May 30, 2010

How to Begin: Discussing the Opening Scene from ‘Blood Simple’

Read the Opening Scene from 'Blood Simple' by clicking here. And then read it with me, through the fifteen points in this post. This scene is a text-book example of how to open your film, with some really precise dialogue-writing.

1. Cinema is a visual experience. However, reading a screenplay is a reading experience first. Actually, a screenplay is a visual text. Observe how with this opening description, with economy of words, the writers have made you ‘see’ it, and in this case, ‘hear’ it as well.

2. Introducing the characters and the premise requires sharing information. It can be just a dull documentation, or an exciting opening line like this – so much information packed in a single line. The woman talks about her husband with some other man. The husband must be rich (‘pearl handled’). And the mood of the film must be dark – gifting your wife a gun is dark enough. This sets you up for a thriller. (Also, this gun has an extremely important role to play later.)

3. So the marriage has been unfortunate. And, she has left him. Again, economy of words. Two lines and we know so much about the woman and her husband.

4. So, this man is related to the husband as well? Uh, huh! Interesting. And then he explains that he is an employee. This information could have been shared in a dull, just-for-the-sake-of-doing-it way. Or the man could have said something lesser, like: “Yeah, I know. Working with him has been a pain in the ass.” But that would have been inferior to what it is here. The difference between OK, good, and great!

5. Hey! It has the makings of a psycho-thriller. Well, we’re gonna love it!

6. This point is the point of this scene. And the point of opening the film with this. The woman from a troubled marriage has fled with her husbands employee who likes her. This is the premise for you. And this is interesting.

7. So, she is going to Houston. Also, another way of saying – “You shouldn’t stay alone. You don’t have a future.” Also, this sudden formal statement makes the situation more comfortable after the confession of ‘liking’ her. It also shows the two are not too close yet.

8. Another way of saying – “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t have a future alone.”

9. Another way of saying – “Let’s hear more good things about myself.”

10. Another way of saying – “You should have said this before.” Also, it is confirmed –the two are not too close yet. And their romance can just begin. OK. This film is really opening up.

11. But then, there are complications already. A car is following them. This is going to be a tight film. Who is the man following them? Her husband? Also, around here, we get to know their names – Ray and Abby.

12. The car leaves. The woman does not recognize it. It is not what we were expecting. But it did cause a minor thrill. This trick is called Reversing Expectations, aka the 180-Degree Rule. Later, it is revealed that a private detective was actually following them. So, there you go 180-degrees again! Also, this hinting before the actual revelation is also called ‘Foreshadowing.’ – a very important tool to make your writing believable.

13. They resume discussing their ‘liking.’ But they’re not sure. They’re hesitating. Apart from the greater ‘conflict’ of the premise, we have a ‘conflict’ in this scene too. The two wanting to be together, perhaps, but hesitating. Also, this point is the ‘scene pinnacle’ – the point that serves the dramatic purpose of the scene. Also, the woman knows very well that there was a motel they just passed. But she acts innocent. Remember when you are writing for your character, you are the character.

14. Answering a question with another question. Great way to break dialogue’s monotony. Great way to achieve a rhythm, by repetition of the same lines, and thus serving a great transition point for the next scene.

15. No wasting time. No more lines. No more pauses. Let them make love. Hook the audience. The premise and the conflict of the story have been locked. And stage is all set for a dark thriller involving memorable characters, chases, infidelity, and hopefully, murders.

A lesser writer would achieve these purposes: introducing the premise and the characters, defining the conflict, and setting the mood of the film, by either making the scene dull or long. Beginnings should be sharp, short and dense, and should hook the audience. Well, the Coen Brothers are the masters. We try to learn.


  1. among others, reversing expectations device very interesting... as for foreshadowing, being a JKR fan, had found out clues for events in book 6 & 7 even in book 1, but now know the 'name' for it...
    just wish such level of analysis was available for the whole part of any classic movie. would have been a treat to learn.

  2. watch any classic from the 'Criterion Collection'. It is an American DVD label that releases the best of world cinema history.

    most of those movies come with a feature-length commentary by film scholars and critics, on the works of the masters.

    the insight that they give you is amazing, making you really 'cinemate'....

  3. thank you, for introducing to the 'Criterion Collection'

  4. 'Criterion Collection' is another evidence to prove how much we are lacking in our film industry.