Widows: How to Deliver Impact in Your First 10 Pages
I went to see Widows today and three minutes in, I knew I had to post about the opening. My expectations were not high, though I was pleased to see it getting a solid rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Mostly, I wanted to vote with my dollars. If there is a film with a diverse cast and solid female leads, it is worth spending the time and money to support it in the theaters. Soap box rant aside, if you are struggling to get impact out of your first ten pages go see Widows just for the opening scenes.
Oh by the way, there are spoilers all over this post.
Giving the right info in the right way
Normally the first ten pages of a script are overloaded with backstory or build up… or the much overused end of the movie before the beginning of the movie. I understand why screenplay writers struggle to give us all the information we need concisely. We don’t really need all the information, and you can still deliver a ton if you choose your delivery wisely.
Here’s what Widows delivers in approximately three minutes. (I did not time it, I was too engrossed. And when I said out loud ‘how’s that for an inciting incident’, I remembered I was in a theater with other people. Oops.)
- Four relationships and their emotional status
- The cultural background and social status of the four heroines
- The key set up information: bad guys, heist gone wrong, money missing
- The answer to my favorite question: Whose story is it and why should we care?
How does all that get delivered in such a short time? Let’s take a closer look.
First the relationships and the background information about the women. All we see are maybe 30 seconds of interaction for each couple, but those moments are chosen with care and packed with revelations.
Couple #1: Wake up together and show affection, I don’t recall them speaking. True love.
Couple #2: He eats, admonishes her for not eating. He asks if her eye hurts, then pokes it. Abusive boyfriend.
Couple #3: Fighting over money, the kids know the lines they’ve heard them so many times. Money troubles but she’s holding it together for her family.
Couple #4: He’s in and out the door so fast she can barely turn from the stove and the baby. Absent father.
What about the practical stuff, the heist? These mundane family scenes are intercut with high adrenalin slices of the men on the job. Guns fire, cars chase, cops surprise, the getaway car blows up… and you’re hooked. All you want to know now is, what happens next?
Whose story is it, and why should we care?
The last item on the list is the one I love the most, because if that question cannot be answered, you lose your audience. It is the first question I ask when writing script coverage, and it is one of the most common things missing in whole scripts, let alone the first ten pages. What this opening does perfectly, is it takes something we know intellectually and turns it into a visual and emotional punch in the gut.
The movie is called “Widows”, we know from the trailer it has four lead characters who are the widows meaning we know the premise relies on their husbands being dead. But when you sit down and the action starts right away and then three minutes later all their husbands die at once in a fiery explosion, it has impact!
Even more spoilers: All of the above is true, but what you don’t know yet is that the opening also omits some key details. Not everything is what it seems, but we only get the slightest of hints. The information we’re given is so clear and convincing that we want to believe it, but we also get the chance to learn as our heroines learn which just makes us care even more. It’s a masterful opening. If you are working on your first ten pages, I recommend seeing it for inspiration.
If you think your first ten pages are already top notch, why not submit them to our Slush Pile Challenge?