Act Structure Demystified Part III – The Third Act Crunch

This article and its two sisters are a ”reprint” of articles that I first read some time around 1999. Since then, Mining Co.com have become About.com and these articles have disappeared. Recently I found them on Internet Archive, but they deserve a more prominent spot. Now, I don’t claim any ownership of these, and want to make sure that everybody knows that the writer of these articles is Allen White.

Here’s part 3:

Act Structure Demystified Part III – The Third Act Crunch

Dateline:  6/19/98

The second act is finished.

Your hero is plummeting toward an uncertain confrontation with forces they don’t quite understand, and under circumstances that are not completely under their control.

What now?

Third acts tend to be short, because if a story has been carefully constructed, and character motivations are clear, then there remain but few things left to accomplish.   Yet you have very little space in which to accomplish the resolution of every conflict and idea contained within the story – hence the ”Crunch”.

Essentially, the entire reason for the story’s existence is to lay the groundwork for all involved forces and persons to come together for the defining confrontational peak in Act Three.  All indicators should point toward an inevitable, shattering climax.  And your main character has no choice but to see it through to the end.   Now you, the writer, are ready to yank away the final curtain and show us why we sat through the last hour-and-a-half.

Is your ending a big enough payoff to justify telling the story?  Does the story logically progress to its natural climax?

One way to diagnose the health of your screenplay’s last act, is to check for the Three Keys to Act Three.

  • A New Tactic
  • The Demon is Confronted
  • The End of the Road

A New Tactic

In Act Three, the main character’s entire methodology changes.  They struggled and battled their way through Act Two, and all they got for their troubles was either pain, unhappiness, or the realization that what they did get, they now don’t want.  This not just a new understanding, but a radical re-evaluation of their entire approach, philosophy, or goal.

It’s time for a change of tactics.

Let’s look at how this works on a few films.

Alien
Realization:  Hunting the alien down as a crew failed.  Destroying the ship and fleeing failed.
New Tactic:  Ripley must become the predator, and fight the alien one-on-one.

Clockwork Orange
Realization:
  Alex sees that his old way of life is gone.
New Tactic:
  Unable to commit violent acts because of the Ludovico Treatment, he must now adopt the role of the victim, rather than the aggressor.

Jerry Maguire
Realization:
Jerry and Tidwell realize they need each other’s friendship.
New Tactic:
They will stay with each other no matter what.
Subplot Realization:
  Dorothy and Jerry both realize that they are unhappy without the other.
Subplot New Tactic: 
They must somehow make their relationship work again.

As you can see in the above examples, the change that occurs is a shift in point of view that enables the characters to engage their world on different terms.  The character has come to believe that their old approach is ineffective, and they now see the necessity to try new methods.

It often happens that the new approach is worse that the old!  This can often occur because the character is driven to extremes by the events of the story, and they react in an extreme way.  A great example is how Carl, Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Sling Blade, deals with his circumstances.  In the beginning of the film, when a reporter asks him if he could kill again, he replies, ”I reckon I ain’t got no reason to kill nobody.”  Yet by the third act, he does have a reason.  By our standards, this choice may not be wise, noble, or the best solution to the film’s dramatic problem.  But to Carl, from a purely practical standpoint, murder becomes an inarguable necessity.

This perspective of acting from necessity is exactly what a main character should face at the end of the third act.  Their experiences lead them to decide on a course of action that they must do, because no other choice seems available.


The Demon is Confronted

The ”Demon” in question is not necessarily literal, but represents a problem that the character has wrestled with during the course of the story.   In a layered story, this Demon typically has two components – outer and inner.   The outer component, or  external conflict is represented by the physical obstacles to the character’s goal.  The inner component, or internal conflict is the emotional or psychological obstacle that could not only prevent the character from reaching the goal, but also often hinders them from achieving any real satisfaction.

In the examples below, note that both the Inner and Outer Demons are simultaneously confronted when the story has a single plot, but that in a plot/subplot story such as Jerry Maguire, they are typically separately confronted – in this case the plot addresses the outer conflict, the subplot the inner.

Alien
The Outer Demon:  The alien.
The Inner Demon:  Ripley fears loss of control.
The Confrontation:  Ripley must give herself over to instinct – i.e. lose control –  and simply react, fighting the alien head-on.

Clockwork Orange
The Outer Demon:
  All those who Alex previously wronged – notably the Writer.
The Inner Demon:
  Society’s attempt to make Alex realize the moral consequences of his actions – literally embodied by the Ludovico Treatment.
The Confrontation:   Alex has been conditioned not only against violence, but inadvertently against the music of Beethoven.  The Writer subjects Alex to Beethoven’s music, greatly amplified, and the effects of the Treatment force Alex to attempt suicide rather than hear it. 

