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First 10 Pages Showcase: Runner (2023 Blacklist Script)

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by Naomi Write + Co. in entertainment industry, rewriting, screenwriting

How do you impress readers?

One thing that certainly helps is a “first 10” (pages, that is) that pulls us in, gets us excited for the movie we’re about to experience, and instills confidence in you as a writer and storyteller.

Writers sometimes think that as long as they’ve done the work to make sure the story itself is solid, that’s all that matters. And that is a big deal, of course. (Vital, even.) But how that story is conveyed in the pages of the screenplay is just as important.

The first 10 pages

Every page of your screenplay counts. But the first 10 pages face special pressure because they need to hook the reader enough to make us want to read the rest of the screenplay.

The first 10 pages are sort of a microcosm of everything that’s to come. And when done well, they establish character, tone, voice, scene craft, and so much more.

If the first 10 pages are clunky or hard to get through? Readers probably won’t make it much further into your script before giving up. Your cool concept and carefully designed story won’t matter.

First 10 case study: Runner

Today let’s look at the first 10 pages from Runner, a 2023 Blacklist script written by Tommy White & Miles Hubley. Since scripts that make the annual Blacklist are some of the industry’s favorites, it’s a pretty good gauge of what makes an impression and what industry folks enjoy reading.

Several years ago I wrote this little PDF outlining 10 things to aim for in the first 10 pages of your screenplay, and everything on the list still holds true. We can start there and begin to look at what makes a screenplay – like Runner – stand out.

Download and read the Runner pages here, but please be warned: adult language! (I don’t want those f-bombs to catch you off guard.)

So what does Runner do right?

Not a word or moment wasted

The very first scene – one action-packed page – sets the tone and is really effective at giving the experience of watching the movie. We start in motion with the first sentence, and the kinetic action lines pull us through the scene at a clip from there.

And even with everything moving so quickly, there are zero points of confusion. There isn’t a single moment when I have to stop to make sense of what I’m seeing. What’s happening every second is crystal clear, even when the writing is stylish (which it often is).

The “ordinary world” shouldn’t be boring to the reader (even if the character thinks it is)

As a writer, you’ve been told that the first 10 pages are where you establish the character’s “ordinary world.” And that’s not wrong.

But think about how often the ordinary world is established by showing us the same old “character wakes up on an average day, brushes his teeth, and goes to work” series of scenes. These scenes tend to feel like filler, rather than truly important to the screenplay.

Now take our introduction to protagonist Hank in Runner. Have you ever seen this specific version of a guy-gets-ready-for-his-day scene? No, you have not.

The strange juxtapositions pique our interest. And not only is the whole sequence specific and unique, but because of that it tells us a lot about the character.

Hank’s intro is in no way filler. Everything in the scene tells us something important about the character, or sets up something for later.

The fresh choices continue on throughout the “typical day at work” series of scenes. Yes, it’s an ordinary day to Hank, but it’s vivid and unusual and interesting to us. We may even have seen similar scenes in other screenplays, but here they’re so sharp, vivid, and focused that these scenes certainly feel like the best version I’ve read.

Another area we see a ton of great specificity is in the Hank/Iggy dialogue. Each character is distinct, their dynamic is clearly established, and I know who these characters are by what they’re saying and how they say it.

Stakes need context

By the time we get to the Kate/Ellie introduction (page 10), the script has established enough context to make it clear how these stakes are going to hit Hank’s personal bullseye.

He may not know this little girl personally, but all the clues we’ve been given – the photo, the transition from the photo to the AA meeting, the conversation with a woman we can glean is an ex who now has a new family – tell us what we need to know. Hank is a guy with guilt and regrets and a daughter he lost. Who better to be tasked with transporting an organ to a hospital for a little girl’s transplant? The new run he’s been assigned is going to matter to Hank.

Show us the movie

As screenwriter Eric Heisserer says:

“A great script will read like a movie already shot.”

In addition to putting together a great story, it’s important to also think about how that story is conveyed. The goal is to create an experience for us on the page. Show us the movie, engage our interest and emotions. Entertain us early and often.

Show your readers the potential of the story you’ve worked so hard to build.

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

Subscribe