The First 10 Pages: How to Hook the Audience

Ever get a big fish on the line only to have it get away before you could pull it into the boat? You probably didn’t set the hook. Rule #1 in fishing: set the hook. The same is true in screenwriting, only you’re not trying to hook a fish, you’re trying to hook the audience. You don’t need a fishing rod, you need ten great pages.

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The First 10 Pages: How to Hook the Audience

The Old Man and the Sea ©Warner Bros.The Old Man and the Sea ©Warner Bros.

Ever get a big fish on the line only to have it get away before you could pull it into the boat?  You probably didn’t set the hook.  Rule #1 in fishing: set the hook.  The same is true in screenwriting, only you’re not trying to hook a fish, you’re trying to hook the audience.  You don’t need a fishing rod, you need ten great pages.

The first ten pages of any screenplay are the most critical.  If you don't hook the viewers in the first ten minutes of a film you’ve lost them for the remainder.  They may have already bought a ticket, but it's not those tickets that will make the big bucks (or make you the writer of the month), it's the additional 10 tickets that are sold when those viewers “tweet” their family and friends about what a great picture they just saw. Word of mouth, not ad dollars, makes blockbusters.

How do you hook that viewer?  With three things: interest, empathy  and mystery.  And how do you put these three things into the first ten pages of your script? Let me show you by using the example of a superbly scripted animated feature, the original Kung Fu Panda.

1. HOOK THE VIEWER'S INTEREST IMMEDIATELY.

This is often done with a visual action sequence.

Kung Fu Panda started off with a beautiful Asian tapestry of martial arts action as an awesome panda warrior kicked the stuffing out of his adversaries.  It sure grabbed my interest.  But that's not enough.  You can start a film with action to hook your viewers, but action alone, without the other elements, won't keep them on the hook.

2. ESTABLISH THE VIEWER'S EMPATHY FOR THE HERO.

In Kung Fu Panda, the instant the opening action ended, Po, the panda hero, fell out of bed and plopped onto the floor of his real-world bedroom, brought back to his mundane life of being a waiter in his father’s noodle shop.  The martial arts action was all a dream.  In one second the audience became aware that Po was an obese klutz with impossible dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior.

Now the viewers aren't just interested in seeing more kung fu action, they’re interested in learning more about the hero.  We all have big dreams, so we feel for this poor kid.  Empathy!  The hook has been pulled deeper.  But the fish isn't in the boat yet.

3. DRAW THE VIEWER INTO THE MYSTERY.

After establishing the hero, Po, his goal of becoming a kung fu warrior, and the virtual impossibility of reaching it, the villain is revealed—a vicious kung fu warrior named Tai Lung.  His escape from prison is imminent and the local kung fu master, Shifu, must choose a new dragon warrior to defeat him.  The stakes are set.  And the audience knows that this is Po's destiny.  But how the heck can an overweight panda, who can barely push a noodle cart without falling on his face, possibly defeat the most powerful and meanest kung fu warrior in the land?  That's the mystery!

In ten artfully crafted pages, Kung Fu Panda hooks the audience with visual action, gains their empathy by revealing a flawed character with universal dreams of becoming a stronger person, and puts them into mystery, wondering how the hero can possibly accomplish his goal and defeat the villain.

There are many more pages to come, but if your first 10 don't set the hook, the viewer is going to swim away.

Jeff

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved

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