A Screenplay in 70 Days – Week Five

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Yesterday we opened our beat work with the first five beats of your story. I’ve used examples from movies such as Ghostbusters, Star Wars and Die Hard. These week will be more beat work. During this process, which concludes next week, make sure your scene cards and scene lists are available for you to review. On Day 3 this week we jump into Act Two and it was just two short weeks ago that we went through the Act Two cards and worked on getting the cards in order and building conflict. This is going to make our work this week and next a little easier. So get your Story Cards and boot up your computer and lets get going.

Week Five – February 16 – February 22, 2014

Day One: Beats 6 – 13
Today is the largest beat building day we’ll have. Today we’re going to build 8 different beats that will build the rest of the first act. After the fifth beat everything we do now will build towards the Climax that will answer the fifth beat’s Story Question. Looking again at Ghostbusters we see that they jump right into a montage showing how busy the Ghostbusters are. This builds on the story question as it shows the audience just how many active ghosts are in New York. After the montage Dana comes home and gets her warning from Zule, building on the story question. No wasted beats. Each beat must serve a purpose. Is it a conflict beat, a story advancing beat or a combination beat, doing both at once?

In the fifth beat you introduced the ‘story’ of your screenplay. The beats right afterwards need to build on that. You need to address the urgency of the story with the audience just as Ghostbusters and Star Wars does. Throughout the first act of Star Wars the audience follows Artoo as the droid escapes the captured Rebel ship to search for Obi-Wan Kenobi. The entire first act revolves around the current location of the stolen Death Star plans. It is this stolen plans that drive the story. Will Luke Skywalker get the stolen plans to the Rebellion in time for them to use them against the Death Star?

Star Wars: Beat 6 – Artoo-Detoo & See-Threepio make their escape on board an emergency life pod, crashing on Tatooine.

Star Wars: Beat 7 – Princess Leia is captured and brought before Darth Vader as his prisoner.

Star Wars: Beat 8 – The droids are separated, captured and reunited on board the Jawa Sandcrawler.

Star Wars: Beat 9 – Luke Skywalker and his uncle buy the droids; as Luke cleans Artoo, he finds a message hidden in the droid.

Star Wars: Beat 10 – Luke and his Uncle discuss the droids and his leaving the farm. Luke then discovers Artoo is gone.

Star Wars: Beat 11 – Luke finds both Artoo and Obi-Wan after an attack by sandpeople and the four escape.

Star Wars: Beat 12 – Ben listens to Leia’s plea, telling Luke about his father, the Force and asks Luke to come with him to Alderaan but Luke declines.

Star Wars: Beat 13 – On their way Luke & Ben come across dead Jawas. Ben tells Luke that the Imperial Stormtroopers killed these Jawas while searching for the droids. Luke races off to warn his Aunt & Uncle.

Day Two: Beat 14 – Plot Point I
With the fourteenth beat we have reached the end of the first act. The last beat of Act One must move the Hero into the story. The most important thing to remember is that the Hero must decide to move forward on their own. Don’t have a scene where a secondary character leads the Hero into the story because that will show your audience that your Hero is weak. A Hero that doesn’t want to move forward but realizes they have to is called a Reluctant Hero. Luke Skywalker is a Reluctant Hero because he doesn’t want to leave Tatooine at first. His uncle has him working at the farm and doesn’t want to release him. Uncle Owen is the greatest hero of the galaxy because he was raising Luke, the son of the chosen one, Annikan Skywalker. When Ben dropped the baby off with Owen & Beru I assume he explained the situation to Owen telling him that it would be best if Luke stayed as far away from his father as possible and Owen spent his life doing just that maybe a little too well. When Obi-Wan offered Luke the chance to leave, Luke declines. “That’s your uncle talking.” Ben said. Ben thought Luke would be like his father, ready to run off to explore the planet but instead Uncle Owen’s words was holding Luke back. This is a Reluctant Hero. He wants to go, but his responsibilities at home hold him back.

