Welcome to Act 2!
Writing a feature-length screenplay is no easy task. It takes lots of planning, a great treatment, and the dedication of sitting down and writing every day.
Welcome back to the Free Screenwriting Seminar! We’re going to release one of these every Friday, so if you’re joining late, here is every one of the prior lessons in our free online screenwriting course.
And congratulations on making it to week four. I hope you’ve conquered all your writer's block, gotten out of the first act, and are excited to go boldly into act two together.
Today we’re going to cover pages 30-40. By now you should know the drill. We’ll get to what happens in the pages, plan out what’s coming next, and check our a few screenwriting examples.
So let’s get down to it!
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 some other 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!
Free Screenwriting Seminar Week Four: Pages 30-40.
You did it, you passed through act one relatively unscathed, and now you’re ready to enter act two. Act two is everyone’s least favorite act.
When you start writing, you’re usually pretty clear on where you’ll begin and where you’ll end. It’s everything in the middle that can throw you off.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re approaching the hardest part of the script to write. I hope you have a solid treatment handy because you’re going to need it.
Now that you’ve set up the characters and world, we need to see how they’ll work to accomplish their goal.
If you’re writing a particular genre, like a heist, mystery, or treasure hunt movie, there might be specific tropes of the genre that can help you map out where you’re headed.
If you’re writing a personal drama, act two might feel more fluid.
But don’t fear!
Act two, no matter the genre, is about uncovering the inner demons of your characters, watching them try and fail to solve their problems, and taking them on a journey to their lowest point.
You’re going to need to break these people.
One of my film professors once said, “there are no compelling stories about a village full of happy people,” so get ready to make your characters suffer.
I’m talking Passion of the Christ suffering.
Which, coincidentally, has a great and right second act.
We’re also looking for the b story. What else is going on in this movie parallel to the main plot? Is McLovin going to travel with the cops while Seth and Evan try to get to the party?
Will the suffragettes get the right to vote as Mary Poppins takes care of the children?
And what about the fight between Fox’s book and the little shop around the corner? Who wins in that story of conglomerate versus mom and pop?
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=to-69CP_lYs
Okay. Let’s look at some examples from different genres to see how they tackle the bridge into act two and make these screenplay pages sing.
Pages 30-40 Screenplay examples
We've talked a lot about “breaking into act two,” but haven’t actually come to define what that means. Basically, at this point in your script, your characters should have their mission.
We should know their desires, some of their personal and professional failings, and be ready to push them into uncomfortable situations where these are exposed even further.
These pages also give you a little elbow room to reaffirm the tone, and to bring in a B story.
First up, let’s tackle one of the greatest comedic masterpieces of the 21st Century, Bridesmaids.
Bridesmaids is a great friendship comedy that pits a maid of honor against other members of the bridal party as it crumbles from within.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kihC0VFaQE
But the B-story is a sweet rom-com between a woman and a cop.
To get there, we have to set up the characters, the world, and then naturally lead into it.
So after we get some act two shenanigans, we seamlessly transition into the romantic comedy b-plot. This sets us off into two and also gives us another story we can cut to, so the comedy stays fresh.
But how can you break into act two if you’re writing something a little more…epic?
Saving Private Ryan is a behemoth of a film. Each act is around an hour long. So for this exercise, I’m going with an adjusted page 30-40.
Basically, we get news that Ryan needs saving, and the group heads off to find him.
As you can understand… this is a hotly debated topic.
Instead of leaving the tension under the surface, this movie puts the tension on front street.
Are their lives worth Ryan’s lives?
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF6C8MYdzQk
I guess we’ll know if they... earn it…
So far we’ve covered two popular genres, but what if you’re writing something more dramatic?
Something without prescribed tropes that we can lean on to move into act two?
One of my favorite movies from a few years ago was 20th Century Women. It was about a mother who brings in two other women to help raise her child in 1979.
Because this movie becomes rough biopic of all three women, we need the break into two to be about how their stories all circulate inside the boy’s life.
So as we break into two we have to see how the Mom views these women.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3XBvSfAHKg
And how the women will interact with her son.
And how they will affect his life moving forward.
Summing Up Free Screenwriting Seminar Week Four
Alright, bold writer. You’ve conquered pages 1-30, and now you’re entering the second act this week.
As good as it feels to be done (or almost done) act one, it’s time to pivot and get ready to tackle act two.
Remember, we’re all in this together.
If you have specific fears, comments, or questions…post them below!
I know this is where I start to struggle with writer’s block, so check out our five ways to beat writer's block and stick with me.
Once you’re through these initial pages it only gets easier.
So fight like Rocky to get there!
Now go break into act two!
See you next week.
TL;DR of this Free Screenwriting Seminar: Wk. 4
Week One Screenwriting Goals:
- Fulfilling the promise
- A clear B story
- Pages 30-40.
Week One Music Listen to While Screenwriting: