FADE IN : The First Shot
Why is the first shot of the film the most important shot of the film
You have scanned the ticket, have bought the popcorns, settled into the seat – the national anthem is over. And the film begins – in most films, it happens before credit for some classic ones – it’s still after the credits. More often than not we don’t really pay attention to it – it is the first shot of the film. Does this set the tone of the film ? is this important – Absolutely. This is why.
The first shot of the film signifies and tells the entire story of the film in a single shot. The Director should be able to tell a lot about the film in a single shot such as where this film is happening, is it happening in a city or a village – If there is a character in the first shot, what is he doing? watch closely. If it is some other visual why is that visual there and why not something else? Whether it is a 30-second advertising film, or a short or a feature-length film – the first shot of the film can create a compelling effect on the viewer.
It tells the entire story in one shot
It’s not just about first impressions, it is about what the film is about – A Director should be able to craft the first shot of the film to establish in an abstract or literal manner the premise of the entire movie. For example the opening shot of Guru Dutt’s Classic “Pyaasa” shows a fully blossomed lotus in a dirty lake. This genius film written and directed by Guruduttu tells a story about a man who does not fit in the judgemental and unkind society. The single shot was able to illustrate the story of the entire movie. Like a beautiful lotus which has blossomed in the dirt, the protagonist is the beautiful artist – who struggles with the dirt around him.
It establishes the key character motive and conflict
The first shot of the movie also communicates the key characters motive – which becomes the key instrument in the way the story is told. In Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge directed by Aditya Chopra – the first shot of the film shows Amrish Puri feeding the birds in the streets of London, with the voice-over illustrating that he has lived half of his life there yet he finds himself a stranger. Identifying himself with the pigeons, and wondering when he could fly away back to his own homeland.
The Director has established the characters connect to his motherland and his lack of acceptance to anything new in a way with this single shot, The box office super hit movie shows how this becomes the key conflict of the movie – where he refuses to accept Raj (Shahrukh Khan) who represents a modern ideology.
It establishes an unprecedented reality
A film also could set up an unprecedented reality or it brings you to a certain reality of where the film is based . For example in the first shot of Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur –the film opens with the shot of our current union minister Smriti Irani from a scene from the old tv serial “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” playing on an old television set – we see the camera slowly dollying back to reveal a lot of unsuspecting villagers watching tv. Suddenly the bullets start flying breaking the tv and all things around it.
The Director has used the shot symbolically and craftily waking up people from a certain illusion to a crude reality of the world of this particular story. It also dictates shock and immediate attention. This attack in the film is an integral part of the plot and to begin the movie this way not only brings the audience a new reality also tells where we are headed in the movie – and what we can expect.
It establishes the character equation or psyche
The first shot of Kumbalangi Nights the Malayalam movie – the Director Madhu C Narayanan begins with a wide shot of a football ground where a heated football match is in play. We see one of our protagonists dribbling the ball and passing it on to a fellow team member for a goal and celebrating it with his buddies.
This scene has several layers – it speaks volumes about the character – about being a good team player – it could also, signify what the whole movie is about – this movie is not just about him – it about him and people around him – which we later realize is his brothers – his team – Kumbalangi team. And their equation with each other and how they finally, reach their goal – which is happiness.
It’s a metaphorical display of the movie's core message
In the Oscar-winning movie Parasite – the Director Bong Joon-ho opens the film with a shot of a window in a dirty little apartment in the underbelly of the city – we can see the garbage line up outside, the dirty windows, and from the height of the window, we understand the house is in an attic of sorts. The socks hanging on the left shows at least 4 pairs which tell us that this film is about 4 people and their strife. The socks also relate strongly to the dirt –In this apartment, it is evident that the dreams have reached the rock-bottom in this apartment. When a visual shows something stuck underground the innate need and desire of the viewers is to get to the higher ground. That is exactly what the film is about . The 4 people in the story desperately trying to attach themselves to something higher up on the ground.
Directors must work hard to make the first shot compelling. It is also their first impression and the first entry of the viewer into the world he has created, The most important first step in conveying the entire movie’s theme, character, idea, and perspective in one go.
In my recent Bollywood venture In-Deewar starring Arshad Warsi – the first shot of a movie is 4 X 4 empty closed wall, which slowly starts dollying back onto an unconscious man.