How do you get your Hero into the second act? Will he jump willingly forward or will he move forward cautiously. When Peter Venkman arrives at Dana’s apartment in Ghostbusters that moves the story into the second act. Peter is still not the believer and there is nothing at Dana’s apartment that chances his mind, yet. Peter is the Hero of the film and offers to check out the apartment willingly, hoping to flirt with Dana. This is the film’s first Plot Point because Peter learns about the film’s Villain in the previous scene and decides to go and face him. It’s the same with Luke, he learns about Darth Vader and the evils of the Empire in the previous scenes and he decides to go off with Ben to face this evil.

Star Wars: Beat 14 – Returning to Ben and the Droids, Luke Skywalker has decided he as nothing to stay for and decides to travel to Alderaan with Ben.

Day Three: Beats 15 – 20
Welcome to your second act. During our Screenplay Structure lessons we’ve talked about building conflict through the second act. We assigned a number to the conflict level of the scene cards and then re-sorted the cards numerically putting your scenes in a possible chronological order. Today we’re going to build the first 6 cards of act two. The first scene after Luke agrees to travel to with Ben to Alderaan they stand on the cliff edge overlooking Mos Eisley, and Ben warns Luke of the ‘…scum and villainy…” living in the town. A warning of conflict to come. Each scene that Luke is in brings more and more conflict to his life and that conflict is directed at him. He has to sell his speeder, he is attacked by the guys at the bar, he lashes out at Han over the inflated price to get to Alderaan. The only scene that Luke is not in (the meeting on the Death Star) is there to provide the audience some information about the Villain and the story. We learn that the Imperial officers believe their super weapon in unbeatable and we learn that Vader is willing to kill his own people if necessary. That really villainous.

When you look at the first six beats of your story ask yourself, is my Hero in at least 3 of the first five beats of Act II? Every beat my Hero appears in, is he facing some sort of conflict? Are these conflicts minor, but telling of the sort character my Hero is at this point in the story. Now that the Hero has jumped into the story you need to show your audience how your Hero reacts to the strange events happening around him. Luke is still unsure of what he’s doing and glad that Obi-Wan is there to pull him out of each of the dangers faced at this point. Ben uses the Force to keep the stormtroopers from realizing they have found the droids they are looking for. Ben protects Luke when his encounter at the bar becomes violent, while also showing that Ben still have his own lightsabre. Ben already knows Chewbacca (from the Clone Wars days apparently) and introduces Luke to the Wookie. Luke is being guided through his actions at this point. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can’t go on for ever. At some point your Hero must be left on his own to make decisions and that time is coming soon. Write out the details of your next five beats including any notes you think are important.

Star Wars: Beat 15 – Luke, Ben & the droids arrive in Mos Eisley and encounter a squad of stormtroopers looking for the droids.

Star Wars: Beat 16 – Everyone heads into the cantina where the bartender throws out the Droids and Luke encounters a bully at the bar

Star Wars: Beat 17 – Luke is introduced to Chewbacca and Han Solo where they discuss chartering his smuggling ship, negiotating a price that they can pay then they must slip out when until more stormtroopers arrive.

Star Wars: Beat 18 – Luke decides to sell his landspeeder to get the money to pay Han Solo while the Droids have to hide from the stormtroopers who are still looking for them. Luke and Ben are being watched by an Imperial spy.

Star Wars: Beat 19 – Aboard the Death Star, Darth Vader crashes a meeting of the top officers where they discuss their new, powerful weapon.

Star Wars: Beat 20 – Luke and gang barely escape the docking bay when the stormtroopers appear and start shooting up the place.

Day Four: Beat 21 – First Obstacle
At the end of Act One we filled out the first Plot Point card and I talked about how it is important that the Hero drives this beat, well, the First Obstacle is the exact opposite. The Villain drives events of the First Obstacle beat. This obstacle is larger than a common obstacle, speed bump or conflict that the Hero is finding himself facing throughout the second act. This is a large obstacle designed to prevent the Hero from answering the Story Question. The best example is from Star Wars; Luke & the gang are headed to Alderaan believing that is where they will find Leia and the Rebellion so Luke is very close to answering the Story Question. Then Vader decides to destroy Alderaan to show Leia and the Rebellion that he means business. When Ben feels the planet blow up, the gang doesn’t realize yet that their destination is gone and they can no longer reach their goal. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) the First Obstacle is when Marion is kidnapped and Indy then believes that Marion is killed in a blast that he caused. Indy becomes depressed and becomes lost, losing sight of his goal of finding the Ark before the Nazis. Whatever you can do to force the Hero to loose sight of his goal for a short period.

