hour before. Her phone kept beeping every five minutes. Work emails. Her boss wanted coverage on three scripts by 9:00am the next morning. That’s typical.
What that means is your script gets judged on the first 30 pages and the last 10 pages. That’s on a good day first thing in the morning when everyone’s had their coffee. First 10 pages is more realistic on a bad day. If your writing doesn’t sizzle, you’ll end up with a form rejection letter.
Distribution works on similar lines. Distributors get back from film markets with suitcases full of screeners. They’ve got sales agents chasing them to follow up, so they watch the first five minutes. If you haven’t hooked them by then, they’ll fast forward. They’ll watch snippets from the middle and the end or pause at the interesting bits.
You’ve got to open strong. Frontload your film. Put the money on the screen from the start. Establish your production value. Put in your name actor. Start the story with a bang. Whether that’s explosions, a sweeping crane shot, killer dialogue, make an impact. Give us memorable characters. Capture our attention.
Think getting through the production and distribution minefield is hard? Wait until you have to impress your audience. The first five minutes is starting to bleed into marketing and promotion.
Back in 2012, the first five minutes of Haywire went up on Hulu, with Gina Carano taking on Channing Tatum in a brutal fight in a diner. Lionsgate released the first five minutes of Filth on The Guardian Film website to promote the DVD release. In April, Dreamworks put up the first five minutes of How To Train Your Dragon 2 on Yahoo Movies to get the buzz ball rolling.
Audiences are brutal. We’ve got short attention spans and a hundred different things we could be doing. You have to make us tune out the noise and listen.
What it boils down to is this. The start of your film is a promise to the audience. It sets up our expectations. It gives us confidence in your ability to tell the story. If you can’t start your film well, why should we have faith in you that you can tell the rest of the story? If you can’t build anticipation, make us root for your characters and want to know what happens next, why should we watch more? You have to make us care.
Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.
Picture Credit: How To Train Your Dragon 2