When a hook doesn't catch
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
A rule in screenwriting is 'hook your audience in the first ten pages'. With flashbacks, flash forwards, dreams and exposition dumps, filmmakers have endless possibilities - but not all hooks catch and here's why.
The 2020 film, Forces of Nature, uses a clip from a scene in the second act. The scene involves Mel Gibson's character, Ray, wearing a bullet proof vest, holding a gun and leading a police officer through an open corridor of an apartment complex. A hurricane attacks the building, through the rain, Ray attempts to shoot the bad guy beating a police officer to death.
This hook ticks all the boxes, action, suspense and it asks a question to the audience, will Ray shoot the bad guy and save the police officer? Sounds like a great hook, but it doesn't work and it effects the entire film.
What does this opening hook tell us? It establishes Ray as the protagonist of the story, it shows Ray on the same side as the police and indicates Ray as a likely police officer or someone that can use a gun. In these few seconds, we learn a lot.
But when we meet Ray, things are a little different.
Ray is not the protagonist, Emile Hersch's Cardillo, the police officer is. After the opening titles, we spend the first act with Cardillo, learning about his self destructive nature and his complicated past - we don't spend anytime with Ray.
When we finally meet Ray, he is a resident in the apartment complex, shown as a disgruntled, absent minded elderly man. He instantly belittles the police and engages in conflict with Cardillo and Jess, the other police officer, in direct contrast to the hook.
In addition to Ray's disrespect for law enforcement, he shows traits of confusion, high anxiety and cognitive issues. Ray is a character in need and clearly harmless, unlike Ray from the hook, who was direct, alert and moving like an action star.
By showing who Ray will become, the hook weakens the entire film's tension and suspense. With one simple scene swap, the film could have created suspense and established who is the protagonist of the story. In the third Act, Cardillo explains he shot his partner, this is shown as a flashback. This flashback, would have been perfect as the hook. Establish the protagonist, create action and ask the question, what happened?
The question you need to ask, is the hook just to grab the audience's attention or is the hook there to add to the story?