What can your Villain do to bring the Hero to a stop? Can you make it worse, but not so worse that the screenplay ends? When Vader destroyed Alderaan not only did he force Luke and the gang to come up with a new plan but Vader’s actions showed the audience how dangerous the Death Star is, raising the stakes of the Story Question. Not only is the audience now worried that Vader will find the Rebellion but destroy it with a single shot. Can your Obstacle beat do the same thing? Can you raise the stakes while slowing down (or knocking back) the Hero? The Villain may get very few scenes at this point of the movie so you need those scenes to do double duty.

Star Wars: Beat 21 – First Obstacle – Darth Vader orders the destruction of Leia’s home world of Alderaan while she watches from the control room.

Day Five: Beats 22 – 27
Your Hero is lost for the moment. The Villain has just dealt him a blow that he must now recover from. In Raiders of the Lost Ark it is Salah who comes to Indy and gets him back on track saying that he has gained access to the Nazi dig and that he can Indy onto the site. Ben feels the death of millions of lives and he’s knocked back, it isn’t until they reach Alderaan’s co-ordinates that the realize the planet is gone. They’re not sure what to do until the TIE fighter flies over the Falcon. Like the first six beats of the second act the next six beats keep ramping up the conflict. In the first quarter Luke was up against small challenges such as selling his land speeder or getting thrown to the ground in the cantina. In the next quarter of the second act Luke is facing serious Imperial challenges. The Falcon has been captured he Luke and the gang need to escape. Luke’s new goal becomes finding a way to escape the Death Star.

Your next six beats need to first get the Hero back on track. He suffered a blow at the First Obstacle. He may need a secondary character to refocus him or he might need to be subtly pointed in a new direction. His local goal has changed, but it will still lead towards the answer of the Story Question. Once he’s moving forward again, start throwing larger and more difficult challenges at him. The scenes might get a little shorter to get the audience moving to the edge of their seats. Have the Hero face the Villain’s minions at this point. In Die Hard John was doing battle with more and more of Hans men through the second quarter of the second act.

Star Wars: Beat 22 – Ben feels Alderaan’s destruction and the gang return to the cockpit to discover the planet is gone. They wonder what would be powerful to destroy a planet.

Star Wars: Beat 23 – Finding a lone TIE fighter amongst the debris, Han chases after it to destroying it, instead they are lead to the Death Star. Where the freighter is captured by the Death Star’s tracker beam.

Star Wars: Beat 24 – Darth Vader is informed that the Death Star has captured a ship that matches the identification of the ship that had escaped their troops on Tatooine. Vader wants the shipped searched for the stolen data plans.

Star Wars: Beat 25 – Captured, Luke and Han disguise as stormtroopers and take a control room in an effort to discover a way to disengage the tractor beam that holds the ship.

Star Wars: Beat 26 – See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo discover how to disengage the tractor beam and they show the gang where the controls are.

Star Wars: Beat 27 – Ben tells Luke that he alone will set out to deactivate the tractor beam; Ben tells Luke that his destiny is along another path. Ben leaves Luke and the gang.

Day Six: Beat 28 – The Midpoint
The middle beat of your screenplay is called the Midpoint beat. This event often twists the story around in a different direction unexpectedly. The Hero’s goal often changes at this point of the story. Two weeks ago we spoke about a story idea of a story where a bank robbery started the film. The bank robbery is not the film but what triggered the robbery is quite possibly the story. during the first 27 beats of the story our Hero is drawn in to the robbery and the escape. He becomes as wanted by the police as the robber himself. The 28th beat would see a twist in the story. The Hero and the robber have been on the road for two days and they stop at a truck stop just on the other side of the state line. Parking their car in the lot hidden behind the lot full of tractor trailers. Inside the diner getting a bite to eat the robber explains his reason for robbing the bank. The Hero finds the robber’s reasons noble and sympathetic. The Hero sides with the robber and the two agree to take on the Villain together. The story has taken a twist and the Hero has a new goal. Many films have this moment during the middle of the film a quiet time where the Hero reflects on the events to this point and then the story twists into a different direction.

