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The Old “Show You Something From Later in the Show/Movie” Opening

August 3, 2014

We’ve all seen it.  A show or movie starts out with a moment, a scene, a sequence, and then… BAM!  You’re going back in time.

Why?  Because now we want to show you how we got there.

Let me back up a moment (yeah, annoying, isn’t it?)…


I tend not to like drawing a hard line in the sand about what can and can not be done in screenwriting, because you can do anything you want.  But, please, stop doing this.

It’s so transparent why it happens.  (Though it should be noted it can happen in various stages of the process; more on that later.)

A script needs to grab someone’s attention and interest early on.  In instances when the writer has failed to do so, somehow, somewhere along the way, it became somewhat accepted practice to cheat.  Yes, cheat.  A writer failed to capture attention and interest early enough.  Or, they weren’t confident enough in their own ability to do so.  Or, someone with power insisted the beginning needed to be more dramatic.  So, they grabbed the most interesting moment from the script, copied it, and pasted it into the very beginning.  Then, some magic smoke and mirrors trick occurred and people somehow began accepting this as, well, acceptable.

It’s not acceptable, because it’s become a crutch.  It is not great, dramatic writing.  It is a cheap mechanism used by sales people to sell the idea that drama is occurring, when it’s not.  It’s quick, sure.  It’s easy, sure.  Of course it is, you’re not writing anything new.  It literally involves copying and pasting a dramatic or interesting moment from later in the script, and passing it off as drama.  It is not drama.

It is a fake way of getting the audience to ask a question.  Obviously, the question, in this case, is “how do we get there?”

Because, in screenwriting, you want your audience asking questions (though not too many, too often, that go unresolved).  You want them to be curious about what’s going to happen.  You want them to be on the edge of their seat.  Without being lost.

And, somehow, somewhere along the way, the practice of giving a glimpse of something later in the show/movie became a somewhat acceptable practice for an opening scene, in lieu of real drama.

But, it is weak.  And it is so transparent.  I.  Can’t.  Stand.  It.  So please stop.

By the way, it also detracts from the actual great moment later on, that you’ve copied and pasted into your opening.  Because there is no surprise.  No unpredictability.  It just happens.  And it falls flat.

Of course it falls flat – you already showed us the big interesting thing.  What do I – as an audience member – have to look forward to?  Any time I see anything open in such a manner, I might as well stop paying attention.  I might as well turn the thing off.  Stop reading.  You’ve already shown me your best cards, and you wasted them.  You didn’t build to them.  You didn’t grow any anticipation.  You were so inpatient that you went all-in with the first scene.  With no context.  No build.  No growth.  No set-up.  Just because you wanted to trick me into asking a question.  And that is just plain sloppy.  It is not good writing.

I know it’s not always the writers fault.  Maybe there’s a deadline and someone with power declared the opening isn’t strong enough.  So, this glimpse thing got shoved in there.  In that case, I’m not just talking to writers.  I’m talking to anyone in a position of such power.  It is not a fix.  At best, it is a transparent magic trick.  But, I don’t see any magic in it, really.  So, it’s a poor magic trick that doesn’t work.  Please stop implementing it.

Or, if you must, continue to do so, but here’s a glimpse into your future: you’re fired.  Wanna know how you got there?  I already told you.

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