Make me Care. - Andrew Stanton
Every good opening shot of a film tells you instantly what the story will be about. The opening sequence of a film is the most crucial moment to any story. I heard somewhere you can predict if a story's ending will be good by its beginning. If your feelings are good from the beginning of the movie they will likely remain the same toward the end.
You have to hook your audience from the very beginning, otherwise, nobody will care and switch off to something else. For instance, here is an example of a good opening....
Recently I have been watching Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix; it is not the example I am going to share with you here rather, I am going to share the extract from its source, the original novel:
If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In
this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the
middle. This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire
youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were charming, and
resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that
happened to them was rife with misfortune, misery, and despair. I’m sorry to tell you this, but that is how
the story goes.
As you can read here, the first paragraph tells you everything you need to know - who the characters are, their situation/conflict and the tone of the overall story. As the ending sentence puts it: "...that's how the story goes". What I like most is that it's a good trick, telling people what not to do, just makes them want to do the opposite.
For further exploration and more variety of good opening shots in movies, here is a good video, explaining the importance of the opening shot of a movie: Opening Shots Tell Us Everything.
My favourite opening sequence of a movie has to be Stranger Than Fiction - Opening Scene - watch the video in the link. I think I will talk a bit about why that is...
Framing and composition instantly capture your attention, the layout depicts different moments from Harold's life and activities all at once, in the style of a comic strip. I remember an analysis that someone had said the style for this type of framing is a glimpse of Harold's view/perspective - meaning, we glimpse inside his mind.
Also, when you think about it Harold does not function like a normal human being would, at the beginning of the story; so, in this case the framing is structured to represent how his mind and habits work. As the story continues we see less and less of this, when Harold's attitude and mindset change.
The narration is the most important element of the story, the narrator is not simply an ominent figure off screen, we eventual get to meet the narrator of the story, as they are a character. Later as the movie continues, there is a moment when the fourth wall is broken... (here is a video explaining this concept) How to Break the Fourth Wall. However, instead of noticing the audience's presence, the character (Harold) realises the presence of this "voice of god". I think it was a genius piece of storytelling when I first saw the movie. The narration is there for a very important reason, as without it the story would be very bleak and depressing... I think. It's that subtle reminder to the audience that they are watching a story, not real life.
I care about the character and I am interested and want to learn more about him. However, the very first image we see when we are introduced to the world isn't Harold... but his wristwatch. In the introduction to a story usually, the main character is introduced within the first 30 secs or so. We see Harold's wristwatch first because this is the central piece of what the story really is all about; it is also a clue as to what will happen later in the story. But what I really like about this opening shot is how much it resembles Stanley Kubrick's 2001: Space Odyssey opening scene. We notice that Kubrick's story centres around life on earth, but, with Stranger Than Fiction the camera zooms into view of the wristwatch... telling us the story is centred around it. Even the narration clearly states this in the opening scene: "...that was of course before Wednesday... on Wednesday Harold's wristwatch changed everything".
What's your favourite opening shot of a film? Make a comment, I would like to know...
Elements of Cinema. (2017) Documentary Form. Available from: http://www.elementsofcinema.com/film_form/documentary_filmmaking.htm
Now You See It. (2015) Opening Shots Tell Us Everything. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZhFtd1QZWc&t=138s
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