It’s the same in Star Wars, after Ben has left to find and disengage the tractor beam Luke and Han are left in the control room to wait for Ben to return. Han takes seat and puts his feet up, asking Luke, “Where did you dig up that old fossil?” The two ‘rest’ for a moment while they discuss Ben’s value. Then Artoo beeps to catch everyone’s attention telling them that Princess Leia is being held on the Death Star and that she’s scheduled to die. Suddenly Luke’s goal has changed. He is no longer going to just sit and wait, he decides to rescue the Princess and his first conflict is to convince Han and Chewbacca to help.

After you give some thought to you midpoint, write it down. How does the story twist? Does the Hero’s immediate goal change? Our Hero decides to help the robber and Luke decides that he must rescue the Princess. What other twists can you think of? How does those new ideas change your story? For the better, or for the worse? It might be an interesting exercise to explore new and different story ideas as you never know where that path will lead you.

Star Wars: Beat 28 – The Midpoint – While waiting to hear back from Ben, Luke and Han talk about Ben, disagreeing on the type of person Ben is; Artoo-Detoo interrupts telling Luke that Princess Leia is being held and is scheduled to be executed.

Day Seven: Beats 29 – 34
We will end the week with another six beats, the third quarter of your second act. The Hero has just decided to go in a expected direction and has started to move forward. These next six beats will build the drama, suspense and conflict of your story. At this point everything and everyone is pushing again your Hero. Even your Hero’s allies may add conflict to beats, or even outright turn against the Hero. Push the Hero hard. Throw unexpected challenges at him. Would we have expected Luke almost drowning while aboard the Death Star, but he nearly did drown in the garbage compactor. It was an expected conflict which keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Look at your story card and make sure every beat has strong conflict in it. Remember that the various subplots need to be wrapped around these beats as well. While Luke and rescuing Leia, we see Ben reaching the tractor beam and shutting it off. He uses the Force to distract two stormtroopers before making his escape while elsewhere Darth Vader reacts to the presence he feels. Make sure your story is always moving forward. Don’t get too bogged down in the conflict that the story comes to a halt. Keep it moving, make sure the Hero keeps pushing forward with every action and every decision. During the first eight beats of the second act Luke was still being directed. Ben was offering advise, lessons and protection, but at this point in the story Luke is on his own. He doesn’t have Ben to help right now. Luke is going through the beginning of his character arc. He is growing and learning to be his own man and your Hero should be doing the same thing at this point.

Star Wars: Beat 29 – Luke comes up with a plan to sneak into the detention centre unnoticed but the plan ends in a fire fight that he and Han are able to win.

Star Wars: Beat 30 – Luke frees Princess Leia and the gang are pinned down in the detention centre until Leia takes control of the situation and blasts a entrance into the garbage chute.

Star Wars: Beat 31 – Luke nearly drowns in the garbage chute before he makes contact with See-Threepio and two droids are able to trigger the locks on the doors, freeing the gang.

Star Wars: Beat 32 – To protect Luke and Leia, Han and Chewbacca run off alone down the hall attacking the oncoming stormtroopers until they reach the end of the hall, turning and running from an even larger group of troopers.

Star Wars: Beat 33 – Luke and Leia are chased by stormtroopers to the end of the hall where they are stopped by a bottomless pit where they use a rope on Luke’s stormtrooper belt to successfully swing across the pit.

Star Wars: Beat 34 – Ben shuts down the tractor beam and heads back towards the docking bay to escape from the Death Star.

Next week we’re going to finish beating your story and we will prepare to start writing the first draft of your screenplay. I hope you return for that as we are now on the home stretch of these 10 long weeks.

-Steve

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