Jerry Maguire
The Outer (Plot) Demon:  Jerry’s struggle to get a big-money contract for Tidwell.
The Confrontation:  Because of Jerry’s words, Tidwell gives his all in a grueling Monday Night Football game, and he is knocked out.
The Inner (Subplot) Demon:  Jerry’s inability to give his all to Dorothy.
The Confrontation:  Jerry rushes home to Dorothy, and gives a moving speech before Dorothy and her sister’s women’s group, in which he tells her he needs and loves her. 

Jerry Maguire bends convention, which makes it such a wonderful film.  Every element in the film is tied to every other.   Jerry’s outer conflict has subplot-like components.  This is because Jerry’s self-doubt, amplified by Tidwell’s lack of heart makes his efforts to win Tidwell a better contract more difficult.

If you always think of the main character as having both outer and inner conflicts, you will never be short of material.  This lesson is especially important to remember in the second act, where the inner conflict is given time to grow.   First and third acts are usually so packed with information, it can be difficult to spend time on developing character.


The End of the Road

Is your story a comedy?  A tragedy?   A drama?  Your ending is determined not only by considerations of circumstance, genre, or target audience, but most importantly, by what you have to say as a writer.

In simplistic terms, what is the ”moral” of the story?  What point are you trying to make about the attitude or behavior of the characters, especially the main character?

If the main character is heroic or noble, and your story is about their struggle to overcome a villain or right a wrong, then your outcome will possibly be that they succeed at reaching their goal.  Did they learn from their experiences?  Conquer their fears?  Are they a better person for having lived through it?

If you are trying to say that the main character’s behavior is somehow unacceptable, or needs to change, then one possibility is that they fail to reach their goal, and instead get a result they hadn’t bargained for.   This result can be positive, such as newfound self-respect, or the discovery of an inner strength they had previously lacked.  Or, the result can be tragic, because the main character either didn’t learn their lesson and paid heavily for it, or learned it too late to change the resulting unhappy circumstances.

Another possibility is ambiguity.   Great drama, like life, often does not provide easy answers, especially when the issue at hand is not clear-cut.  Sometimes life isn’t fair.  Sometimes the Bad Guys win.  Sometimes the hero does not triumph, nor the villain get their due.  However, well-written ambiguity can be difficult to pull off.  And if you are trying to break into the mainstream, Hollywood doesn’t like endings that are not clear-cut.

Here are the results of our films under discussion, framed in terms of what the main characters actually got from their experiences.  Again, note the inner and outer components of these results:

Alien
Result:  Ripley kills the alien, and conquers her fears.

Alien could not be more straightforward in terms of its agenda.  At its basic level, it is about slaying a dragon.  And, as in the dragon quest tales of yore, the story functions as a metaphor for conquering what is bad within ourselves.

Clockwork Orange
Result:
  In the hospital, Alex discovers that his injuries have removed the treatment’s conditioning.  His parents apologize, and a government representative offers him financial restitution for his ordeal.   Thus, not only does he beat the attempt to impose morality upon him, but he is rewarded for it!

The story here is that of the morality play turned on its head.   Instead of a sinner getting his comeuppance at the end, here it is society who is in the wrong, and which must make restitution to the criminal.

Jerry Maguire
Plot Result:
  When Tidwell gloriously rebounds after his hard tackle, both he and Jerry see that the game, and life, are about having heart
– which Jerry had really known all along as evidenced by his Mission Statement.  Because Tidwell conquers his own Inner Demon, he is rewarded with the 10 million-dollar contract he wanted.
Subplot Result: Jerry, Dorothy, and her son Ray are now the real family which they all had lacked.

Although on the surface, the plot is about Jerry’s fight to solo as a agent, the plot is really about having strength of conviction, and ends by proving the main character right.  The subplot says that a person is incomplete without family.   I think that what makes Jerry Maguire such an interesting film is that is very successfully combines two very different, if not opposite genres; the subplot is a Romantic Comedy (a ”chick flick”), and the plot is a Sports ”Triumph of the Underdog” Story (a ”guy flick”).  This makes it a greatly entertaining film with something for everybody.  Its emphasis on deep character development also makes it a longer than average film (138 minutes).

With these three articles, I have given you the basic layout of screenplay structure according to mainstream, Hollywood-style convention. Once you grasp basic structure, you will begin to see it in almost every mainstream film you watch.

Such structure might seem paint-by-numbers at first – not only simplistic, but limiting.   Yet when learning screenwriting, understanding and using conventional structure can only help you become a better screenwriter.  Once you have mastered it, you will know when it is appropriate or desirable to bend, twist, or break with standard form.

