Script Openings: A STAR IS BORN
Opening your script in a way that hooks the audience is an existentially important factor for all screenwriters. Especially at the earlier stages of your career, having that great hook into the script is likely the difference between the person on the other side of the table (a development executive, agent, manager, producer, director) putting the script down or reading on.
The recent film A STAR IS BORN (nominated for eight Oscars this year) has an incredibly compelling first half hour. It easily could not have. Bradley Cooper is on record as saying that close friends of his urged him not to make the film. A well-respected actor, Cooper made his first big swing as director (and co-writer) on the film.
It’s also a straight romantic drama – there aren’t any genre elements for Cooper to rely on. This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to open with a murder, a kidnapping, an explosion or anything like that. In a sense, it’s pure old-fashioned storytelling.
The film’s opening sequences show Jackson Maine performing at a concert, and Ally working a thankless job as a waitress. Jack goes to a drag bar where he sees Ally perform. The crucial element here is Ally.
Through the opening scenes, the script shows the contrast of these two characters. Jackson Maine is famous. He’s rich. He’s chauffeured around. Everyone knows who he is. Ally is (as her father, played by Andrew Dice Clay, essentially says at one point) a nobody. She’s poor. No one cares who she is.
BUT, when Ally gets to that drag bar and sings, for that one moment, she’s undeniably a star. She captivates the room, and most notably captivates Jackson Maine, who takes an immediate interest in her.
Another crucial choice is that Ally does not instantly reciprocate Jackson’s interest in her. She’s a little withdrawn when they first speak in the makeup room. She seems somewhat reluctant to hang out with Jackson after her show.
To sell this point even more, the script has Ally punch a guy at a bar who annoys Jackson. She is not like his legion of adoring (and sometimes annoying) fans. She isn’t fawning over Jackson. She treats him like a person.
Ally and Jackson have a nice night together, punctuated by her singing some lyrics for him. But Ally’s not ready to leave her “ordinary world” to go with Jackson, even as he invites her to attend his next concert. It’s a classic mythic structure moment, Ally’s had the “call to adventure” but refuses the call. It takes her overhearing Andrew Dice Clay’s speech about people with true talent never making it to spur her on.
Ally does attend the concert, and Jackson surprises her by playing her song and asking her onstage to sing it. That’s as classic a break-into-Act-Two beat as you can get. Is Ally going to leave her “ordinary world” behind and “cross the threshold” into this “new world” of Act Two, with Jackson and a possible music career? Lady Gaga struts across the stage and belts out her song, and A STAR IS BORN sets the hook in its audience.
How do you hook your audience?