When you see movies (and in what particular order) has a lot to do with what year you were born. Sometimes you’re too young. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re missing, until much later.
I saw Staying Alive before I ever saw Saturday Night Fever (full disclosure: I still haven’t seen Saturday Night Fever).
I saw Jaws 2 before 1 (edited for TV, no less).
I saw The Road Warrior before Mad Max. Though, I’m gonna guess that most people did at the time.
In my defense, we didn’t have HBO in our house. Or even cable, actually (we did have food and running water, though, so there’s no need to call Child Protection Services).
But even for the cable-laden, there was still no Netflix or Bit-Torrent. If you had missed it, you couldn’t just navigate through your on-demand menu and catch up with the original movie before you went to the theater to see the sequel (or the second, or third).
Maybe you could find a copy at the local video store, but even those were limited by shelf space and popularity.
It wasn’t ideal, sure, but it was all we knew.
As a screenwriter, you might actually end up penning a sequel one day (maybe to your own hit movie). If you get that opportunity, how will you bring your new audience up to speed without boring or alienating your previous one?
It’s not really an unusual concept.
There’s a series of novels I read as a kid about a young detective, called Encyclopedia Brown. At the beginning of every book there was a paragraph or two that laid out the backstory. Virtually verbatim every time.
It was a little annoying, but I understood it was for newcomers.
Until about a decade ago, television shows had the main title sequence to get viewers up to speed on the premise, frequently in song (“Here’s the story, of a man named, Brady…”). Less so these days, where a “long” main title runs about fifteen seconds.
In movies, though, the paradigm doesn’t really allow for a theme song or a “Last time on…” recap.
So, is there a standard formula to initiate the late-adopters to a sequel? If there is, I don’t know it (feel free to enlighten me in the comments if you’ve heard otherwise).
Personally, I feel like the the best strategy is to make the sequel stand on its own. Almost as if it’s the very first movie with these characters.
Sure you should include some callbacks and references from previous films, but don’t make knowledge of those things essential to enjoying this particular chapter.
Easier said than done, naturally. Of course, if it was easy, everybody’d be doing it.
Sorry, what? Everybody is already doing it? Huh. Okay, well, back to whatever you were up to before this.