First there is the cogitation phase, then there is the bloom of an idea that develops into a full concept for a movie. After the treatment and the step-outline, you’re finally ready to write your script.
Now you’re facing page one.
Page one is the beginning of the beginning. It demands the writer commit to the story, commit to the Protagonist and Antagonist. It demands the first formulation of words on a script page.
The first page is critical. It’s the first judgment of a reader about the story itself, about your ability as a writer, and most importantly about turning the script into a product that can be bought and sold in the international marketplace.
This is the script that will become a movie.
So what do you need on page one?
- Powerful opening image. Pull your reader/viewer into the world you’re creating. When you create a powerful image, it should be expressed with a powerful sentence using powerful language. Grab your reader by the lapels and yank him/her into your story.
- Conflict: It might be big, violent and visceral with blood and guts on the page. It might be the titillation of a provocative sex scene. It might be the pulse of tension or suspense from an unseen force. But give the first beat of conflict. Give the audience a question mark they can hold on to.
- Dialogue: It’s not an always-or-never rule, but dialogue on the first page allows the reader to get into the rhythm of the script. They know they’re reading it as a movie. It’s not a novel, or epic poem, or short story. This is a movie. Dialogue on the first page tells the reader he/she is in the hands of a screenwriter who knows how to deliver an opening hook.
- Scene One: Make it count. This is your opening hook. Establish a great location that introduces the first line of conflict and story. The scene should be constructed to reveal character.
- Character Introduction: Decide who’s in the scene. Is your story best served by introducing your protagonist up front? Or do you have a better tension line by starting with another character, like the antagonist? Get the characters moving in action, conflict and dialogue.
- Definition of Characters: Define your characters in a manner that gives a sense of who they are in the story. All characters serve the Hero. All characters are in place to provide the Hero with a trajectory toward goal.
- Format: Don’t be gimmicky. Use basic format. Let the format help the flow of story and pace. New writers tend to use every element in the program, and the first page looks like a mess. Basic format. Slugs that are easy to read and schedule on the boards should be your standard. Prove you’re a professional writer by delivering a professional script.
- Punctuation, grammar, spelling: Mind the details. This isn’t a comic book. You aren’t texting the script with shortcut words and phrases that a junior high kid would use in a facebook posting. You are delivering a professional script. Be respectful of your own worth and status.
- Action: Create interesting action for your characters. The audience wants to learn about characters through action, conflict and dialogue.
- Delete exposition: Keep the scenes on point with conflict. Anything that sounds like backstory, chitty-chat, discussion or speechifying should be cut.
Congratulations you’re on your very first page of the script! The beginning is the best place to start. Now make it count. Deliver for your story a great first page that becomes a great screenplay.
Loving you dear writer.