We all know that opening scenes are crucial to any screenplay. They're what catches our eye right off the bat and they give color and authenticity to the story. One of my favorite opening scenes of all time is from Finding Nemo. It introduces us to the characters, the stakes, and all the backstory we need to understand what's happening later.
But who does all this filter through?
Many of you probably say "Marlin" and I'm here to tell you that it's actually Coral.
Let's take a look at the opening scene and then chat.
I'm sure you've heard of Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling. They're how Pixar creates such wonderful stories. Those rules truly can help you outline a story but when you're in the thick of things, the only thing you need to remember is dramatic reasoning. You need a reason why characters act the way they do.
Finding Nemo hinges on Marlin being an overprotective Dad. And the reason he's so overprotective is because of Coral.
Coral and Marlin are yin and yang. He's a little high strung and she balances him out. He was worried about getting them a house, about protecting the family, and she was just worried about him.
In the minutes we have with her, we can see how they both find a great balance. But then tragedy strikes. Coral is killed and so are all their kids except Nemo. Marlin no longer has the counterbalance. And Nemo loses out on having a stable parent to vent to when things get bad.
The hole Coral leaves is the direct reason the entire movie happens. And Pixar sets it up in the first few minutes.
Check out this full breakdown of Coral from Wotson!
As you can see, the genius here is showing Marlin being overprotective and a little bonkers right from the get-go. Setting them up as a strong couple lets us know that when one of them disappears the other will struggle. And finally, we can see how worried Marlin is about the eggs, so as disaster strikes we know this will only propel his worry further.
Now, it's easy to see that Nemo is the only remnant of Coral Marlin has left. We know their closeness right off the bat. But it's also to see Coral within Nemo. He got her independent spirit, which Marlin loves but probably sees as to why she's not there anymore.
These layers build the next 90 minutes as both father and son have to reconcile and fill the hole coral left. While her name is barely even spoken throughout the film, we must acknowledge that her presence, or lack thereof, causes the ripple effect.
This is not an easy feat, but a good challenge for you.
See what your opening scenes can do. Can you have one that ignites the rest of the movie?
That's the goal.
What's next? Learn how to define the premise of your film or TV show!
Learning how to define the premise of a movie or TV show is a critical skill when you write, pitch or even just talk about projects. But it's not as easy as you'd think.
Click the link to find out!