Baby Birds Or The Importance of First Impressions

When it comes to any movie, that first scene is crucial.  Regardless if it involves giant robots, murderous maniacs, or Victorian debutantes, that first five minutes will set your audience's expectations for the rest of the movie.  From that first taste of your movie, your audience will learn whether they should laugh, scream, or cry during the narrative thrust of the picture.  The movie will imprint itself on the audience like a mother bird does her chicks.

I call this my Baby Bird Theory of Audiences, and it's probably the greatest filmmaking breakthrough I've ever had.

And please don't take offense, as this in no way describes the mental acuity of the audience in general.  It's just a thing that happens, regardless of IQs.

I noticed this phenomenon early on in my 'research' for this feature.  I found that all horror movies start with a murder within that first five minutes to let you know what to expect from the piece as a whole.  Further, that you could tell what kind of horror comedy you were watching depending if that first scene was played for laughs or not.

Basically, horror comedies fall into two camps:  1-Funny with some horror, the Comedy Horror; or 2- Horror with some laughs, the Horror Comedy.  The former involve your Scary Movies, Thankskillings, and Dead Moon Risings, while the latter are the Slithers, Evil Deads, and  Dance of the Deads.  Not that there's anything wrong with the former, but I prefer the latter.

The very best example I can think of this theory in action is from the start of an old X-Files episode, 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space'.  It's one of those wacky episodes they would do a few times a season and is truly my favorite of the series.  Anyway, the episode follows an author, Jose Chung, as he interviews different people about the same UFO incident.  Throughout the episode, you start to realize that nothing is quite what it seems and really the whole incident is a bit... fishy.  But the greatest thing about this episode is it's very first shot in which what looks like a giant spaceship flies over the camera until it's revealed to be the bottom of a cherry picker.  Here, lemme show you a clip.

Click here to head to Hulu, until I find a suitable, and embeddable, clip

See what I mean?  Totally awesome, right?  The idea that nothing is what it seems is established in the very first shot, so then, as an audience member I know that this will be one of the sillier episodes of this normally somber show.

I can't tell you how much this little nugget of revelation has helped me in my storytelling with, and outside of, Love in the Time of Monsters.  I hope it's helped you out a bit too.

See you next week!

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  1. […] whole a disservice to not make that abundantly clear within the first five minutes.” (see my Baby Birds theory) NOTE: That is not an […]

  2. […]  The scene in theory worked great, but it needed a bit of tweaking to make it work in practice.  You see, in the feature, by the time you reach this point, you’ve already met Carla, know her struggle, and are kind of rooting for her, but in this new stand alone version there’s none of that.  I needed to adjust the scene, start it earlier than written, to implicitly show the audience of this short piece who they should be rooting for.  Baby birds, remember? […]

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