The power of image is demonstrated over and over again in film as we use our minds to scroll back over movies that have affected us deeply. Whether it is the famous dying words of Citizen Kane - ‘Rosebud’ that sets the story in motion. Or the loop-de-loops of the flying bug at the beginning of ‘Men in Black’ or the shelf of toys at the opening of Monsters Inc. Each image starts us on our journey.
In the case of Monsters Inc, the shelf loaded with toys is a red herring. It’s put there to lull you into believing you’re inhabiting a human world. A safe world, a world where nothing scary can happen; AND then, POW. In minutes you’ve been up-ended into a world that isn’t human at all - a MONSTER world that actually preys on our most vulnerable element - our children.
So, if you’re engaged in the act of creating a screenplay, I ask you; what IS the first image that flashes onto the screen at fade up? Will it land us exactly in the middle of the world in which the story takes place? Or, will it simply be used to lure us in and have the rug pulled out from under our feet moments later.
The act of writing is all about making choices and that first image is only one in a long series of story choices that will shape your audiences reaction to the film you’re crafting. So give it some serious thought as to how you will use that first image. Is it bait? Or is it a straight forward spring board into your story. Does it set the tone, the mood or the era for us? What does that first image accomplish?
The same is true of how we (as the audience) encounter your hero/heroine for the first time. In Monsters Inc, the first time we see James P. Sullivan (Sully) he’s sleeping. Nothing could be more innocent than that. The writer’s are telling us that Sully is as innocent and likable as the little children he spends every night scaring into tears.
Those first moments are important. Use them knowingly and with care; from them springs your story!
I hope this helps. And good luck with your writing. I can’t wait to read the result!
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