Screenwriting : Spit-screen probably not a good option for opening scene by Heather Pierson

Heather Pierson

Spit-screen probably not a good option for opening scene

My script starts with a split-screen. It's two people commiting suicide in different parts of the world. It's important that the movie starts at this point, but I think it might be difficult for the audience to watch a split-screen and capture their attention. What are some of the other ways to have two people, in different places, on at the same time?

Sharon Hankins

Have you though about starting off with single shots of them first? EX: We see one turn a gun over in their hands. Then jump to the other tying a noose. Then you make the actual suicide part split screen. The audience may be less confused and it gives them the option to pick which one they want to focus on more.

Heather Pierson

I was thinking of having a female hand turn the key in the car, this starts the radio, hand becomes clouded by the gas filling up the car and then a woman pounding on a screendoor, switch to her persective, and a man is laying on the floor inside, in a pool of blood. Can't make it flow. Here is the split-screen version - help is appreciated. Split screen: Left Ext. wide angle of Hawaiian island chain, slowly zooming in, gentle breeze swaying the tops of palm trees, zooming in more to quaint condo apartment on ocean, looks peaceful, zoom in more to see a middle aged woman, frantic pounding on sliding door of condo, frantic, on the phone, look in her perspective, man blonde haired man, sprawled on floor, head laying in a pool of blood, red lights of ambulance reflecting off walls. right Ext. sunset, also viewed from above, sun turning rocks golden, zoom in top of an SUV becomes visible, still peaceful, zoom in more, side of car has line going from exhaust to window, zoom in more, see window of smoke-filled car, female hands hit the window, can make out female as she becomes unconscious

D Marcus

You are directing. Most of what you write is camera angles and movement and shots - it's how you see the finished movie in your head. So I see how doing it any other way wouldn't flow. As a test, try writing out what happens as a story - no "we see", no "zoom", no "viewed from above" - just you telling someone the story. Try it as the opening of a novel where writers do not use camera angles and shots to tell a story.

Heather Pierson

good advice....thanks. I need a trick like "Sliding Doors" because the story switches between these two people throughout.

Karl Martin

It's risky, but hey, could be real stylish if done properly... I'd think in ways to sync the action in both sides so the audience could follow "tennis game" style... (and hello, by the way!)

Heather Pierson

So how would you write this scene without camera angles

Heather Pierson

a soundtrack that starts of light and airy, and crescendos with the ambulance drivers intubating the guy, and the girl laying lifeless. Is that still directing?

Heather Pierson

What if the turning of the key in the car somehow triggers both scenes so the music is part of the connection between the two sides?

D Marcus

Heather, you seem to want to set up shots, move the camera and decide on exactly how the soundtrack is used in your script. That's not typical. Typically the screenplay is used to tell the story. Other people then use that foundation to build a finished film. It's fine if you want to set down exactly how the scene will be shot, what camera moves will be used and how the soundtrack will be used. Do so with the understanding that what you are doing is not standard. The great thing about writing the screenplay is you can try different versions until you get exactly what you want. That's why I suggested you try a version without all those things - see if you like it. If you don't then continue with your vision of the scene. The split screen might work very well.

Heather Pierson

thanks Dan that's what I'll do

Heather Pierson

sounds like its time to start over

Joe Henriques

What's wrong with simply cross-cutting the two suicide scenes? A few seconds of each character preparing for their suicides, cut back and forth, each quick scene leading to a more advanced stage of their prepping until one has the gun in their mouth and the other the noose around his neck. You can even end that sequence with one character pulling the trigger with a BANG! and the other leaping from a chair and cut to black to infer what happened without showing it.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

I like Joe's solution. I've also seen it called Intercut. Split screen can be visually disturbing. If you want an example, and I'm sure there are others, check out the original Thomas Crown Affair with S. McQueen in which a lot of it is used (as well as 'multi-screen' with three, four, five, and more, simultaneous images). The last time I watched it I found it to be a bit 'off-putting'. But for your opening scene involving watching simultaneous suicides, maybe split screen is what you want, precisely because you want to put people on edge and pull then into the story.

Leonard Benedetto

One issue no one has brought up is the fact that your story opens with not one but two suicides? How are you going to get your audience to stay in their seats after such a disturbing, grim and depressing opening? That is the question - not what camera angles to use - (which an author should never concern themselves with and which frankly scream amateur). Take a look at the movie 'Housekeeping' which opens with the suicide of a mother of two young daughters. It's a sad way to start the movie, but notice how the filmmakers easily overcome the downbeat tone.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Leonard brings up a valid point. Personally, if I see two suicides, and I suspect that they are linked somehow (which I will suspect if you present them with split screen or intercutting), I'll stick with the story at least long enough to find out what the link is.

Leonard Benedetto

Heather - yes - the minute your screenplay starts talking bout the soundtrack and ESPECIALLY a descriptive note such as 'crescendos' you will lose a majority of your readers because it sounds amateurish writing. The only time any mention of a soundtrack should be included in a script is something simple like 'Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" is playing on the radio'. Let your reader do the rest. Don't try to add false and forced emotional highs with a soundtrack which ultimately (unless you're producing and directing) you'll have no say in. It really sounds like not many of the people here have read many screenplays. If you can't get ahold of them, then read stage plays and you'll see a total absence of any stage direction, etc. As a screenwriter, you are telling your story through words and visuals. That's it. Not music. Not camera angles. Just words and pictures - and think of the pictures like a static photograph.

