Your challenge? To convey the key elements of your premise in a fast paced opening scene.
It’s essential to engage your viewers from the moment their eyeballs hit the screen. The most satisfying shows depend on these key dramatic devices: the protagonist’s central flaw, which will be challenged by their story environment; a long series goal and an episodic goal. If you can add other layers, like a wound, an interesting back story, or a troubling antagonist, your viewers will keep clicking next. Question is, can you set this all up instantly, in just one opening scene?
It takes a lot of skill, especially if you want to avoid exposition. One loop hole is to find a way to convey exposition in an entertaining, engaging way. Check out this trailer to AP BIO.
The writer cleverly sets up the protagonist’s central flaw (arrogance); his wound (being fired); his series goal (to take down his rival); his episodic goal (to avoid teaching class) and the story world which will challenge his flaw in every episode.
Netflix’s stunning teen drama, DAYBREAK, is a high concept premise. Watch the opening 90seconds, featuring Josh in class, to see how much information the viewers are given – and it is achieved in an immersive and interesting way. Josh’s address to camera helps. Here is a trailer for the series. Notice how clear the key elements of the premise are. We learn Josh’s flaw is that he is a misfit and a loner; but in this world, you need to work in a team to survive. His episodic goal is survival; and his long term series goal is to find Sam.
Ted Lasso’s opening sequence is no different. We learn Ted’s central flaw, his series and episodic goals, and how this environment will challenge him. It is so interesting that Ted’s central flaw is that he is too nice. We also meet his antagonist, and her goals are equally clear. Ted’s philosophy – to be the best you can be, whether you win or lose – it a thematic thread that is present throughout the whole series, and it is set up from the very start.
I think the world was ready for a super nice protagonist, don’t you?
I love the opening of the series GLOW.
In just two scenes, we learn the protagonist’s episodic goal, her series goal, her central flaw and the story world which will challenge her central flaw in every episode.
Another layer that’s crystal clear is the sexist world she lives in, which is an ongoing antagonist in the series. It’s also an important theme, and every single story strand in the series speaks to this theme.
Too many comedic examples? How about the opening of HANDMAID’S TALE. We don’t learn very much about the protagonist, and there is hardly any dialogue… but WAIT – maybe we do learn a stunning amount of information about the premise. We learn the stakes and the jeopardy. It is a tense and dangerous scene and we believe her husband has been shot and her child kidnapped. We see the protagonist as a rebel, anti authority, which is her central flaw through the series. And we understand this strange story world will challenge that flaw in every episode. We also know her series goal will be to find her daughter. All that drama in under 3 mins…
Your challenge? Write an electric cold open, which conveys these key elements:
Protagonist’s central flaw
Protagonist’s episodic goal and series goal
How the environment will challenge the protagonist’s flaw in every episode
Good luck Scripteasers!
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