A Screenplay in 70 Days – Week Six

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Week Six is our last week of planning. Next week we’re going to start writing our first draft, but we’re not there yet. Last week we worked through most of the second act. This week we’re starting the most active part of your screenplay. The drama is high and you’ve pushed your Hero to the edge of the cliff. Now it is time to push him over the cliff and find out if he survives. Be ready to crush your Hero. Take his flaw and strangle him with it. If he survives your Hero will be a better person for it. Get ready to finish your beats.

Week Six – February 23 – March 1, 2014

Day One: Beat 35 – The Second Obstacle
Half way between your Midpoint and the Second Plot Point the Villain will once again hit the Hero with an obstacle that will be very difficult to get past. Some people call this beat the Villain’s Second Victory and I can see why. When Darth Vader blew up Alderaan that was a victory. Vader wanted to show that the Death Star was optional as well as telling the other systems that the Empire means business and finally he wanted to punish Leia for not telling him where the Rebel base was located. Vader succeeded in his goals at the First Obstacle. While he succeeded he also made things more difficult for the Hero. The Second Obstacle will hit the Hero even harder than the first one. If you watch enough movies this is where the Hero’s love interest (or child) is either kidnapped or killed. It’s a serious obstacle that the Hero will have trouble dealing with, but at the same time it will push him into the toughest part of the second act. In The Empire Strikes Back this would be the freezing of Han Solo and his being taken by the bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

What would nearly defeat your Hero? Is there a character you can remove from the story causing the Hero to feel defeated. What if your Hero has spent the entire screenplay looking for his kidnapped daughter and at this point the Villain presents evidence that he has already killed the daughter. Suddenly the Hero is crushed. Everything he has strived for is gone. He believe’s he’s lost and he could either call it quits or a urge for revenge could kick in pushing him into the final seven beats of the second act. There’s nothing to live for with his daughter gone so there’s nothing to loose. A Hero with nothing to loose is a very powerful plot element.

Star Wars: Beat 35 – The Second Obstacle – Darth Vader kills Ben Kenobi just as Luke and the gang return to the landing dock.

Day One: Beats 36 – 41
The last six beats of the second act will move quickly and get the Hero past the Obstacle on the correct track towards reaching the answer to the Story Question. This can be quick beats. They are emotional beats and they are difficult beats. Start pushing your Hero to the tipping point. Make his life impossible. Thing of the worse thing possible and then make it happen. If your Hero has a story arc (which he should) this is where your Hero breaks free of his flaw. If you can start lining up the story beats so that it is your Hero’s redeeming quality (the opposite of his flaw) that ultimately saves the day this is where that new line of thinking begins to develop. In Star Wars way back at the beginning of the second act Luke mentions he is a “pretty good pilot” yet the audience hasn’t seen it yet. It is through these six beats we need to be introduced to his piloting ability so that the second act is more believable.

Our Hero from yesterday believes the Villain has killed his daughter and decides that the Villain needs to die by his hands. So rather than give up and go home he pushes forward looking for the Villain. A chase of some sort would be a good beat at this point, maybe a gun fight as the Hero gets by the Villains hired help. The danger lever has been turned up on the Hero through these six beats but our Hero keeps moving forward as the need for revenge is so powerful. What can you do to your Hero to cause him to get past the second obstacle and continue to move forward?

Star Wars: Beat 36 – Luke cried out in pain at watching the death of Ben Kenobi, getting the stormtroopers attention

Star Wars: Beat 37 – Luke hears Ben’s voice in his head telling him to run, getting him to board the Millennium Falcon

Star Wars: Beat 38 – While escaping the Death Star Luke and Han must man the guns and fight their way through a squad of TIE fighters sent to stop them.

Star Wars: Beat 39 – Vader and Tarkin discuss the homing device on board Millennium Falcon and that Tarkin is uncomfortable with the Vader’s plan.

Star Wars: Beat 40 – Leia believes they’re being tracked while she and Han discuss the stolen plans, the Rebellion and getting paid

Star Wars: Beat 41 – Luke and the crew arrive at the Rebel base with the Death Star tracking their location.

Day One: Beat 42 – Plot Point II
During the first Plot Point our Hero must decide to move from the First Act to the Second Act himself. He can not be lead into the second act by someone else, otherwise he would be a passive Hero. It is the same with moving from the Second Act to the Third Act, the Hero must make that choice. Indiana Jones decides to go after the Holy Grail after his father is shot as the Grail is the only thing that can save his father’s life. Indy really doesn’t want to do either of the options (watch his father die or go after the Grail) but he has to make a choice, the lesser of two evils. Don’t make your Hero’s choices clear cut. Don’t make one easy and one hard. Make them both VERY hard. The Hero doesn’t want to do either, he would prefer a third option all together, but that option is not only available. Indy’s father is shot by the Villain, Walter Donovan, in order to force Indy to get the Grail because Indy originally refused to do it. As a writer, this is allowed. It adds drama. It made Indy’s original choices (get it or don’t get it) moot. The stakes were raised with just a single bullet. This is a great example of a Second Plot Point.

Back to our Hero and his dead daughter, what if he learns in the 40th beat that his daughter is in fact still alive and he is able to find her. We can set up a cliche choice between save his daughter or capture the Villain but that’s too easy. How about instead the choice is save his daughter or save the city? Do you save your own flesh and blood meaning that a city of millions will die? This choice really raises the stakes for the story. Millions of lives vs. a single life is dramatic. Once the Hero makes the choice we move into the Third Act. What choice do you give your Hero? How can you raise the stakes by changing the options? In Star Wars we never actually see Luke make the choice, but rather we simply see him sitting in the meeting. I think it’s because there was no dramatic options in the choice so there was no point is a beat showing Luke joining the Rebellion.

