As work continues with the monster spec, some of the focus has been on figuring out the backstory of how things came to be and working out the events that lead up to where the plot starts.
If this were a novel, I could just include them in the whole body of work. Not so the case for a screenplay.
In as few scenes as possible, I need to educate the reader/viewer about this world, who’s involved and what’s at stake. Once that’s done, we shift gears and dive right into the story.
A recent example – PACIFIC RIM. The opening minutes are all about what’s already happened – giant monsters showed up, we built giant robots to fight them, and we’re off.
Consider the opening crawl in STAR WARS. A few paragraphs floating in space sets everything up: here’s what’s going on, immediately followed by a space battle.
While this kind of thing is necessary for a ripping effects-laden yarn, what if your story is about normal folks in the everyday world?
Same rules apply. We still need to know what’s going on and who it’s about. Give us those parts of the story now, and pepper it with the relevant details as we move forward.
The example I keep coming back to for this is the opening of FIELD OF DREAMS: Kevin Costner narrates a thumbnail sketch about his character over a series of photographs, then we’re on the farm in Iowa.
No matter what genre you’re working in, it’s important to know what happened before page one, both regarding the story and the characters. You don’t have to go crazy with details, but at least know what needs to be known.