Act Three 303: How to End Your Screenplay

Are you ready to land this plane?

Congratulations, you've made it through acts one and two. You've introduced us to characters and taken us through their problems. We've seen them at their highs and lows. We've been excited and eager to continue on their journey. 

Now, the power is in your hands. You're about to tell us where they're going to go...and hopefully give us an ending we'll never forget. 

We have a whole post on three-act structure, but I wanted to spend some time on crafting act three and the artful way to end films. We went over act one and act two, but today...let's take a look at how to construct act three.

Check out this video from Campfire Technology and get started.

Act Three 303: How to End Your Screenplay

Nothing feels better than typing "Fade Out." Act three is where everything goes completely nuts. Characters have to confront their feelings, desires, and goals. What’s awesome about act three is that it’s where you start to see all your hard work pay off. Emotional beats are all about to hit home. You have the audience right where you want them. 

Act three is about tying up loose ends and sending your characters off into the sunset. Or killing everyone off and letting the bad guy escape.

The choice is yours! 

Act Three

At the beginning of the third act, your characters should face their biggest challenge, or at least run into a huge problem that they can’t possibly surmount. This has to tie naturally into act two and should reflect the theme set is act one. It’s where Jack is handcuffed to the pipe as the Titanic sinks; Mary finds out Ted came to Florida and is best friends with Woogie, and the kids in Scream decide to all have a party while a serial killer is on the loose.  

Lots of chaos and a whirlwind as your characters fight through the story to pull their lives back together. 

Once you get into act three, it’s all about consequences. We have seen these characters make choices and try and fail; now it’s about them dealing with it, coming to terms with those consequences, and then leaving the audience with their changing world.

Let’s take a look at a few examples and break it down.

Act Three Examples 

It's not a Jason Hellerman post if we don't slip something Philadelphia into the story. So let's start with a conversation about the original Rocky movie. The third act is almost entirely his fight with Apollo Creed. We've seen this guy go from regular jabroni to getting his shot at the belt. 

It was certainly not easy. But now Rocky needs to fight, even if society and his friends doubt him or think he will get hurt. 

Rocky also has to come to grips with his love of Adrian and tie their relationship up. 

Somehow the movie manages to use act three to nail these sentiments. 

One of my most favorite recent films was Gone Girl. The movie takes us on a challenging and brutal murder investigation with a twist. It turns out, Amy Dunne is alive and well. Planning this organized chaos. At the beginning of act three, she finally comes home. We see that Nick, her husband, is not happy to see her after everything they've been through. 

The challenge for the end of this movie is how to tie up all these loose ends. So act three tries to show how the police finally begin to believe Nick, but how Amy always stays one step ahead of them. We also need to see things come to a head when Amy tells Nick if he doesn't play along she'll ruin him. 

This is the ultimate "the bad guys win" story. Amy gets her way and Nick is allowed to fail here. Knowing the rest of his life will be defined by her wants...all because he cheated. 

Sometimes the characters are at odds throughout the whole movie and eventually come to an understanding like they do in Lady Bird. In the ending, we see mother and daughter finally find common ground. Sure, they fought the entire time, but that's what being a teenager must be. The future will always be about how much they love each other despite their differences. 

Act Three Checklist 

Okay, enough reading, now it's time to write your third act. So, we prepared a checklist to remind you of what the characters might be going through. Hopefully, this helps you on your writing journey. 

Alright, if you’re here...you might have a completed screenplay? Congratulations! Check out our blog on rewriting, so you know where to go from here.

Summing up Act Three 

Act three is like your last breakup; you need to find closure. Begin to have all the characters convene here and really close all the loops. There's so much to look forward to and so much you can tease. Are we going to get a sequel? Could we plant that idea now? 

Does the theme really pop? 

You have the examples and checklist, and you know better than anyone what you need to do. 

Get back to writing. I can't wait to read what you put onto paper. 

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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