Everything Stops When She Walks In

Want a powerful entrance for your hero, love interest, or villain?  How about this trick?

Make their entrance alter the reality of your movie.

Sounds crazy, right?  But here are some examples.

Consider the opening scenes of Moulin Rouge.  After a few seconds of a sad song to set the tone, we’re into a series of fast-cut, increasingly frenetic scenes as our hero is plunged into the mad, mad world of 19th C Paris.  An unconscious Argentinian, a bohemian theatre company in rehearsal, Toulouse-Lautrec, David Wenham in a dress… And suddenly Christian’s whisked away to the Moulin Rouge itself, caught up in a frenzy of music, wine, decadence, beautiful women in swirling skirts.  The pace is constantly accelerating, exposition is thrown at us with abandon, the visual palette of the movie is dazzling.

Just as we think we can’t take any more, the beautiful Satine makes her entrance onto the stage and into the movie –

And everything stops.  Or seems to.  The pace drops right down to ‘normal’, the colour palette is muted, the camera is relatively still for the first time in ten minutes or more, as Christian falls in love at first sight.  Satine’s entrance changes the shooting style of the movie (permanently, since it never fully returns to that feverish opening pace), and therefore alters the reality of the movie.

Want an example in a different genre?  Serenity.  Starts with what appears to be a futuristic primary school class, which turns sinister and is abruptly revealed to be a fantasy in the memory of an adult experimental subject.

Her brother arrives to rescue her – cue exciting escape sequence which culminates in brother and sister riding an elevator out of the underground building, up, up towards the light –

Until a voice from nowhere announces  “Stop” – and everything we’re watching freezes and is revealed as a hologram.  A security camera video, effectively, of the already completed escape, being watched by the sinister and captivating Operative.  Again, the reality is utterly changed by the entrance of a new character  – this time, by a bad guy so powerful that he effectively just stopped the action of the movie.  Dunno about you, but I’m scared already.

(And yes, I’m praising a flashback within a flashback.  Just don’t try this at home.  Joss Whedon possesses powerful magic that the likes of you and I cannot yet control.)

Remember, the reality of the movie is entirely within your control. If you want time to speed up or slow down, reality to become unreal, circumstances to conspire to draw attention to a character, there’s a cinematic convention you can use to do it.

So you too can engineer a situation where one of your characters changes not just the tone, but the speed, shooting style and even the reality of the movie just by walking in the door…

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2 comments on “Everything Stops When She Walks In

  1. Sandra says:

    My rule with everything in screenwriting is, if you’re not sure how to do something find out how Joss Whedon did it.

  2. Claire says:

    I only just recently watched Firefly, and then Serenity. I’ve never been a die hard Joss Whedon fan but watched the later years of Buffy in my teens. But watching the Firefly series and then film made me love him. Watching Serenity – it’s like a love letter to screenwriting, especially with Mal’s speech at the end about loving the ship, making her a home. I’d never thought about all the opening…or the technical side. Thanks for a great blog post.

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