Back story is information about the main characters’
background that happened before the opening credits have rolled
onto the screen.

The trend these days is to present as much information about the
protagonist of your story quickly and within the first ten pages of
your script. No longer do you spend 20 pages of your script
establishing information which may or may not relate to what is
about to come.

In the film Bugsy, this is what we learn about gangster Bugsy Siegel within the first five minutes of the beginning of the movie. He’s a cold blooded killer and his mob colleagues don’t respect him.
He’s married with children and is a womanizer who cheats on his wife. He also lives in an upscale penthouse in New York. All that backstory is presented within a few minutes of the opening credits.

Let’s look at the film The French Connection. The movie opens with Detective Popeye Doyle undercover dressed as Santa Claus seemingly collecting money for the Salvation Army. A drug suspect flees across the street with Popeye and his partner in hot pursuit. Cornering the suspect, Popeye beats him mercilessly. As
the audience, we learn these things about him right away. He’s a blue collar cop who does things his way without concern for proper police conduct. He loses his cool easily, is quick to anger, and shows signs of possibly being somewhat unbalanced.

The back story now is absolutely minimalistic and should be presented within a few minutes of screen time in order to get your story moving as fast as possible.

How do you approach back story? How much does your audience need to know off teh bat? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Read Steve on Screenwriting by Steve Kaire the first Thursday of the month on Write On! Online. Kaire is a screenwriter/pitchman who’s sold eight projects to the major studios on spec without representation. For more from Steve Kaire, check out his CD: “High Concept-How to Create, Pitch & Sell to Hollywood and website: High Concept Screenwriting.

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