How to Structure a ScreenplayStructuring a script
STRUCTURE STORY: The 5 most important turning points of all successful scripts
Be it Clarice Starling trying to stop Hannibal, Captain Miller Saving Private Ryan or Billy Elliott trying to get access to a dance academy, all these characters face an intense struggle in their quest for a visual aim. Plots structure easily defines the order of occurrences that take the heroes to this target.
Here is the good news: whether you're doing romance comedy, thrilling stories, historic drama or sci-fi on a large scale, all Hollywood films have the same fundamental structure. I would like to guide two new rockbusters through this whole structure proces: the first and the second: Suzannah Grant wrote the script for Erin Brockovich and Gladiator, by David H. Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson.
However different these two movies are in terms of styles, genres, length and content, both have earned more than a hundred million US dollar at the cinema till, both were among the most celebrated movies of the year 2000, and both have the same fundamental structure. Uhre Brockovich: Erin is a bankrupt, jobless lone parent who can't find a career, is struck by a vehicle and looses her sue.
Maximus, Rome's most mighty and beloved general, guides his forces to win their last war. Your first 10% of your script must involve the readers and the public in the starting point of the plot, revealing your hero's daily routine and establishing a sense of identity with your heroes by making them likeable, threatening, likeable, fun and/or power.
Or, think of Lowell Bergman's enigmatic, menacing search for a tale at the beginning of The Insider. From our own livelihood, these set-ups drag us into the gripping realm that the scriptwriter has made. Emperor Marcus Aurelius rewards Maximus, and he says he wants to go home.
Tens of per cent of the way into your script must be given to your heroes a chance to awaken a new, visual wish and bring the characters on the road. Max-minus is asked by the necrotic emperor to take over Rome and give it back to the nation, despite the ambitions of his own boy Commodus.
In the next 15% of the game, your character will respond to the new situations arising from the game. Fletcher has to find out that he is accustomed to the new environment, tries to find out what is going on, or draws up a concrete blueprint to achieve his overall goal: Fletcher has to find out that he is accursed to tell the truths in liars, liars; and Mrs Doubtfire draws up a blueprint to see (his) kids.
Quite often the storyline structure follows geographical, as the occasion brings your heroes to a new place: aboard the Titanic and The Talent Mr. Ripley cruisers; go to Cincinnati to inter rogate his dad in Rain Man; the president starts with Air Force One. erin brockovich: erin is reinstated to defeat pg&e in a lawsuit.
Maximus, after he learns that Commodus killed his dad, swears to stop the new Kaiser and to fulfill the desires of Marcus Aurelius. There must be something happening to your character a quarter of the way through your script that transforms the initial wish into a concrete, visual target with a clearly definable endpoint.
It is the sequence that defines your storyline and reveals your hero's external motivations. External motivations is my idea for the visual finishing line that reaches the public until the end of the work. That' s what we do for Tess, and we know that when she reaches (or hasn't reached) that target, the picture will be over.
Do not mistake the external motivations for your hero's inner voyage. However, these unseen elements of nature can only be effective if they evolve out of a plain, visual yearning. Hinkley: Erin Brockovich makes some Hinkley dwellers sign Ed to replace her and gets romantic with George. Maximos is slain, escaped to find his wife and daughter assassinated, and taken prisoner and marketed to Proximo, who makes him a mighty gladiator.
Throughout the next 25% of your storyline, your hero's plot seems to work as he makes measures to reach his goal: Ethan Hunt begins to approach the bad guy in mission: Este Brockovich: Erin and Ed are filing the suit and risk being dismissed by the court, which would ruin any hopes of an agreement.
Máximus arrived in Rome, decided to gain the multitude as a gladiator so that he could defeat Commodus. Right in the middle of your screenplay, your character must be fully committed to his goals. Until then she had the opportunity to turn back, abandon her plans and return to the way of being that she lived at the beginning of the work.
Now your heroes have to go behind her, set her bridge on fire and set both your legs in it. Erin Brockovich: Erin sees less of George and her children, while Ed contributes a big company that estranged the Hinkley claimants. He became the heroes of the romans and revealed his real personality to Commodus.
The next 25% of your storyline will be much more challenging to achieve the visual target, and your character has much more to loose if he is doomed. Erin Brockovich: Most complainants are withdrawing because of the botched effort of the new attorneys, and George is leaving Erin. Maximos is refusing to help the Senate Fuehrer, and Commodus plans to annihilate both Maximus and the Senate.
At page 90 of your script, something must be done to your character to give the public the impression that everything is lost: -Erin Brockovich: Erin needs to gather the Hinkley family together to accept mandatory arbitrations and find proof that weighs on the PG&E business unit. A conspiracy to flee Proximo and take his former forces against Commodus.
Defeated and defeated, your heroes must now venture everything he has and muster a lot of power and guts to accomplish his eventual goal: Thelma & Louise must overtake the FBI to get to the edge; and the Kennedys must try a last trial with the Soviets in 13 outings.
Erin Brockovich: Erin and Ed are winning a comparison for 330 million dollars, and George comes back. One of Maximus' last battles with Commodus in the stadium. At the height of the movie several things have to happen: The heroine has to face the greatest hurdle of the whole storyline; she has to decide her own destiny; and the external motivations have to be solved once and for all.
ERIN BROCKOVICH: Erin gets a $2 million rebate and keeps working with Ed. He and his wife are reunited in the grave, and his corpse is taken away in honour of the new rulers of the Holy Roum. You' ve got to unveil your hero's new self after he's finished his trip.
There is little to show or tell in films like Rocky, Thelma & Louise and The Truman Show, and the author's aim is to keep the public bewildered or thrilled. Knowing these phases and turning points provides you with a mighty instrument for the development and composition of your screenplay. Has your storyline plan been divided into a fourth?
Are your hero's goals really tangible, with a clearly implicit result and not just an inner wish for achievement, acceptability or self-esteem? Did you fully introduce your heroes before you gave them a chance on page 10? The structure is an efficient model to rewrite and reinforce the emotive effect of your history.
Create personalities you like and a storyline that arouses your passions. Then, you use these structure rules to make sure your script reaches the broadest possible audiences.