Notes from a festival programmer: A film synopsis should never start with "The film begins when..."

In my four years at the Atlanta Film Festival there are some things, peripherally as communications director and now directly as a programmer, I've run into time and time again with submissions. Many are common mistakes (or nitpicks on my part) that several filmmakers are making when they're submitting their films. Many of them can be easily corrected, many cannot. As a result, I've been posting tips and observations to my Facebook page in the hope they'll be useful. Then I figured, hey why not put this on CinemATL. Expect more of these. So behold the first piece of advice:

A film synopsis should never start with "The film/story begins when..."

This is not only a clunky way to start a synopsis, it's wasted words as the reader should already know it's a film. Even at four words in length, the phrase is a slow burner, delaying the start of any action. You want to drop your audience in immediately.

Here's a plot synopsis pulled from for Some Like It Hot that works beautifully:

Two struggling musicians witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and try to find a way out of the city before they are found and killed by the mob. The only job that will pay their way is an all girl band so the two dress up as women. In addition to hiding, each has his own problems; One falls for another band member but can't tell her his gender, and the other has a rich suitor who will not take "No," for an answer. Written by John Vogel

Note that the first sentence immediately identifies the protagonists and the inciting incident that kicks off the entire film. By itself, it's already a strong introduction. It's the second and  third sentences that up the ante by pulling us in. Telling us how the musicians uniquely make their escape and what out of the ordinary obstacles that escape introduces. Another strong point is that this breakdown tells us the film is probably a comedy and not a thriller without relying on adjectives like hilarious or uproarious.

A classic film summed up in 3 sentences.