Task 3: Analysing Opening Sequences
i) What forms can opening sequences take? Can you list the conventions of opening sequences?
Opening sequences provide an introduction to a film. This is the director's chance to grab the attention of the audience and also the time at which viewers can decide how they feel about the movie. Opening sequences should:
1. Set the scene- so that it is clear to the audience where and when the plot is taking place. Also, this shows the genre, as a horror would typically have darkness, or a teen-flick would be set in a high school in America.
2. Introduce the antagonist (or protagonist), or other central characters so we get a sense of the world typical environment. In Se7en, we are shown Morgan Freeman and his lifestyle; we see his home, clothing, personality and job, which gives the audience a sense of familiarity and understanding.
3. Make the equilibrium obvious and reveal how it will be disrupted, so that the storyline can unfold. For example, in Legally Blonde we are shown how perfect Elle's life is; she has a boyfriend, is extremely popular and the centre of attention and has lots of designer brands (so she is rich). It is obvious that her life will change as everything is just too good to be true.
4. Contain music as this is goes hand-in-hand with the mood of the film. Music can be used to create a happy environment or even tension in a drama. It is also essential when credits are rolling, if there was no music this would seem odd to the audience. Usually, silence is not present in films (unless intentional) as characters are speaking, or SFX are used, so music can be used to fill gaps or when time is passing.
ii) What narrative functions of opening sequences can you identify?
Narrative story refers to all events, whether explicitly presented, or inferred. Opening sequences are constructed to achieve audience understanding of events which have been grouped together to cause effect-action and event. Time and space can be organised in a compressed form so that many ideas can be presented. Narrative is achieved through:
As we are dealing with films, the audience know that they are watching a closed narrative and therefore tight reading is involved.
There are normally few main characters so that we are able to see individuals in great depth. The characters are arranged in a hierarchy, which a central character, supporting roles, extras etc. As an audience we are able to identify with characters and like or dislike them. Directors can use lighting to influence the audience's opinion, e.g. in a horror: showing shadows or darkness on antagonists, so that we see they may be hiding something or are evil.
Time is compressed as there is a limited amount of screen time and as events are specific to a particular story, they may have no resemblance to the viewer's world. Flashbacks and flash-forwards are a good way of using a short amount of time to explain reasons for character motives or history.
iii) What do audiences gain from watching opening sequences?
Audiences are able to gain understanding of the genre and style of the film as a whole. An opening sequence is an insight into the rest of the film, so if viewers don't like what they see, they may not watch the rest. Not only do audiences judge what they are seeing in the opening sequence, but they may anticipate what they think may happen later on; they could be in for a shock if they are wrong, so opening sequences are vital as they are a taster on the film as a whole and can shape the audience's reaction.
iv) What do filmmakers gain from including an opening sequence?
Filmmakers can use opening sequences in a range of ways to shock or satisfy audience's expectations. Directors can use leave certain clues and tease the audience. By creating dilemmas at the beginning, viewers will have questions about characters, settings, plot etc. but the filmmakers can choose to delay the answers until later on, keeping the audience hooked. On the other hand, in genres like horror, filmmakers may deliberately want to trick the audience into thinking one thing so that they can have a twist at the end. We see this a lot in franchise movies such as Saw, Halloween and The Hills Have Eyes, where we think the killer is dead...only to return in the next film. Overall, a filmmaker wants the opening sequence to be captivating so that viewers are pulled in and want to watch the rest of the movie.