Note that a film such as Pulp Fiction, which seems to break convention, merely uses the same conventions on a smaller scale.  Instead of being one long story, Pulp Fiction is simply several short stories with overlapping characters.  And each of these stories has the same Act Keys as a regular long-format story.

My terminology and methods of analyzing screenplays are not by any means meant to be definitive.  There are an infinite number of ways to look at story structure.   To succeed as a screenwriter, it is absolutely imperative to find your own unique way; a way that works for you.

Neither are my ideas are not wholly original, but based instead upon the digestion and application of principles learned as a dramatist, director, and actor from many different teachers and authors.  My purpose here is to introduce you to standards and methods of discussion that others in the field utilize.  There is a common language that screenwriters, directors, and actors share – in other words, a dramatic tongue.  To know and understand this language is to learn to perceive stories and their structure in functional, practical terms.  This enables you to approach your writing with a strong, step-by-step process that will help you produce polished, tightly written work.   An understanding of structure is also essential to diagnosing problems within your own writing, and the writing of others.

Once you learn to use and apply dramatic structure, your screenwriting efforts will be much more directed, concise, and entertaining.

For further information on the films discussed here, see their Internet Movie Database entries:

Alien
Clockwork Orange
Jerry Maguire

Keep writing!

Annonser

Act Structure Demystified Part II – Unlocking Act Two

This article and its two sisters are a ”reprint” of articles that I first read some time around 1999. Since then, Mining Co.com have become About.com and these articles have disappeared. Recently I found them on Internet Archive, but they deserve a more prominent spot. Now, I don’t claim any ownership of these, and want to make sure that everybody knows that the writer of these articles is Allen White.

Here’s part 2:

Act Structure Demystified Part II – Unlocking Act Two

Dateline:  6/10/98

For beginning screenwriters, the second act can be an intimidating challenge to face down. If the prospect of filling 60 pages with tightly paced, well-plotted action causes you to sweat, you aren’t alone.

It’s easy enough to think of a beginning, and even to imagine an exciting climax.

But what comes between the two?

In answer to that often-asked question, I present to you the Three Keys to Act Two:

  • Divide and Conquer
  • Subplots Create Depth
  • The Moment of Truth


Divide and Conquer

One secret that will make the task seem less ominous, is to think of Act Two as being divided into two parts. This is also why many screenwriting gurus refer to a ”Four-Act Structure”.

If you chop Act Two neatly down the middle, right about page 60 in a standard 120-page script, you are left with two smaller 30 page sections. If you approach these sections as proper acts in their own right, each with a beginning, middle, and climactic end, then you have a much clearer and easier structure to work with.  These ”subacts” will tend to break each half of the second act into three distinct ”subsections” of approximately ten pages each.

The page 60 dividing line also presents you with a concrete goal to work towards as you write the first half of Act Two. This dividing line should also be represented by a defining event which neatly bisects the film into two distinct halves.

To illustrate, here is a breakdown of the second-act structure of Alien:

Alien

  • First 1/2
    Subact 1: Science officer Ash attempts to cut the alien larva from Kane’s face, but the creature leaks acidic blood which burns through several decks.
    Subact 2:  The larva leaves Kane’s face, and is found to be dead.  The lander leaves the planet.
    Subact 3:  An alien baby that has incubated inside Kane’s body bursts from his chest and hides somewhere in the ship.
  • Midpoint:  The crew decides to hunt down the alien.
  • Second 1/2
    Subact 1:
      While searching for the alien, crewman Brett is killed by the creature, now grown much larger.
    Subact 2:  Dallas, the captain, attempts to hunt the alien down inside the ship’s duct system, but is killed.
    Subact 3:  Ripley, now in command, finds out the Company’s secret directive to preserve the alien at any cost.  Ash, following the directive, attempts to kill Ripley, and is discovered to be an android.

Notice that now that the main body of the script’s action has been outlined, you can see that it it comprised of a series of distinctive events which break the story into definite blocks.  When you are outlining your own stories, think of them in terms of these small blocks, or subacts, that are then used to build full-fledged acts, which are then used to build the entire story.  This is the essence of the Divide and Conquer strategy.  When you look at the story as a collection of small pieces, it becomes much less intimidating to assemble an entire screenplay.

As you can see, the structure of Alien is extremely straightforward, yet effective.  The film, being more about situation than character, is based upon a relentless series of irreversible actions.  This makes for a taut, clockwork plot which hammers the story home.

A pointed feature of the Alien script is that the description is clipped, and the dialogue terse.  Anything non-essential is stripped away in order to move the story forward.

Notably, Alien has no subplots.


