A while back I wrote a post about Point Of Entry. I got pinned down by classic movies with famous first scenes. Today, I want to add to that subject with some other great movies that nailed their openings. Remember what we talked about last time concerning point of entry:
Point Of Entry is a tricky one. Robert McKee, one of the original Script Gods, in his book Story, wrote about inclusion and exclusion. One of the most important skills a screenwriter will ever need is knowing what stays, and what goes.
So where do you start your script? Any rules that can help guide you?
Couple things. Events should be interconnected, not random. It’s not A happens, then B happens, then C happens. More likely, it’s A happens, therefore B happens, which in turn causes C to occur. Causality. We want the Point Of Entry to set off the chain of events that will become the movie.
I look for four things to be established in the first pages:
- The world
- The tone
- The key characters
- Beginnings of conflict
So, let’s look at the opening of The Mummy…
With period-piece epics, sci-fi or action flicks, I’m a sucker for information, right at the top. That’s what we get here. This opening satisfies the criteria for causality. If the Pharaoh doesn’t catch that smear of paint on her shoulder he never discovers these two fooling around and there’s no Mummy or Mummy movie. Of course there’s also no way you’re opening an action without some major visuals at top, and this movie has it in spades. This roles on for five pages so I’ll give you just the end of the opening sequence, setting up the world-tone-title character and conflict:
INT. EMBALMER’S CHAMBER (necropolis re-vamp) – NIGHT
Inside a TORCH-LIT CHAMBER, Imhotep is held by Anubis-headed
EMBALMERS. He cringes at the flickering, impressionistic
glimpses of his Priests being embalmed and mummified alive.
The horrid-looking Embalmers, using knives, needles and
thread, calmly perform their ghastly surgery on the SCREAMING
Priests, who are going insane from the procedure.
A red hot POKER is pulled out of a pit of burning coals. A
Priest’s head is wedged between two strong boards. His eyes
widen in terror as an Embalmer moves to insert the red hot
poker up his nose.
All twenty-one of Imhotep’s Priests squirm inside their
wrappings. Imhotep is forced to his knees. His arms are held
back. His mouth is pried open.
I was condemned to endure the HOM-DAI. The worst of
all ancient curses. One so horrible, it had never before been
Using a pair of tongs, an Embalmer slowly pulls Imhotep’s
TONGUE out of his mouth, then places a very sharp knife on
top of it. WE-GO TIGHT on IMHOTEP’S EYES as his tongue is
apparently cut out.
The Embalmer flings Imhotep’s tongue onto the floor. The
Mumia’s dogs attack and quickly eat it. Imhotep is WRAPPED.
Only his mouth, nostrils and fear-filled eyes are left free
of the slimy bandages. Detritus muck boils inside a black
cauldron. Embalmers scoop out the fetid muck and apply it to
Imhotep’s wrappings as he squirms.
He’s then laid in a wooden COFFIN inside a stone SARCOPHAGUS.
An Embalmer with a BUCKET steps up and looks into the coffin.
Imhotep’s wild eyes stare back. The Embalmer empties the
bucket over Imhotep’s chest: dozens of SCARABS, disgusting
dung beetles. They scurry across Imhotep’s SCREAMING face.
Some vanish into his tongue-less mouth and up his nostrils.
By eating the sacred scarabs, I
would be cursed to stay alive
forever. And by eating me, they
were cursed just the same.
The lid to the coffin is SLAMMED SHUT. Then, using a strange
four-sided KEY, the Head Mumia locks the coffin lid tight.
The heavy sarcophagus lid is shoved into place and with a
loud WHOOSH seals itself airtight. Once again, the Head Mumia
uses the strange key, locking the sarcophagus lid tight.
I was to remain sealed inside my
sarcophagus, the undead for all of
The blue-skinned, strangely tattooed man carefully collapses
the sides of the key, –turning it into a little puzzle BOX.
I would arise a walking disease, a plague upon
mankind, an unholy flesh-eater, with the strength of ages, power
over the sands, and the glory of invincibility.
Imhotep’s sarcophagus is dropped into a DETRITUS PIT. The
disgusting muck SPLASHES up, drools down it’s sides, and then
is mysteriously sucked into it’s seams, vanishing clean.