Leonard Benedetto

Thanks Douglas. Since I've unfortunately been touched far too many times by suicides, I am very sensitive to the issue and its depiction in film. But this discussion got me thinking. 'Housekeeping' is the only movie that comes to mind which opens with a character committing suicide. 'The Big Chill' opened with the aftermath - an undertaker getting a suicide's body read. But are there others?

Heather Pierson

American Beauty starts by telling you the main character is going to die, and I didn't say they were successful, which is why it's not a gun. I will definitely take out all camera angles and music suggestions because I don't want to come off like an amateur (I am right now) and thanks again for the help. I have just started reading screenplays, but I've picked writers who are also directors, so I probably need to pick some others. My next screenplay is Sliding Doors, if I can get it.

Dylan Kral

Have each scene happen one shot at a time, switching back and forth between scenes. So we have one character (let's say she's jumping off a bridge) park her car. Then we cut to the next character (who is shooting himself in the head) taking a gun out of a drawer. We switch back and forth between characters until each of their scenes are completed.

Heather Pierson

Took out all the camera angles (a lot easier than I thought) kept the Split screen......for now

Effector Dhanushanth

split screen??! no too much information to process. Least effective.Try cut scenes arranged intelligently. eg. angle and shot continuity should be seemless to correspond will linear time (or even pseudo linear, that complements your narrative style). There are several alternatives to split scenes.. the solutions lie mostly in shot divisions.. good luck!

Heather Pierson

I think a majority of us have been touched by suicide. I think a majority of us have thought of suicide at some point. What brings these two people to attempt suicide? What gets them past? This story starts in the middle. It can't be a gun, it has to be something you can survive, so pills for the man, and gas for the girl.

Lee Davis

Thelma & Louise used split screen to introduce both main characters in the first five minutes of the movie. But, packing two suicides together early on might be problematic because we have no emotional connection to these two people. And two suicides in the first few minutes sounds like overkill (pun intended). Why two? Why these two? Why so soon? Why should I care?

Michael L. Burris

I have written commercials and some short skits in split-screen mode. But as far as a movie I honestly don't know. If the intent is to have a split screen in the beginning of the movie then I would say yeah. Just put split screen in your opening scene heading. I would not consider this directing but perhaps the pro's in here do? Honestly I don't know but following my gut and logic is not always been wrong either. Good luck and try it different ways then just see what makes the most sense to you without ruining your storyline, thread, timing, etc. Perhaps the randomness without emotional connection causes the journey of emotional connectivity? Especially if it is followed by intense drama scenes. Hey if Lee is already questioning why? perhaps the audience will too. Good luck Heather.

Heather Pierson

because these two people are connected, and arrived at this decision which became a turning point, so thats why the split screen. As far as pitching - nope, not yet. I've only rewritten 100 times, I think I have about 100 more to go, but my partner in writing doesn't have the experience, and I don't have money or time for classes, so reading and getting feedback on this website are good options for me. This Website has probably given me more help than anything else in the last year, so thanks again. I'm not married to the split screen, but I do want to convey a sense of "togetherness" in their idea process right from the beginning, then take them back to what lead to this decision.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Heather. As long as you're thinking about the story in the manner you describe, I'd go with it. So if you have an interesting set up which you indicate will have a pay off, to me, how you format that is your choice. You're going to run across all kinds of people in the film biz, some of whom may get upset. My view - Ignore them if they get too bureaucratic.

Ivan Alexei Dominguez

Dear Heather... You can use the split image of two actions in two different places by pointing out, where happens the story or showing/ place or city! Paris, Effield Tower. She jump out! / New York, Bronx alley, He shoot himself. Regards Ivan

Paul Houston

I agree with what Ivan is saying. As I thought about your idea, I said to myself, that might work if there is some kind of action that leads up to both characters committing the same kind of action at the same time, or something like that. You might back up and look at the scene that you want and ask yourself some "what if" questions to help get ideas that you could imagine lead up to the scene(s) and then see if the way you present them can be different, or justified on a new basis or something. Best wishes. Interesting idea.

CJ Walley

Personally I like the hook of the two opening suicides. My kind of movie. You need to watch out for this Heather; ask a technical question and next you're defending your story. My advice is to take that creativity you have with the cinema and apply it to your wordsmithing. Think about how you use the words on the page to engage the readers mind. Think about how a simple line break creates a natural pause. Something you might want to consider is setting up both your suicide scenes under two different slugs. You could paint them very vividly and make them distinct. Then add INTERCUT and you can simply write out the two scenes fluidly in the order you think the action best play out.

Frances Macaulay Forde

"...while pressing her mobile phone anxiously against her ear..." I would delete 'anxiously' as the anxiety is set up with the 'pounding'. Brevity is important, only the words absolutely needed should be on the page. Bit like writing poetry, really...

Hammad Hassan

Opening scene looks boring with split-screen for many reasons. If the locations are different for two scenes to take place simultaneously, go for Juxtapose. Also to keep your audience less confused with two suicide scenes taking place at the same time, create one INT. scene and the other EXT. scene. Don't rush. Just take a bit longer with the characters attempting the suicides. (more details of INSTRUMENTS that would eventually become fatal). Or if someone is killing himself jumping off a bridge.... use the method of macguffin to make it more interesting. Cheers!!!

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