Screenwriting 101: Format Format Format

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By Brock Cooper (doddleNEWS)

When I first started screenwriting, I didn’t know much about it. I had a great idea for a movie and thought I could just wing it. I downloaded a copy of Celtx and started pounding away until I had a great story that would never sell in a million years.

My problem wasn’t that my story was bad or that my characters or dialogue weren’t well thought out. It just wasn’t in a proper screenplay format. We would all like to believe that art is art and we can’t pigeonhole it into a “format,” but if you watch any movie, I can guarantee 90 percent will follow this format.

Acts

Screenplays for full length movies contain three acts: beginning, middle and conclusion. The end of each act has some major play point revealed that leads us into the next act. Each act has important milestones that move the plot along and are the same for almost every genre of movie.

Act 1 – The Catalyst

This is the motivating factor that gets the whole thing moving. It could be an action event, such as the kidnapping of a family member, the calling off or announcement of an engagement, etc. This is what sets the story up for the rest of the acts. It basically tells us why we are here.

Act 1 – The Big Event

This happens just before we open up on Act 2. The big event is a major change in the story or with the character. In the case of a wedding movie, it could be the introduction of an ex-girlfriend or ex-fiance that is still interested in the groom. It could be when the hero is injected with a virus that gives him a few hours to complete a quest before he dies. It’s an event that has a tremendous impact on the characters and story.

Act 2 – The Pinch

This is often called the point of no return. It’s a major decision or event that forces him to take a specific direction or action. For example, the ex-girlfriend comes onto the groom, and he has to decide to sleep with her or stay faithful. It’s the point where the character’s motivation and path are clear.

Act 2 – Crisis

Every hero has to fall before he can rise up and beat the bad guy. As we enter Act 3, the characters are at their low point and everything seems hopeless. The fiance finds out about the girlfriend and calls off the wedding. It’s when the hero is trapped in an underground vault that is slowly filling with water. All seems lost as we move into Act 3.

Act 3 – Showdown

This is the big boss battle. The final showdown before the major conclusion. It’s when the groom tells off the ex-fiance and runs through the streets seeking his bride. It’s the final battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron.

Act 3 – The Realization

This is the Hollywood happy ending. The bad guy is defeated, and we realize that our main character has changed or grown because of the entire experience. The groom started the movie conflicted about his love for his fiance, but at the realization he understands that they truly love each other and live happily ever after. Optimus Prime defeats Megatron and the Autobots realize Earth is their new home.

What are you waiting for? Get writing.