Nice to Meet You

What is the purpose in a film of two characters meeting one another and introducing themselves?

For one thing, it allows the audience to know the characters’ names. Also, some small bits of character information are often relayed in an introduction. But that’s all exposition. And poorly handled exposition is boring. It’s a big sign that tells the audience “We couldn’t find a clever, dramatic way to convey this information to you. So sorry.”

First meetings are a whole series of complex social calculations. Think about the inherent tensions, even the smallest of tensions, that exist in that interaction. What do you think about? Are you intimidated by this new person? Trying to intimidate them? Do you find them attractive, or wonder if they find you attractive?

Think about history. What do each of the characters meeting each other know about the other? Are they hiding anything from one another? Is there something that they think they’ve hidden from the other person that isn’t a secret?

And remember, this is a first meeting. It’s rare for people to hit it off from the moment they’re introduced. It takes conversation. A little sizing up of one another. It’s much more likely that there will be some first impression about one of the characters that rubs the other the wrong way.

Alright, so you’ve thought about these things, and you still need to have these two characters meet for the story to work. How can you make it dynamic? Here are a few ideas to jump start you:

1. The Connector: Do they need to introduce themselves? Is there a third party that might be introducing them (aka, a smaller character that can take Exposition Duty so that the principal characters can stay focused on their deeper goals and motivations)? Also, think about how a Connector character can name both of these characters and bring them together without directly introducing one to the other.

2. Avoid the handshake: Unless you have a piece of business to make it unique in some way, watching two people meet and shake hands is the cliché to avoid. Any two characters can say hi and shake hands. Think about what specific actions your character would take in this situation. Maybe it would be shaking hands, but how they do it is what matters.

3. This is a conversation, not a CV: Which of the following sounds more natural?

“I’m Mark Smithson.”

“Of course I know who you are. In 1999, you were behind the merger that combined three smaller telecoms into the goliath ConnecTech that stood up to the FCC’s investigation and attempt to re-divide the business through antitrust proceedings.”

OR

“I’m Mark Smithson.”

“So you are. Still on the FCC’s shit list?”

We don’t get as much information from the second one, but in this situation we also learn something about the character speaking. Not only do we know that the person they’ve met is a powerful individual who has personally drawn the wrath of a government regulatory board, but now we know from the flippant tone of the questioner that they may share a certain disdain for the FCC. The other information? That can be filled in as needed, because…

4. Give us enough, but no more: Play around with how much information about each of these characters that we really need at this moment, and what can be held on to for later. If something isn’t going to be necessary for the next few scenes, use that time to deliver it. Overloading an introduction with character information will draw attention to the awkwardness of the meeting.

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