Your character's first moments on screen set the tone for the entire movie. Here's how to do it right.
Take a minute and think about some of your favorite movie characters. Chances are, you remember the exact moment they set foot on screen—whether it's Darth Vader storming into Leia's starship to re-claim the stolen plans for the newly constructed Death Star, or Don Corleone thoughtfully stroking his cat within the dark confines of his study on the day of his daughter's wedding. A character's entrance onscreen can end up meaning a whole lot to your movie.
Luis Azevedo of Beyond the Frame fame threw together this handy video essay chock-full of strategies to ensure your character hops into your narrative in style.
Here are 10 rules for introducing your character.
10. Induce action
Let your audience know what role your character will play by giving him an action to perform upon entrance—its consequence will immediately define his personality.
9. Elicit contradicting reactions
Strengthen your character by establishing how his own idea of himself differs from the perceptions of those around him.
8. Elevate the character's status
Introducing your character with a striking portrait or close-up lets the audience know that he is important and must be recognized as such throughout the film.
7. Convey the film's themes
The central ideology of the character can serve to clue the audience in on some of the film’s deeper themes.
6. Invite the audience into the character’s world
How does your character walk? How does she talk? How does she see the world? Make the audience see the world through your character’s eyes. Make them feel the way she feels. You want them to believe in this perception of his own reality, even if it is far different than the actual reality of the rest of her world.
5. Introduce the fatal flaw as soon as possible
Overwhelm the audience with your character’s flaws from the get-go so they are able to follow the stages of his journey, whether tragic or heroic, that will lead to the resolution of his character—and, ultimately, the film.
4. A technique of economy
Write his introduction so the audience can get as much information as they can about your character in the least amount of screen time possible.
3. Create anticipation
Use every method of foreshadowing in your arsenal to paint a vivid picture of the character in your audience’s mind before they actually get a chance to see what she acts and looks like. The most effective tool at your disposal is always your audience’s imagination.
2. Choose the right scene
At what point in your film will the introduction of a character have the greatest effect? Think about how you can heighten the stakes of plot and the importance of a character simply by choosing when she first enters the movie.
1. Above all, character entrances must be memorable
Darth Vader in A New Hope. Enough said.