Subplots Create Depth

What if your screenplay is a character piece, and based upon the emotional lives of the characters?

This is where subplotting becomes crucial.

The structure of Jerry Maguire is unusual in that the subplot about Jerry and Dorothy’s relationship almost completely takes over the second half of Act Two.  The main plot about Jerry’s struggles as an agent, shown through his management of Tidwell’s career, predominates the first half of Act Two, then lurks in the background until Act Three.  Notice how the subplot parallels and intertwines with the plot.

Jerry Maguire

  • First 1/2
    Subact 1:  After a vicious race between Jerry and rival agent Bob Sugar to secure clients, Jerry gets only a single athlete, football player Rod Tidwell, to sign with him.
    Subplot 1:  Dorothy Boyd, moved by his Mission Statement, quits the agency to join with Jerry.
    Subact 2:  Jerry gets Cushman, a hot draft pick, to verbally commit to him.
    Subplot 2:  Dorothy’s sister lectures her on taking financial risk by joining Jerry, when she has her son, Ray, to think of.
    Subact 3:  Jerry goes with Cushman and Tidwell to the football draft.
    Subplot 3: Dorothy begins to realize that she has feelings for Jerry.
  • Plot Midpoint:   Jerry discovers he has lost Cushman to Bob Sugar.
    Subplot Midpoint:  Jerry dumps his fiancée, Avery, making him available.
  • Second 1/2
    Subact 1:
      Tidwell reaffirms his commitment to staying with Jerry.
    Subplot 1:  Jerry, drunk and feeling sorry for himself, arrives at Dorothy’s house for consolation.  They kiss, but part on uncertain terms.
    Subact 2:  Tidwell gets a renegotiation offer that is too small.
    Subplot 2:  Jerry and Dorothy sleep together, and Dorothy declares to her sister her love for Jerry.  Dorothy gets a job offer in San Diego, and prepares to move.  Jerry, at a loss, proposes to her.
    Subact 3: Tidwell has a rough game; his future looks uncertain.
    Subplot 3:  Jerry and Dorothy get married.

The main themes of Jerry Maguire are loyalty and intimacy.  The plot illustrates the first theme through the ups and downs of his career:

  • Jerry’s Mission Statement is about how people (and loyalty to them) are more important than money.
  • Bob Sugar is completely disloyal to Jerry, and only cares about money.
  • Tidwell and Jerry each respect their loyalty to the other.
  • Cushman first commits to Jerry, but has no loyalty to him, and quickly sells out to Sugar.

The subplot shows Jerry’s struggle with intimacy through the tribulations of  his love-life:

  • Avery makes Jerry uncomfortable with her brutal honesty, which she mistakes for real intimacy.
  • Jerry marries Dorothy because of her loyalty and his fear of being alone.  He confuses her friendship with intimacy.
  • In contrast to Jerry and Dorothy’s uneasy marriage, Tidwell and his wife Marcee are the picture of comfortable intimacy.

There are two other subplots of note, which fulfill the important function of dimensionalizing Jerry and Dorothy:

  • Interaction between Jerry and Avery comprises its own tiny subplot-line, which in addition to the theme of loyalty, also touches on the issue of Jerry’s failing self-confidence by contrasting him with Avery’s unflinching überwoman personality.
  • Scenes with Dorothy’s sister and her women’s group comprise another small thematic subplot, that of a group of women whose bitter cynicism about love contrasts with Dorothy eternally hopeful romanticism.

In overview, it can be said that the main function of subplots is to reveal character.   To do this, subplots:

  • Flesh out characters’ emotional lives.
  • Dimensionalize characters by showing how they interact with others.
  • Give characters a chance to reveal their thoughts and philosophies.

Effectively utilizing subplot can give you vivid and strong directions to take your story other than simply having one adventure after the next befall your characters.

And finally, in creating subplots, tie them into larger themes to make an interrelated and resonant complete picture.


Moment of Truth

Right at the end of Act Two is typically when our main character’s situation is at its worst.  All is in doubt, the chances of success look impossible, and the specter of failure rears its ugly head.  It is at this Moment of Truth that the main character must face down their own inner demons in order to confront the actual demons waiting for them in the third act.  This Moment is structurally crucial, because it sets up the consequences that lead to the final conflict and climax in Act Three.

Following are several Moments, and the irreversible Consequences they lead to.

Alien
The Moment:
  The remaining crew decide to self-destruct the ship, and escape in the shuttle.
Consequence:  Ripley is the only one to survive the get to the escape shuttle, but she unknowingly launches with the alien aboard.

