How does a film begin?

"The most powerful way to raise your game is to read scripts as part of your weekly routine. Set aside a time - make it a regular appointment, get your brain focused." -- Dr Pauline Kiernan

When reading a script or watching a film, you can think about how it works to create certain effects. I will examine the opening of the film The Blind Side. I have used the film rather than the sceenplay. There are also specific benefits which can be gained from doing the following exercise using a screenplay, to develop ideas about how to lay out words in screenplay format to achieve certain effects.

Pick a screenplay or film and ask yourself:
How does it begin?
What mood does the first image create?
Is there sound? And what kind? How does this contribute to the opening's mood?

The Blind Side begins with a blank (black) screen. The voice of Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) begins:

“There’s a moment of orderly silence before a football play begins.”
Visuals come up - television coverage of football players on the field preparing for a play, as the voiceover continues.

The moment of ‘visual silence’ provided by the blank screen resonates with the moment of orderly silence described in the voiceover and the visuals onscreen.

“The players are in position. Linemen are frozen. And anything is possible.”
The ref blows the whistle.

“Then, like a traffic accident, stuff begins to randomly collide. From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than five.”
This conveys that football can be a hard and dangerous game.

The play starts and the players are piled on the ground in seconds. The visuals rewind, with an accompanying rewind-whirl sound.

The play begins again, this time pausing a number of times for commentary to be provided.

“One Mississippi. Joe Theismann, the Redskins quarterback, takes a snap and hands off to his running back.”
“Two Mississippi. It’s a trick play. A flea flicker. Running back tosses the ball back to the quarterback.”
“Three Mississippi. Up to now, the play’s been defined by what the quarterback sees. It’s about to be defined by what he doesn’t.”
“Four Mississippi. March Taylor is the best defensive player in the NFL, and has been since he stepped onto the field as a rookie. He will also change the game of football as we know it.”
If you play the game skillfully, you can outmanouver opposition to your goals.

Joe Theissman gets taken down by a tackle from behind.

But it can be difficult to do it on your own without someone having your back.

“Joe Theissman will never play another game of football. Now, y’all ‘d guess that the highest paid player on an NFL team would be the quarterback, and you’d be right. But what you probably don’t know is that more often than not the second highest paid player, thanks to March Taylor is the left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first checque you write is for the mortgage but the second is for the insurance. And the left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming; to protect his blind side.”
This sets up a major theme of the film, in which the game of football is a metaphor for ‘the game of life.’ The mood set up by this beginning is one of striving to overcome obstacles and working together to give people the chance to reach their full potential.

Like a left tackle, Leigh Anne is tough and, by watching Michael’s back and allowing him to become part of her family, she stops him from being taken out of the game of life by falling victim to the dangers of his environment. Reciprocally, Michael does the same for Leigh Anne by protecting her to an extent from the dangers she poses to her own happiness and full engagement in life.

An expanded Cinema and Fiction article on The Blind Side can be found here.

If you would like to read further details from Pauline accompanying this exercise, or you would like to try other screenwriting exercises by Pauline before I put my go up on Cinema and Fiction, join up for free at and find Pauline's lessons in the 'Lessons from the Experts' section.


  1. Great, Steve. I'd also want to look at how this opening is connecting with the audience on an emotional level now. So, the moment of silence sets up tension and a sense of anticipation so that we, along with the players, are feeling tense. What is the effect of the rewind whirling sound? That kind of thing.

    Also, look at how the characters are introduced. We're being drawn into each character by being shown how they play in addition to the commentary describing them. The fast cutting from one action to another is creating an physical atmosphere of movement, excitement and even violence.

    So as well as looking at the thematic significances and foreshadowing elements, it's a good idea to also assess the moment by moment effect on the audience as they watch.
    In other words, what they're being given now without knowledge of what will ensue.

    To take the exercise further, I'd also think about commenting on how effective you think the script is in conveying the mood and atmosphere. And it's always good to look at the script as well. If anyone wants to read this, it's available to view online:
    Thanks, Steve.

  2. Thanks for your extra suggestions Pauline and for the link to the screenplay. :)

    My response to the exercise focuses on the thematic mood set up by the opening (in the overall context of the film).

    As you say, people can also examine the more immediate impressions created and how they respond to that in the moment - their own psychological mood at that point in the movie.

    For anyone who wants to give this exercise a go focussing on your more immediate impressions, it could be a good option to use the opening of a film you have not seen before so your knowledge of what follows does not interfere with your judgment about the opening.

    Anyone who gives this a go yourself, feel free to post your own insights as a comment here. :)