We’re back again with the Free Screenwriting Seminar: Week Three. My goal is to help you write a feature-length screenplay in 10 weeks. That’s about 1.42 pages a day. Can you handle that?
I bet you can.
This week we’re going to talk more about setting up the world, the protagonists, and how pages 20-30 in your script will make a promise to the audience.
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.
Let’s get going!
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?
So over the next 10 weeks, I’m going to give a free screenwriting seminar. 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 stuff to do and just want to find out what to do this week, scroll down to the TL;DR portion.
Now, to the fun part!
Where Are You Now?
You should have already written the first 20 pages of your opus. We should know all about the characters, world, and tone.
We should even have a semblance of the theme.
Now it’s time to finish act one and send the screenplay off into Act II.
You’re hitting 21-30, so think about everything we need to know as the story moves forward (read what’s ahead). As I mentioned in week one. You may be a few pages ahead or a few pages behind.
The idea here is to write in chunks, so don’t worry about having your page count exact.
So what are we trying to do in pages 21-30?
As your first act comes to a close, you want your characters to be in a situation that drives the story forward.
If you’ve read Save The Cat, you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “The Promise of the Premise.”
This is just a fancy way of saying, what kind of movie are you promising the audience?
Have you taken the steps to deliver that film?
So let’s look at some ends of first acts to inspire our writing and then focus on getting back to the grindstone.
Screenplay Examples: Pages 21-30
So as you get ready to thrust the audience into the main parts of the story, you have to write yourself to the point where people are pushing off on their journey. This can mean pushing The Goonies on the search for One-eyed Willie, or sending Clarice Starling to interview Dr. Lecter.
So let's look at a few movies who use pages 21-30 to get their characters on the way to fulfilling the promise of the premise.
One of my favorite comedies of the 21st century is Tropic Thunder. The movie's plot is simple. A team of actors, trying to create a realistic Vietnam War movie, get lost in the jungle and have to face real rebel forces who are not sure the fight is over. This is an amazingly goofy premise, but the first act has to set up the actors, their flaws, AND get them out into the jungle believing all the real danger around them is fake, and part of a movie.
To do this, the writers have to trick the characters.
What's fun is, this is all set up within the first 20 pages. We know these guys are a little dumb, and we know the director is obsessed with realism. So to get the story going forward, you need a scene that both showcases the danger of the jungle, and thrusts these guys away from safety into it...
As great as this works for a comedy, I think it's harder to pinpoint scenes like this in dramas, or less genre-driven movies.
Another underrated movie of the 2000s is You Can Count On Me. Instead of having a mission that would clearly define the break into act two, this movie is about a family coming back together. The first act sets up the world of this single mom and then shakes it up when her brother visits after being gone for a long time.
So how do we know we're in the meat of this movie?
We introduce the brother to his nephew, and we show what's at the core of this film; those two characters bonding. The way we show that is a scene that sets up who these guys are, and how we will dedicate the movie to them seeing eye to eye...
Which might not be a great thing in the long run...
Lastly, I want to look at a more elevated take on the end of the first act in a genre movie.
The Matrix blew everyone away in 1999. It was a complicated movie that had plenty of people looking into computer simulations and whether or not we could be turned into batteries. Other than that, I thought the structure was very sound.
The first act of this movie is dedicated to showing us the multiple worlds, introducing characters, and letting Neo know there was something else out there. But what really needed to happen was that a choice had to make its way to Neo.
The first 20ish minutes are leading up to this scene, and without it, we can't fulfill the promise of this movie.
Now that you have some inspiration, it's time to get writing!
What are some hurdles you're encountering?
And how can I help?
Screenwriting Page Goals: 21-30.
Does the end of Act One setup Act Two?
What is the promise of the premise?
Do we have all the crucial information needed to move forward?
Summing Up Week Three of our Free Screenwriting Seminar
Okay, so now you’re working to fulfill the promise of the premise. You are giving the audience a solid foundation in act one, and your screenplay will thank you as you move forward.
If you're having trouble crafting dialogue, check out our dissection of what constitutes great dialogue.
As Billy Wilder once said, "Act Three problems are actually Act One problems", so it’s paramount that you take your time and get these pages right.
Hopefully, our examples helped.
And when in doubt, add conflict!
Remember, I’m here for all the complaints, the frustrations, and to brainstorm. Throw whatever you need in the comments and I’ll try to keep track of them.
So get to work on pages 20-30. Next week we will tackle 31-40, and go over some ways to rewrite as you continue to push forward.
As always, leave a comment if you want to chat.
TL;DR of Free Screenwriting Seminar: Wk. 3
Week Three Screenwriting Goals:
Create a proper story foundation to move forward.
Fulfill the promise of the premise.