Clockwork Orange
The Moment:
  Alex, out of prison, has been rejected by his parents and beaten by his old friends, who are now ironically police.
Consequence:  Alex seeks aid at the very house owned by a writer who he and his friends previously assaulted, and whose wife they raped.

Jerry Maguire
The Moment:
  Jerry argues with Tidwell, telling him he plays with his head and not with his heart, and Tidwell tells Jerry he doesn’t want to be friends anymore.
Consequence:  Tidwell is briefly tempted by an offer from Bob Sugar.
Subplot Moment:  Jerry is unsure of his love for Dorothy, and they separate.
Consequence:  Jerry and Dorothy feel alone without each other.

As Alien is primarily an action-based horror story, its Moment centers around specific physical action and its result.

In Clockwork Orange, a morality play, the Moment is about Alex receiving the moral consequences of his actions.

Jerry Maguire is really two intertwining stories.  The plot is a story about trying to have heart in a heartless world, and has a Moment defined by loss of faith.   The subplot, a romantic comedy, has a Moment centered on the confused feelings of two lovers.

Understanding and analyzing these Three Keys to Act Two, then applying what you learn, will lead to greater cohesion and control in your own work.  A greater understanding of how these structures are applied in successful films will allow you to use or depart from them as your story requires.

Next Column:  Act Structure Demystified Part III – The Third Act Crunch

Act Structure Demystified, Part I – The First Act

This article and its two sequels are a ”reprint” of articles that I first read some time around 1999. Since then, Mining Co.com have become About.com and these articles have disappeared. Recently I found them on Internet Archive, but they deserve a more prominent spot. Now, I don’t claim any ownership of these, and want to make sure that everybody knows that the writer of these articles is Allen White.

Here’s part 1:

Act Structure Demystified Part I – The First Act

Dateline:  5/25/98

What are acts for, and how can you best utilize them to tell your story?

It can be argued (as many have done) that all stories have three acts: a Beginning, a Middle, and an End.  Yet what does that tell you, the potential screenwriter, about the structure of storytelling?

Firstly, to define an act:

  • act  –  A finite block of story action, its conclusion leading either a new direction for the story’s conflict, or to a resolution. 

An act is like a story all unto itself.  It too has a beginning, middle, and end.  Acts should be treated not just as part of a larger whole, but also as separate entities with their own internal structure and rhythm.

The ”Hollywood paradigm,” as espoused by Syd Field and others, is that Act One is the first 25% of the script, Act Two is the middle 50%, and Act Three the final 25%.  Screenplays are timed using a rule-of-thumb which estimates one page equals one minute of onscreen time.  Thus, a 120 page script would be a two-hour film.  Therefore Act One is roughly 30 pages (or 1/2 hour), Act Two 60 pages (or one hour), and Act Three, the final 30.  There are many films that break this form, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick to this traditional, mainstream style.

If you think of drama as being about the building and releasing of tension, then it helps to see act structure as the rails upon which the oncoming train of conflict rides.   In other words, act structure guides the direction, flow, and acceleration of dramatic action.

If Act One is the Beginning, then what does a beginning entail?  What do we need to know as a viewer in order to understand the story and its purpose?  Several important elements are character introductions, a sense of place and time, any background or history necessary to follow the present story action, and a direction for the characters and story to travel.  Act One, then, is about laying a foundation.

As first acts tend to be short (and Hollywood currently leans toward ever shorter first acts), how can you convey the necessary information to get a story off the ground, without becoming bogged down in exposition, or without short-changing the story or characterizations?  One way to look at it, is that once you have a skeleton of essential structural information, you have a clearly visible form upon which to add the remaining flesh to bring it to life.  It is the skeleton which will suggest to you which elements are absolutely necessary, and which are merely decorative or excessive.   And in a screenplay, you must cut anything unnecessary!

There are three keys to a first act structure – the first supporting ”bones” in your screenplay’s skeleton.  Each of these keys is typically present in every story, whether a screenplay or not.  Understanding the function and placement of these keys will help you create a smoothly running launch-pad for the rest of your screenplay.

The three keys are:

  • The Initiating Event
  • The Call to Action
  • The Commitment to Act


The Initiating Event

A screenplay needs to begin with an initiating event. This is the incident or action that sets the plot in motion.

Here are several examples if Initiating Events, each with an example of their resulting effect on the story.  The title links are to copies of the screenplays discussed.

Alien
Event:  The ore-carrier Nostromo receives an apparent distress signal from a dead planet.
Result: The ship’s computer, Mother, awakens the crew to investigate.

Clockwork Orange
Event:  Dim insults a woman singing Beethoven’s 9th in the Korova Milk Bar, & Alex whacks him with his cane.
Result:  Dim challenges him to a fight, then backs down.