And if I could raise my beloved
Anck-su-namun from her place in
hell, together, we would be an
unstoppable infection upon this
world. The Apocalypse. The End.
Imhotep’s horrifying tongue-less SCREAMS can be heard coming
from inside his sarcophagus as grave diggers shovel dirt onto
THE MAIN TITLE IS SUPERIMPOSED ON THE SCREAM: THE MUMMY.
A movie not as grandiose but elementally stronger for its powerful simplicity is Badlands. Young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as the doomed lovers. Somewhere between Romeo and Juliet and Bonnie and Clyde, I know Malick has had some misses, but c’mon, this one is poetry. Look at how simply it begins:
Kit walks through the deserted alleys of the sleeping town… as
the MAIN TITLES APPEAR. He balances a stolen mop on his finger;
he stomps a can and looks around to see if anyone has spotted him
at this. As the CREDITS end he sees Holly in front of her house
twirling her baton. He crosses the street and introduces himself.
EXT. FRONT LAWN
Hi, I’m Kit. I’m not keeping you from anything important, am I?
Well, I was just messing around over there, thought I’d come over
and say hello to you. (smiling) I’ll try anything once. (pause)
What’s your name? I said mine.
Listen, Holly. you want to take a walk with me?
Well. I got some stuff to say. Guess I’m kind of lucky that way.
Most people don’t have anything on their minds, do they?
Holly eyes him suspiciously.
Point of entry…picking up the movie at an essential moment, a scene where there’s no movie without it. What other scene could open this story? It must be the right point of entry because Bonnie & Clyde a similar first meeting:
EXT. BEDROOM. BONNIE'S P.O.V. DAY. Over her shoulder, we see the driveway leading to the garage connected to the house. There is an old car parked in the driveway, its windows open. We see a man walking up the driveway, somewhat furtively. He is a rather dapper fellow, dressed in a dark suit with a vest, a white collar, and a straw boater. It is CLYDE BARROW. Obviously, he is about to steal the car. He looks it over, checking around him to make sure no passers-by are coming. He peers inside the front window to see if the keys are in the ignition. He studies the dashboard. BONNIE continues watching, silently. Finally she calls out. 2. BONNIE Hey, boy! What you doin' with my mama's car? EXT. DRIVEWAY. DAY. CLYDE, startled, jumps and looks to see who has caught him. Obviously frightened, he looks up and his face freezes at what he sees. EXT. WINDOW. CLYDE'S P.O.V. DAY. We now see what he is looking at: at the open window, revealed from the waist up, is the naked BONNIE. She looks down, an impudent half-smile on her face. She doesn't move or make any attempt to cover herself. EXT. CLOSE-UP OF CLYDE - DAY - -- whose face changes from astonishment to an answering smile of impudence. (Seeing what he has, he realizes that this girl is clearly not going to scream for the police. Already they are in a little game instigated by BONNIE, sizing each other up, competing in a kind of playful arrogance. Before they speak, they have become coconspirators.) Close-up of BONNIE, still smiling. Finally she speaks. BONNIE Wait there! INT. BEDROOM. DAY. Running from the window, she flings open a closet and grabs a dress, and shoes. She slips on the shoes, and flings the dress on, running out the door as she does. The camera tracks with her, moving as fast. As she runs down the stairs she buttons up the dress. EXT. DRIVEWAY. DAY. She flies out the door, slamming it behind her, runs off the porch (all this has been one continuous movement since she left the window, in great haste) and continues quickly into the driveway. Four feet away from CLYDE, she stops on a dime. They stand there, looking at each other, smiling the same challenge. For a few seconds, no one speaks, then: BONNIE (putting her on) Ain't you ashamed? Tryin' to steal an old lady's automobile. 3. CLYDE (with the same put-on) I been thinkin' about buyin' me one. BONNIE Bull. You ain't got money for dinner, let alone buy no car. CLYDE (still the battle of wits going on) Now I got enough money for cokes, and since it don't look like you're gonna invite me inside-- BONNIE You'd steal the dining room table if I did. CLYDE (he moves from his spot) Come to town with me, then. How'd that be? BONNIE (starting to walk onto the sidewalk) Goin' to work anyway.
