I cannot get over how freaking excited I am that you reached the middle of your screenplay. I hope these 10-page chunks have made moving forward manageable.
The middle of the script is where it all changes. This is where the road gets much tougher. We need to see your characters suffering and need to make some of their plans fail.
You made it to the middle. Now let's push till the end.
We’re going to release one of these every Friday, so if you’re joining late, you can find all the other weeks in our free online screenwriting course here.
The Free Screenwriting Seminar Mission Statement
Most people access No Film School because they want to get information about cameras, gear, and storytelling. We’re aware that the luxury of attending film school is not available to most of the world, so we do our best to keep you all up to date on what’s out there and how you can shoot and create to your utmost potential.
What’s at the root of all filmmaking? Storytelling.
Over the next 10 weeks, I’m going to give a free online screenwriting course. Read entry one here! I’m going to teach you the fundamentals of screenwriting, coach you through 10-page sprints, and answer your questions about how your story can move forward in the comments section below each week.
If we’re going to finish this screenplay, we should get started right away. If you have some other stuff to do and only want to find out what to do this week, scroll down to the TL;DR portion.
Now, to the fun part!
Free Screenwriting Seminar Week Six: Pages 50-60.
Here's what I love about the middle of a screenplay; it's where you get to reinvent the wheel. It's where the audience gets thrown for a loop, a big twist happens, and you have to evaluate where to go from here.
The middle portion of a lot of screenplays is when the audience is yelling at the page.
It's when our heroes start to fall out of love, think they saw Commissioner Gordon die, and learn they're going to need that one last piece to rob a casino.
Screenwriting gurus like Blake Snyder suggest having a "false victory" or "false collapse" at the middle. Either pretend your character's high point is the middle and then ride the pages down from there, or give them a defeat, and let them spring back from that.
False victories can be hard to pull off. If you look at Body Heat, their false victory is where they think they've pulled off the most amazing con ever, and then the rest of the movie is about it falling apart.
Look at a movie like Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg. He thought it was just about making the Philadelphia Eagles' squad. But in the middle, he's on the team and realizes those challenges keep coming.
While not every movie has a dramatic shift at the midpoint, I would encourage you to see this midpoint as an opportunity to really shake things up. Even if it's not completely altering character trajectory, at least try to reveal an emotional bombshell that could shake the audience too. Keep us on our toes.
As you can tell from our Story Map, the parts of your story you've entered are...
Reassess the Problem - You’re at the middle. Is there another way to get it done?
Try and Fail - Things begin to fall apart, can they handle it?
Last week we learned that the characters had finally started to gel together and things were going well. Now it's time to fracture those relationships, to create the cracks that will lead us to the break.
If you've been planting things along the way, we'll be paying off more here.
Let's jump into the examples to push these points home.
Pages 50-60 Screenplay examples
As you know, I love setting things off with a genre entry, and I can think of no better midpoint that the T-Rex escaping in Jurassic Park.
Up until this point in the screenplay, we've spent most of our time exploring a tame park. But the real shakeup here is when the park is able to escape the boundaries and begin to interact with the guests. This is the first big step into that arena. These pages are also used to begin to pay off Nedry's decisions to sell the embryos.
Remember when I said we were going to test the characters?
Well, after the midpoint, we see Dr. Grant have to confront hating kids, then Ellie confronts being underestimated, then Nedry confronts his greed, and then Hammond confronts his hubris. That's a helluva shift.
What about something without dinosaurs but with lots of desserts?
One of the greatest screenplays of all time comes from the 2007 movie, Waitress, written and directed by Adrienne Shelly. It's a movie about a waitress stuck in a bad marriage, trying to save money to leave her husband, when she finds out she's pregnant.
As if all those problems aren't terrible enough, at the mid-point, she begins a torrid affair.
This affair is unexpected and throws the best-laid plans right out the window. Now, instead of escaping her husband, she's trying to navigate a new love. She has to keep all of this hidden from her best friends and best customers. It catapults into a more emotionally complicated arena and opens the movie to lots of twists, turns, and laughs.
We've focused a lot on dramatic shifts that cause people to see the world in a whole new light. But what if the world your characters inhabit is already awful?
I caught the recent re-release of Schindler's List in theaters this week, and its midpoint happens when Amon Goeth arrives.
This is where the movie turns. Up until now, Schindler has been able to save lives without much legwork by using his factory. He's getting unbelievably rich. His motivations are monetary. But when Goeth arrives, there's a new world order. The camps become even more deadly. The ghetto is liquidated.
Schindler, who had seen these people as commodities, now sees them as human beings.
The list Schindler made, which was about free labor, now becomes a list he's going to make to save the lives of thousands.
The midpoint in Schindler's List is about the arrival of a person who changes the way Oskar views the world. While there is not a major shift in how he goes about his business, we begin to see the humanity within him come out.
That humanity becomes the defining theme of the movie.
Summing Up Free Screenwriting Seminar Week Six
Now you have your marching orders. How can you get your characters to see the world in a new light? What obstacle can you put in their way that makes them divert on their plan?
In The Goonies, you get a fake ending when they arrive at the well.
In The Revenant, Glass reaches a camp of settlers, only to be falsely accused of attacking a Native woman when her people come to find her.
Think about how false endings, new beginnings, and character introductions can mark your midpoint.
As always, ask questions and pose ideas in the comments.
We're all in this together!
TL;DR of this Free Screenwriting Seminar: Wk. 6
Week Six Screenwriting Goals:
- Get to the middle, and change course!
- Make your characters second guess the mission.
- Pages 50-60.