Jerry Maguire
Event:  Jerry has a revelation about his work as a sports agent.
Result: 
He writes a radical ”Mission Statement”.

Star Wars
Event:  The Empire boards the Rebel blockade runner.
Result:  Princess Leia hides the Death Star plans in R2-D2’s memory.

You see how neatly the Initiating Event causes the next event in the story.  This is exactly the kind of inevitable chain of events you are trying to create in your screenplay.  Notice also, that it is the characters that determine how events are to proceed, and that their unique psychology dictates exactly what will happen next (their next action) based upon their personal goals.


The Call To Action

Following the Initiating Event, there will be a period of time during which the characters, especially the main character, need to orient themselves in light of the information presented to them by the initiating event.  Here they will question and explore. Their world and their place in it are shown, and often, a reason is given as to why the main character doesn’t quite fit into that world.

The Initiating Event has a special resonance for the main character, although they may not yet realize it, because the Initiating Event signals to them that a fundamental shift has taken place in their lives, and that new, major change is in the wind. Where this shift is keenly felt and realized by the main character comes at the Call To Action.

The Call To Action is like the horn blown to signal the beginning of the hunt.   The main character, depending on their goals and temperament, may or may not respond.  Dramatically, it is often better to either have the character refuse to join the action (due to internal conflict), or be prevented from joining (due to external conflict).  Time-wise, the Call To Action typically takes place between pages 15 and 20 of a screenplay.

Here are some examples of Calls To Action in same three films as cited before, and the main character’s reactions to them:

Alien
Call:
  The crew lands on the planet, only to find a wrecked alien spacecraft.
Response:
  The crew expores the derelict craft, finding alien eggs kept in storage.

Clockwork Orange
Call:
  Asserting himself to Alex, Georgie proposes that the gang should pull a real heist.
Response:  In sharp refusal of their plan, Alex attacks Georgie and Dim to show them who’s boss.

Jerry Maguire
Call: 
Jerry puts the Mission Statement in the mailbox of everyone at the agency, but has second thoughts.
Response: 
The Mission statement is publicily lauded; privately, all at the agency think Jerry is doomed.

Star Wars
Call: 
Luke sees Leia’s holographic cry for help.
Response: 
When asked by Ben Kenobi to join a rescue attempt, Luke refuses.

Following the Call, a period of reflection takes place, in which the characters absorb the implications of the Call, and/or of their refusal or inability to act upon it.   During this brief moment, events transpire to drag the character into the thick of the conflict.  Often it happens that the enemy (who already know what they want!) have regrouped and make their move.


The Commitment To Act

At this point, something happens that forces the main character to join the story.   They can no longer refuse for one or more reasons.  The reasons may be moral (the enemy has violated the main character’s code of conduct), intellectual (the main character is now convinced they must act because they believe inaction will be worse), or physical (if the main character doesn’t motivate, he/she will suffer or die). The more reasons, the higher the stakes will be, thus the greater the drama.

This commitment usually happens somewhere between page 25 and page 30 in a screenplay.

Here are several examples of Commitments To Act, preceded by their motivating situations:

Alien
Situation:
 
An alien larva attaches itself to crew-member Kane’s face. 
Commitment:  
Ripley refuses to let the crew bring Kane aboard, citing contamination procedures. (Note this late use of her refusal of the Call).  She is overidden by science officer Ash, who lets the crew and larva inside.

Clockwork Orange
Situation:  
During the heist, Alex kills a woman, then Dim smashes his face with a bottle, leaving him helpless as police arrive.
Commitment:  Alex goes to prison.

Jerry Maguire
Situation: 
Jerry is fired by his former pupil, Bob Sugar.
Commitment:
  Jerry vows to steal all of Bob’s clients away from the agency and go into business for himself.

Star Wars
Situation:
  Luke finds his Uncle and Aunt dead, killed by Imperial Stormtroopers.
Commitment:  Luke no longer has a reason to stay on Tatooine, and he wholeheartedly decides to join Ben Kenobi on his rescue mission.

Next time you watch a film, try and pinpoint these first act structural elements.  Seeing how they are applied will increase your own understanding of how to use them in your own screenwriting work.

Next Column:  Act Structure Demystified Part II – Unlocking the Second Act

And don’t forget to check out this list on Internet Archive.

Är jag ensam om att ogilla sommarstugor?

Sommar. Semester. Grillning. Bad. Och allt annat som skildras i Magnus Ugglas Trubaduren.

Jag har inga större problem med något av det. Men det finns en sak som jag har svårt för, och det mesta talar för att jag är i massiv minoritet. Jag har svårt för sommarstugor.

