In my book, THE STARTER SCREENPLAY (Available on Amazon), I discuss the importance of the opening sequence. In short, you better sell the audience by introduce the rating, tone, what makes the film special in terms of your approach to the genre, and maybe introduce a mystery. Sometimes characters are established as well. I suggest you think of your opening sequence as your sales pitch to the buyer–because if they don’t like it, they may not continue reading. This is especially true for unrepresented screenwriters while established writers have earned the reader’s trust to keep going.

The book breaks down BASIC INSTINCT, here is my description and analysis of 2002’s XXX dynamic opening, which was written by Rich Wilkes. In this scene, we don’t meet our hero, but plenty of expository information is established (the villain, the love interest, the setting, the film’s tone) and it also kills off James Bond.

XXX – The Dynamic Opening

NERVOUS DUDE walks briskly through the streets of Prague. He comes to castle and a dart (attached to a wire) hits the door inches from his face.  A masked man slides down feet first, knocking Nervous Dude unconscious.

Masked reaches inside Nervous’ jacket, pulls out the ITEM he’s looking for. He rips off the mask and coveralls–It’s James Bond!  Not specifically, but he’s in a tux, it’s Europe, we get the point. Mission accomplished?

Not yet. Machine gun toting thugs pull into the alley, trapping James. He yanks at the Castle door. It’s locked. He uses a customized Swiss Army knife to pick the lock and enters. Inside, music is blasting. His face falls when he sees the crowd–it’s a techno/punk metal concert!

Several hundred punks thrash to the music. The band rocks hard on stage. On the VIP balcony overlooking the club, our VILLAIN spots tuxedoed Bond pushing through the crowd.  The thugs are several feet behind James but having trouble catching up.

Villain in the balcony fingers his henchman to come over. Points out Bond still making his way towards the stage. Henchman pulls out a gun with a laser target, crouches and waits for a shot. HOT GIRL watches this all go down with concern.

Bond jumps up on the foot of the stage. BAM! A single bullet rips through his chest. Bond falls backwards off the stage and on to the crowd below. They can’t see the red stain on his chest and surf his body above their heads, hoisting it into the air over and over like a beach ball as the song reaches climax.

A henchman below accesses the body, pulling out the ITEM. He holds it up triumphantly. Villain smiles, he turns to Hot Girl, who snubs him. Villain holds out a spoon to a henchman, who holds a lighter underneath. After a second, Villain turns the spoon over a glass of Absinthe and throws back a victory drink.

XXX – The Dynamic Opening Analysis

I will never forget seeing this in theaters. I turned to my friend and we were both like “holy shit!” The pure outrageousness and over the top quality of this scene walks the tightrope of parody without ever stepping over the line into ridiculous. This is the magic and appeal of XXX!

With the domination of Shane Black since the late 80’s and the rise of Jerry Bruckheimer in the 90’s, action sequences kept getting bigger and more elaborate. Advances in CGI and visual effects expanded the limits even further. Nearly two decades of this boundary pushing resulted in a plateau. How does an action writer raise the stakes once again?  With XXX, Rich Wilkes answered the call, suggesting that the world needed a hero for the new millennium who was willing to get dirty without worrying about messing up his tuxedo. By killing off a faux James Bond, the opening sequence throws down the gauntlet. Who could be more badass than James Bond?

The next scene introduces Xander Cage….

Back to the dynamic opening sequence, which runs just under four minutes. Bond is identified–he takes out the target, acquires the item, rips off his coveralls to reveal a tuxedo and uses a special gadget to enter a locked door.

Once inside, a dangerous underworld emerges. We meet Villain who is the club owner and we know he’s powerful because he’s in a VIP balcony surrounded by well armed henchmen. His value? By the end of the scene, his men will have killed James Bond. I wouldn’t want to go up against that guy!

Bond’s corpse getting bodysurfed is a spectacular visual idea crafted by a screenwriter. It’s over the top but it’s also logical (this stuff happens at concerts, the staging allows us to see he’s been shot but the crowd has no idea) and also proves the point that Bond just doesn’t cut it in this environment.

Henchman gets the item back from Bond and holds it up to Villain AND the audience as if to say, “hey kids, pay attention, this item is really, really important!”

We’ve already seen the Villain has Hot Girl by his side, but I like how at this moment of triumph she turns away. BAM!  She establishes VALUE because she’s willing to stand up to a ruthless killer. All by turning her head in disgust. There’s no argument, no confrontation, no dialogue! This is screenwriting.

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