Sticking with the crime theme, how can we leave this discussion without hitting the Casino script. The astounding voice over frames a non-linear structure whereby we start with the end on the movie clock, then work our way ala Citizen Kane, to make sense of the events that we see when the movie opens. It’s a spectacular tease, one of the best casino movies ever (sez the ex-craps dealer), and a perfect opener that brings us the tone-world-key character and conflict from the opening seconds….
SAM ‘ACE’ ROTHSTEIN, a tall, lean, immaculately dressed man approaches his car, opens the door, and gets inside to turn on the ignition.
ACE: (Voice-over) When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And, for a while . . . I believed that’s the kind of love I had.
(Suddenly, the car explodes. Flames, smoke and metal rise into the sky covering the view of the Las Vegas casinos and their signs.
Music in: J.S. Bach – ‘St Matthew Passion’.
Ace’s body comes flying in – extreme slow motion. His body twists and turns through the frame like a soul about to tumble into the flames of damnation.)
MAIN TITLE SEQUENCE.
INT. TANGIERS CASINO FLOOR – NIGHT
Vignette of ACE: through rippling flames, we move in on ACE ROTHSTEIN overseeing the casino. He lights a cigarette.
ACE: (Voice-over) Before I ever ran a casino or got myself blown up, Ace Rothstein was a hell of a handicapper, I can tell you that. I was so good, that whenever I bet, I could change the odds for every bookmaker in the country. I’m serious. I had it down so cold that I was given paradise on earth. I was given one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas to run, the Tangiers . . .
Obviously a sucker for bad guy movies, I can’t leave this discussion without a tribute to the original Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel. This dents my top 25 and this point of entry sets up everything– his gambling woes, his out of control drug use, not to mention his foul-mouthed twins! I’m sure this is how most of your drop your own kids off at school. Open your movie with a scene like this–go ahead, I dare you!
INT: MORNING — LT S CAR — EN ROUTE TO PAROCHIAL SCHOOL
The CAR is obviously LTS home away from home. FOOD DEBRIS,
BEER CANS, VODKA BOTTLES and other garbage litter the interior.
An impressive HAND-GUN is visible between the seats.
An old ICON of MOTHER MARY rides on the DASHBOARD.
As the TWINS get in, LT tries to hide the GUN and the illicit detritus.
To little avail. The TWINS pay no mind to his machinations; they have
evidently seen it all before..
As LT drives the TWINS to SCHOOL, the three play wild rough-house.
The CAR swerves crazily.
How many times are you gonna miss the bus?
Huh? All the other kids can get up in the morning,
but you guys wanna be driven around like the
fucking President. I’m your goddamn chauffeur!
(each taking alternate, overlapping lines)
Shit, man. It wasn’t our fault! — You think Sis is
so perfect, well, if she hadn’t hogged the fucking
bathroom, maybe we — I thought Aunt Lu was
dead! She was in there so long…
Shut up! Listen!
ON RADIO: Chatter about Mets winning last night’s game. It was the
THIRD GAME straight that they’ve won so far. One more game — set
for tomorrow afternoon — and the Mets will sweep the World Series.
They’re gonna win the Series in lour’
An the way with Strawberry!
The TWINS whoop and shout, celebrating LT’s – and their own –
They pass the PAROCHIAL SCHOOL BUS It has stopped for a
moment taking on KIDS LT cuts oft the TWINS’ tirade
Shit, man — there s your fucking bus I oughtta
make you late! Make the nuns whack the shit
outa ya both
LT and the TWINS banter back and forth, poke each other and box
around. The apparent hostility of their words is balanced by the
laughter and gung-ho play of the rough-housing
The TWINS yell cat-calls as they drive past a BLONDE PEDESTRIAN
LT joins in.
ANGLE – Through the WINDSHIELD, the PAROCHIAL SCHOOL
comes into view. A CROWD of UNIFORMED KIDS is gathered
outside. SEVERAL NUNS turn the CROWD imo two neat rows, and
usher the KIDS inside ..
The TWINS get out. join the line of students entering the SCHOOL.
The instant the KIDS have left the CAR —
LT takes out some COKE. Snorts it. He takes his GUN out of hiding.
LT steers with his Knees as he drives off toward the City.