In class we watched a documentary about openings of films called ‘Watching’.
It featured Thomas Sutcliffe, a British journalist and broadcaster, who said that ‘Films need to seduce their audience into long-term commitment.’ By this, he means that the audience must be drawn into the story by the opening of the film, as if they are not they will lose interest quickly and not enjoy the film. This is why the opening of a film is regarded by many as the most important part.
Director Jean Jacques Beineix talked about the risks of ‘instant arousal’ in the documentary. He said that if a film starts too strongly, with too much action or excitement, it is difficult to keep up the pace throughout the film and will result in the audience loosing interest slowly.
One classic example of a suspenseful film opening is from The Shining, where the camera follows the car from a bird’s eye view, like a predator stalking its prey, with slow and tense music playing softly in the background. Without the introduction of any characters or even narrative, the audience feel nervous and know that something bad is going to happen.
Another successful opening can be seen in Se7en. This discrete title sequence, created by Kyle Cooper, is famous for its intense camera and editing style, which I have covered in more detail in a previous blog post. It grabs the audiences attention before the narrative of the film starts, leaving them wanting to know more, and find out how the scenes shown in the titles relate to the rest of the film.
Stanley Kauffman also describes that the most successful openings feature an establishing shot showing the setting, then a shot showing the characters surroundings which tells the audience what kind of person they are and their status. The documentary also talked about a trick used often in Film Noir, which is to show the end of the film at the start. This is effective in keeping the audience interested because it makes them want to know what happened and about the events leading up to the ending scene.
The most valuable piece of information from the documentary is summed up in the quote: ‘a good beginning must make the audience feel that it doesn’t know nearly enough yet, and at the same time make sure that it doesn’t know too little’, meaning that it is important not to give away too much, but to make sure to grab the audiences attention and make them want to find out more...