Låt mig innan jag fortsätter göra fullständigt klart att det inte är något personligt mot någons sommarstuga, eller särskilda släktingar och vänner. Många tror det nämligen. Sedan säger de ”nej, nej”, men efter ett tag när jag fortsätter att prata så kommer ändå misstankar om att det är personligt, och så blir vi osams. Eftersom det är jag som ”är den konstiga”, blir det också jag som får be om ursäkt. Det här har jag varit med om så många gånger att jag börjar bli trött på det. Det är inte personligt.

Vad är det då? Jo, det finns många logiska orsaker till att jag har svårt för sommarstugor.

Vi har det ju så mysigt och enkelt.

Vi har det ju så mysigt och enkelt.

 

1. Jag gillar inte tidsresor bakåt i tiden.

I sommarstugor åker man på något sätt tillbaka i tiden till innan det fanns bra internetuppkoppling, fler än tre TV-kanaler och sköna möbler. Det finns oftast några ströböcker, som man redan bläddrat i och mentalt avskrivit. Köket är trångt och skåpen saknar mycket av de råvaror och verktyg man behöver för att laga ordentlig mat. Duschen har begränsat med varmvatten, så att man tvingas duscha fort. Och så vidare.

En del tycker säkert att det finns en poäng med det. Jag förstår inte den poängen. Det betyder inte att jag har rätt (eller att de har rätt, vilket vi ska prata mer om senare), utan bara om att vi har olika intressen. Vissa gillar att ägna sin semester åt att leva som på 1930-talet och jag gillar att leva på 2000-talet.

2. Jag gillar inte isoleringsceller

Stugan är ofta enbart tillgänglig med bil. Vi har ingen bil och tvingas bli hämtade. En del kräver dessutom egen båt. Det ligger långt ute i skogen, eller kräver att man passerar 150 andra sommarstugor med stora tomter. Det här betyder att alla promenader man tar från sommarstugan oftast resulterar i att man går på någon lerig grusväg eller på någon genomfartsled där bilarna blåser förbi i 130 knyck.

Skulle det sen vara så att man får lust att handla mat eller sådär, blir det en halvdagsutflykt som måste planeras och planeras för att man inte ska glömma att köpa salt eller glass. Affären ligger ofta nästan lika långt bort från civilisationen, så att de tvingas hålla riktigt höga priser för att överleva.

Självklart behöver man åka en bit till för att hitta några kulturyttringar, såsom biografer eller bokhandlar. Å andra sidan är mottagningen på TV och radio så dålig (man får ställa in specialkanaler) att man snart tvingas låta bli att förvänta sig att ha ett normalt kulturliv.

Jag hörde en gång en skröna om en spansk nobelpristagare som förutom prispengarna fick en veckas semester i en sommarstuga. Efteråt undrade han vad han gjort för ont för att förtjäna isolering.

Omväxling

Omväxling

3. Jag blir fort mätt på skönhet

När man kommer ut till en sommarstuga är den första reaktionen ofta ”Åh, vad vackert det är här.” Och tänk, det kan det vara. Det kan vara så vackert att det nästan gör ont: klara gröna färger i tusen och sinom tusen nyanser, solljus som speglas i vattenytan och kastar solkatter på allting, mjuka former och svallande kullar. Dessutom luktar det gott, låter avslappnande och omsluter en av äkta naturupplevelser.

Men det fortsätter att vara vackert. Och fortsätter. Och fortsätter. Det får mig att tänka på ett avsnitt av Futurama, när flera vändningar i en scen (alla åtföljda av förvånade flämtningar) orsakar att en man blir ”överflämtad” (”this man is over-gasped”). Åtminstone jag blir mätt på skönhet och börjar leta efter andra kvaliteter. Ungefär som när jag ser snygga människor. Ja, de är vackra, men efter två sekunder börjar jag leta efter något annat: en personlighet, gemensamma intressen, något att göra ihop. Men i naturen får man själv hitta på allt. Det dyker sällan upp något oväntat, och jag gillar oväntade saker. Det gör att jag håller hjärnan vaken. Så det slutar med att jag sitter och löser korsord. Eller jobbar. Vilket kanske inte var tanken, men hellre det än att bli överflämtad.

Skönt att slippa att vända papper på kontoret, va?

Skönt att slippa att vända papper på kontoret, va?

4. Ledig? Glöm det!

Man tänker gärna att sommarstugor innebär ledighet, men det är en myt. Jag tror att de flesta känner igen tanken att man behöver vila upp sig efter att man har varit på semester. Semester i en sommarstuga innebär mer gräsmatta att klippa, mer golvyta att dammsuga, ännu ett kök att städa (ingen diskmaskin…), och sommarstugan behöver göras i ordning, kläder som ska tvättas, med mera, med mera. Ett helt hus till att ta hand om, helt enkelt. Jag som bor i lägenhet delvis för att slippa att göra sådana saker ska alltså åka till ett ställe där jag måste arbeta mer? Bra tänkt.

