Let’s say we’re in a room, just you and me. Any room you like, doesn’t matter.
Okay, I can see you’re uncomfortable with being alone in a room with me. That’s fine, no really. Very sensible. Tell you what, why don’t you bring someone along as a chaperon, okay? Bring whoever you want. Bring your mum if you like … is she hot?
Anyway, we’re in this room and I suddenly get up and ask you to follow me. Being an obedient and obliging sort, you do as you’re told and we wander out of the room, down the hall, out of the house …
Now, the question is this: how long would you follow me without asking where we were going?
Half an hour?
I’m betting you wouldn’t go more than a minute without asking. Okay, if we were having a nice natter about biscuits or moss or something then maybe you might let it go 5-10 minutes, but I doubt much more. Remember, this stranger is literally leading you up the garden path … and it’s not even your garden, it’s a strange garden. One you’ve never been in before.
And would you be taking in all the detail or peering down the path, trying to work out where the hell this ginger, moss-rambling fool is leading you? Again, my money would be on you thinking: ‘Is he taking me to the shed, or the gazebo? God, I hope he’s not taking me to the compost heap. Shit, there’s a gap in the back hedge – we could be going anywhere.’
Whereas, if I said we were going to the ornamental fountain, you’d probably be free of that worry and make some passing comment about liking what I’ve done with my azaleas.
This is what watching a film is like for me, I like to know where I’m going so I can take in the journey. I don’t want to know every step of the way – I don’t want a treasure-map style pace count read out before we start; I’d just like to know roughly where we’re headed so I can wonder how we’re going to get there.
It’s just natural human curiosity to wonder what kind of story this is. True, you want the audience asking questions, but ‘Where are we going?’ is not the same as ‘What happens next?’
‘What happens next?’, if you’re good at your job, is a question they can ask excitedly all the way to the end – even when they know what that end is going to be.
‘Where are we going?’ quickly becomes ‘What the hell am I watching?’ which becomes ‘Fuck this shit, let’s watch a re-run of Minder.’
Which is why I think it’s important to quickly establish roughly what the film’s about – give people the same information they’d get if they read the blurb on the back of a book. If it’s a comedy, start with something funny. If it’s action, start with some action. If it’s horror, start with something scary.
Introduce your main characters quickly, explain who they are and what they want and then get on with the story. No fannying around, because you can guarantee if I don’t know what’s going on within ten minutes I’ll probably change the channel. If it’s really entertaining, I might give it until thirty minutes in … but I doubt it.
Basically, I like films which point out their destination and then make me wonder how they’re going to get me there; not films which don’t seem to knwo what they’re about and make me wonder if I can get my money back.