“Quite often, the first ten minutes of a screenplay are the slowest, bogged down with so much boring information that we need to pile through before we get to all the action and the car chases and the explosions….” – Andylikesfilm
Andy wrote a post about The First Ten Pages of Inception and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about those hallowed words, those four dreaded words which seminar leaders and people who write books about writing screenplays love to invoke as if it were a magical way to tell good scripts from bad: the first ten pages.
The saying goes if you don’t have the reader withing before page eleven– rework your outline, get a better plot, your script is junk, throw it away. There are many reasons to believe there is some truth to the saying. But is it a myth?
The first few scenes of any story exist to setup everything else that is to come. Sometimes slowly, sometimes intensely, and sometimes ironically. Each writer makes the choice of how to begin hoping to make a good first impression but the reality is there is no right way. Each script must decide for itself. Is it about the hook or tone? Is it excitement or exposition? Is it a setup or setting? One thing is clear, the first ten pages should showcase if the writer has an understanding of film, what the genre is, and if the story and characters have their own voice. But if it’s actually worth reading those same pages shouldn’t be the only ones worth reading.
I recently read about the increasing run times for major studio films. Apparently attention spans are not causing audiences to run away, so why should ten pages suffice? An article on YouTube film-making conjectures that the rule for length is this: the material of your videos must match the run-time. The myth is nothing else matters. Content is everything. Or at least, it should be.
Just like it doesn’t matter if there’s action with no heart or events with no repercussions, it doesn’t matter what happens in the first 10 minutes if there isn’t content to carry the rest of the film. Which, in my estimation pretty much defines Inception: an interesting setup with more exposition than payoff. But if you look at the first 10 pages it would appear to be a great script.