5. Har vi inte varit här förut?

”Istället för att utforska världen, lära oss nya saker, träffa nya människor, prova ny mat, köpa andra souvenirer, från olika ställen, åker vi till samma ställe varje år. Vi vill inte se något nytt. Nej. Varför skulle vi det? Vi vet ju vägen hit. Vi vet vad vi har, men inte vad vi får. Vi trivs här.”

Samma utsikt. Samma grannar. Samma affär. Samma halvdåliga gräsklippare. Samma mat. Samma tjat om vem som diskar. Samma allting.

Varför?

I början på Sällskapsresan står det:

Svenskar reser inte till något – de reser bort från något.

För att komma bort från något åker man alltså till ett mer primitivt, mer isolerat, händelsefattigt ställe med mer jobb. Inte bara en gång, utan varje sommar, år efter år efter år. Det måste vara något riktigt hemskt man åker ifrån.

Det fattar inte jag. Jag förstår inte hur man kan gå med på att ens tillvaro till vardags kan vara så hemsk att man i stort sett gör vad som helst för att slippa den. Jag har designat min tillvaro så att jag kan trivas med den. Jag ser till så att jag får skratta, äta gott, prata med vänner, lära mig nya saker, vara med om saker – i vardagen. För mig är vardagen inte grå, utan lika mångfärgad som en konstnärs palett.

Ändå…

Här kommer det som kanske är jobbigast. När jag säger att jag har svårt för sommarstugor, då kommer Övertalningsförsöken. Jag Måste Omvändas. Sommarstugor är mysiga och jag har fel när jag ens antyder något annat.

Det ligger något fanatiskt, religiöst, hysteriskt, fetischistiskt, trångsynt i tanken att alla människor måste tycka om sommarstugor. När jag möter sådana människor tänker jag snarare att det ligger något sorgligt över det: att man är såpass osäker på sig själv att man inte kan vara nyfiken och fråga ”Hur tänker du tillbringa sommaren?” istället försöka omvända någon, att man inte kan tycka att det är fantastiskt att det finns olika synvinklar.

***

PS. Ja, jag är mycket medveten om att jag i det här inlägget kan verka lika fördomsfull som dem jag skriver om. Det är möjligt att jag är lika fördomsfull. Men min synvinkel har inte körts ner i någons hals tidigare, och jag ville bara visa hur det skulle kunna se ut om jag inte bara gapade och svalde. I själva verket kan jag acceptera andras sommarstugor. Nu hoppas jag att folk kan acceptera att jag inte gillar sommarstugor utan att det behöver bli personligt. Kan vi gå vidare och ägna tiden åt roligare saker nu?

Nate Haskell

Nate Haskell

Nate Haskell

De senaste säsongerna har seriemördaren Nate Haskell plågat poliserna och kriminalteknikerna i CSI, en av världens bästa TV-serier. Skådespelaren bakom figuren heter Bill Irwin. Egentligen är han mest känd som clown och komisk skådespelare. Han medverkar till exempel i videon till ”Don’t worry, be happy” tillsammans med Robin Williams och sångaren Bobby McFerrin.

Kolla bara:

McFerrin, Irwin, Williams - och här är frågan vem som är mest galen

McFerrin, Irwin, Williams - och här är frågan vem som är mest galen

Alltid lika roligt att få sina fördomar krossade. Faktiskt. Och jag tror att just komiker blir bra i dramatiska roller. Titta bara på Carl-Gustaf Ljungstedt i Mannen på taket. Eller Gösta Ekman i Sjöwall/Wahlöö-filmerna från tidigt 1990-tal. Eller förutnämnde Robin Williams i Uppvaknanden. Eller Whoopie Goldberg som Guinan i Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hasse Alfredson som fabrikören i Den enfaldige mördaren.

Mer sånt! Tänk att få se Fredrik Lindström som våldtäktsman med dåligt samvete, Petra Mede som seriös journalist som stöter på mutbrott, eller Christer Lindarw som pappan som försöker få behålla vårdnaden om sina barn. Eller varför inte Måns Möller som arbetaren som kämpar för att få sin arbetsplatsskada erkänd och tar hjälp av två advokater spelade av Stefan & Krister? Tror du inte att det fungerar? Hmm. Vi får se. Vi får se… Med tanke hur svenska komedier brukar se ut skulle jag inte bli förvånad.