Monday, July 03, 2006

Opening Shots

Jim Emerson's fine blog is giving away top secret stuff.

In a recent post he offered an Opening Shot Pop Quiz where he highlighted several opening stills from some famous... and not so famous films. He discusses how in many fine films the whole movie is contained in the opening shot.

This is particularly interesting to me because I was discussing this very thing with a couple of writer friends a short time ago for some television scripts we were working on. Except we didn't go so far as shots (it's still considered bad taste for the writer to offer up specific shots); we talked about our opening scenes and how, in whatever way we could, to make that scene somehow contain the whole episode.

Although it's something I try to do in all my film and television writing, it's rare that I have that scene in my first draft. Mostly because I often don't know what the hell the episode is about before I start... I know what it's "about" I just don't know what it's "about about." And if the scene is in there, it's probably really obvious and I'll have to spend time in subsquent drafts trying to make it not so "on the nose." One way I do that is by giving the job to supporting characters in the episode.

I'm trying to remember the first time that I was aware of it being done. I think it was the third or fourth time I watched The Godfather: Part One. It opens in this dark room and there's this man with a thick italian accent making an impassioned speech about being an American. How he's never wanted trouble... but his family has been harmed and he can't get justice from the police... so he turns to Vito Corleone to get justice for his family. It's a magnificent scene, and it contains the movie. This secondary character reflects the journey of the film's protagonist, Michael, from Proud American to reluctant Defender of his Family after the police fail to protect his father.

Hitchcock was also famous for doing this in many of his films. In the opening of Rear Window, for example, we see in a single panning shot who our hero is and the problem he's going to have to solve during the course of the film. (And it's not catching Raymond Burr!)

It's something that I watch for all the time now, and when I see it done well, I feel I can settle back and enjoy the show knowing that I am in good hands.

How 'bout you? Can you think of any of your favorite films or shows using this technique?

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