There was once a time, not so long ago, when the best thing about some movies was often the opening credits. Whether they were fun animated sequences, like in The Pink Panther or Catch Me If You Can, or the long, slow opening outer-space scenes from Alien and The Fifth Element. They always felt an integral and necessary part of the movie. However, recently the tendency is to move away from these elaborate introductions. In fact on many contemporary movies the traditional opening credits have been moved to the end and there are few or no opening credits at all. This is all part of a deepening trend in movie-making and Facebook is to blame.
Of course, if you’re familiar with movies from the 50s and older you’ll know that putting all the credits at the end of the movie is not a new trend. What is new is that this is part of an evolving style to speed up the action, to get the audience involved in the narrative and connected with the characters as quickly as possible.
As a screenwriter you can no longer wait until the 15 minute mark to introduce the initiating action. Your screenplay might even be considered to have a slow opening if you leave it until the 10 minute mark. This is especially true given that in many contemporary movies the first turning point tends to take place around the 20 minute mark and the end of the first act around the 25 minute mark. This cascades down through the movie with the traditional three/four act structure evolving into a five or six act structure. The effect is that there are more crisis and more turning points so that there are few ‘dead zones’ and the audience is constantly on the edge of their seat.
The reason for this increased tension is pretty obvious. Movies are rarely watched in cinemas anymore. Most movies are now consumed in the home. While that has been the case for twenty years or more there is no longer a guarantee that the audience will dedicate their entire attention to a movie. We now consume our video products while searching the web; chatting with our friends, via Facebook, Twitter or other IMs; watching online video, listening to music and reading a book. There is now so much more competition and movie-makers have been forced to adapt.
So, what does this mean for the screenwriter?
- Never include a credit sequence in your screenplay. I still see these in the screenplays of novice writers even though they have always been the province of the director and producer and not the writer.
- No exposition in the first 15pages. Exposition removes tension, whether it is done through dialogue, flashback or voice-over.
- Keep your scenes short: 1-2 pages maximum.
- Every scene must multi-task: they must drive the narrative forward and develop the characters at the same time.
- Your scenes can’t be static. Two people talking in a room or around a table is static. It’s dead air. It screams look at me I have something important to tell you, and not I have something entertaining to show you. Movies are about movement.
I doubt we’ve seen the end of the entertaining opening credit sequence. These trends are constantly evolving. However, the days of credits over slow, laborious exposition or scene setting shots are thankfully over. That can only be a good thing. What do you think?