• Joseph Morganti

What is a Cold Open and How to Write One

A cold open, ordinarily utilized in TV and film, quickly places viewers in a plotline and offers a secret of the story to come. It’s a way to entice the audience with the story and get them intrigued about what’s ahead. Thus, it’s beneficial for writers to understand how to write a cold open for their story.


Nevertheless, if you’re here to learn what a cold open is and how to write one, you’re in the right place. Below will discuss what one is, how to write one, and a few tremendous cold open examples. Keep in mind, this article won’t cover everything there is to know about cold opens but will give you a basic understanding of the subject. Let’s take a look!

Still from 'Breaking Bad'. Photo credit: Moviepilot


What is a Cold Open?


A cold open technique in film and TV drenches viewers in the story's action from the principal shot. Otherwise called a teaser, a cold open typically includes primary characters and presents the story's tone. Cold opens are more commonly done in television series, though they are done in film occasionally.


Television programs utilize cold openings to win the crowd's interest and keep them from station surfing. These opens will typically fall before the signature melody or opening credits. A cold open could present the principal character in the film, teasing the plotline. Cold opens can work as an independent preface, an arrangement for a grouping of occasions, or a mystery of what's to come.


How to Write a Cold Open


In film and TV, cold opens are whenever crowds first see primary characters, figure out the tone, and get a feeling of contention. There is a wide range of cold open figures of speech (the flashback, the drama, the activity grouping, the gag). Hence, you need to determine how you structure the opening. Keep in mind, not every story will benefit from a cold open.


How you structure a cold open in your screenplay relies upon what you attempt to convey. Regardless of the genre, the cold openings you use in your screenwriting should be attractive and efficient. There’s no point in doing a cold open if it doesn’t add to the script. Nevertheless, let’s discuss how you can write one.


1. Who, What, Where, When, and Why


In a couple of shots, your cold open ought to uncover the who (primary characters), what (storyline), when and where (the setting), and why (struggle). This initial scene could depend on activity or parody. On the other hand, it may show your hero moving about their day-to-day existence with little subtleties uncovering fundamental parts of their personality.


It’s up to you to convey these five main points all within a few moments. A cold open can be anywhere from a few seconds to ten minutes. Generally speaking, the shorter you can make it, the better it tends to be. Remember to look at your story and think of a way to properly develop the opening.


2. Create Conflict


Think about your hero's requirements, when they need them, and why they can't accomplish their goal. For motivation, investigate different instances of cold opens in different movies or TV shows similar to your genre. Likewise, be patient.


Part of a cold open’s appeal is that it coaxes out a touch of the story, giving the crowd a bit of the flavor of what’s to come. With streaming, screenwriters have an additional opportunity to play with an opening. The commercial breaks of a television organization aren’t a thing with streaming. So, don’t be afraid to take your time if it makes sense.


3. Build Suspense


As a guideline, while composing dramas, you'll need to present a person, struggle, or storyline yet not quickly resolve it. It has to be something that can occur in the remainder of the episode or series. For example, a progression of jokes could take up a significant part of the open for a parody series.


However, the greatest joke should land at its end, not long before the title card shows up or the signature melody begins. Either way, be mindful of what you can do suspense-wise, so you can attract an audience to continue along.


Great Cold Open Examples


As great as it is to know what a cold open is and the basics of writing one, sometimes it’s more ideal to look at examples. Learning from well-respected cold opens can help you determine the best methods of crafting one. Nevertheless, here are a few great cold opens to analyze:


Moonlight (2016) - A pack of boys chases Chiron (Alex Hibbert) in the cold open of the film.


Stranger Things (Episode 1) - A scientist sprints away from a menacing creature who eventually swallows him up.


The Office (Stress Relief: part 1) - Dwight’s fake fire drill.


Mission Impossible III (2006) - It jumps into the climax but doesn’t reveal what happens.


Breaking Bad (Fly) - A close-up of a fly grooming itself.