Star Wars: Beat 42 – Plot Point II – Luke and the other pilots attend a battle meeting to discuss the plan for destroying the Death Star.

Day One: Beats 43 – 52
Ten beats is going to be a big day so we better get started. Welcome to the Third Act of your screenplay. This is where things will move quickly the scenes are short and very visual. The Hero and the Villain are going to face off against each other and if all goes well the Hero will win. One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed in a number movies I’ve seen is that the Hero and Villain rarely spend a lot of screen time together until they get to the Third Act. The entire screenplay has been building up to this moment. Vader killed Luke’s father (according to Ben in the Second Act), Vader ordered the deaths of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and Vader killed Ben, each death affecting Luke in some way, but the two never face off against each other directly. The scenes for these beats will probably average one or one and half pages because of how quick the scenes will play off.

Making the difficult choice to safe the city over his daughter our Hero begins the race to locate the nuclear device that has been hidden somewhere downtown. Searching a number of locations our Hero is able to determine that there might be a way to save both the city and his daughter while capturing the Villain, but he’s going to need some help from an expected source.

Star Wars: Beats 43 – Luke talks with Han, Leia and his childhood friend Biggs as well as Red Leader where Biggs vouches for Luke’s ability to pilot a space ship.

Star Wars: Beats 44 – With the Death Star approaching, the Rebellion launches the fighters to intercept the battle station

Star Wars: Beats 45 – TIE fighters are launched starting an arial battle over the surface of the Death Star.

Star Wars: Beats 46 – Luke gets caught up in a surface fire, cooking him and his ship.

Star Wars: Beats 47 – Gold Leader makes an unsuccessful attempt at the the exhaust port, costing him his life.

Star Wars: Beats 48 – Vader and two TIE fights join the battle to protect the thermal exhaust port.

Star Wars: Beats 49 – Red Leader is killed by Vader, ordering Luke, Biggs and Wedge to start their attack run.

Star Wars: Beats 50 – Wedge’s ship is damaged causing him to pull out of the trench and Biggs is killed as Luke nears the target.

Star Wars: Beats 51 – Artoo is seriously damaged by Darth Vader

Star Wars: Beats 52 – Han blasts the TIE Fighter’s sending Vader spinning into space, saving Luke’s life.

Day One: Beat 53 – The Climax
All the way back in the First Act we asked the Story Question, knowing that it will be answered at the end of the film during the Climax of the film. Remember all the way back to Day Two of the First Week we wrote down our first thoughts about this moment in our story. We have planned our entire story around this moment; the answer to the Story Question. Does our Hero save the city and his daughter? Does Indiana Jones find and escape with the Holy Grail? Do the Ghostbusters stop Zule from destroying New York? These are the story questions that are answered in the momentary scene called the Climax. The Ghostbusters save New York by destroying Stay Puft marshmallow man by crossing the streams. Indy must let the Grail go in order to save himself and his friends from the crumbling shrine.

In the 52nd Beat the Hero and his Friend are able to locate the nuclear bomb and the Friend is able to defuse it leaving the Hero to track down the Villain and his daughter. It is at the climax where the Villain is defeated and the daughter is saved.

Star Wars: Beat 53 – The Climax – Using the Force to guide the torpedoes into the thermal exhaust port, Luke blows up the Death Star only seconds after he is able to retreat from the blast radii.

Day One: Beats 54 – 55
These two beats are used to wrap up the story. If you have any loose ends, make sure they are tied up before you finish your screenplay, even if your planning a sequel, don’t leave major plot threads dangling if you can avoid it. If needed, you could move the Climax back a beat to number 52, but try not it. End the screenplay quickly after the climax as you don’t want to loose your audience in the wrap up. Our Hero and his daughter emerge from the darkness where she was being held and the two of them talk about how things between them are going to be different. At the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Henry Jones delivered a speech to Indy about the moral of the story and then Sallah asks about the name Junior, where it is revealed that Indiana’s real name is Henry Jones, Junior and that Indy prefer’s Indiana. His father says that they had named the dog Indiana (George Lucas’ dog was named Indiana).

What plot points do you need to wrap up before ending your screenplay? Can you do it in just two beats?

Star Wars: Beat 54 – Darth Vader regains control of his spinning TIE fighter and limps off into space.

Star Wars: Beat 55 – Luke returns to a Hero’s welcome from Han and Leia but See-Threepio is distraught after seeing the severity of Artoo-Detoo’s damage.

Day One: Beat 56 – The Closing Scene
This is the last scene of your screenplay. The final image the audience is going to take away with them. Die Hard ends with John and his wife climbing into the smashed up limo and driving off while the emergency services continue cleaning up the damage John caused. Ghostbusters ends with the team being greeted by the cheers of the people around the building. Horror movies often end with a scary image of the bad guy reawakening. How you want to end your screenplay is completely up to you. This is the last chance you have to reinforce the emotion you’ve wanted your audience to feel throughout the film. A romance film ends with a romantic scene, for example.

Star Wars: Beat 56 – Luke and Han are awarded medals by Princess Leia and we see that the droids have been fixed and completely cleaned up.

There are the 56 beats of your screenplay. Next week we’re going to start writing. This is the last time we’re going to work with the formula. We’re now going to work with the Beats themselves. While the Inciting Incident is the fifth beat it might happen on page 8, 10 or 12, it doesn’t matter as long as it works for your story. What matters is that it happens before the First Plot Point. Spend the evening reviewing your cards. You might have to adjust some of the earlier cards based on what you’ve done on some of the later cards but I would recommend not doing to much with the cards themselves. Push yourself right into the writing of the first draft tomorrow based on the cards you have in front of you tonight. The writing of the first draft is a process that will help you string the cards together even better. It’s just a matter of getting started.

Steve

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