ACT I IS THE SET-UP
One page of screenplay is approximately one minute of screen time.
Act I, the beginning, is a unit of dramatic action that is approximately twenty or thirty pages long and is held together with the dramatic context known as the Set- Up. Context is the space that holds something in place—in this case, the content.
In this unit of dramatic action, Act I, the screenwriter sets up the story, establishes character, launches the dramatic premise (what the story is about), illustrates the situation (the circumstances surrounding the action), and creates the relationships between the main character and the other characters who inhabit the landscape of his or her world.
As a writer you’ve only got about ten minutes to establish this, because the audience members can usually determine, either consciously or unconsciously, whether they do or don’t like the movie by that time. The first ten-page unit of dramatic action is the most important part of the screenplay.
ACT II IS CONFRONTATION
Act II is a unit of dramatic action approximately sixty pages long, and goes from the end of Act I, anywhere from pages 20 to 30, to the end of Act II, approximately pages 85 to 90, and is held together with the dramatic context known as Confrontation.
During this second act the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle that keeps him/her from achieving his/her dramatic need, which is defined as what the character wants to win, gain, get, or achieve during the course of the screenplay. If you know your character’s dramatic need, you can create obstacles to it and then your story becomes your character, overcoming obstacle after obstacle to achieve his/her dramatic need.
Act II is where your character has to deal with surviving the obstacles that you put in front of him or her. What is it that drives him or her forward through the action? What does your main character want? What is his or her dramatic need?
All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.
ACT III IS RESOLUTION
Act III is a unit of dramatic action approximately twenty to thirty pages long and goes from the end of Act II, approximately pages 85 to 90, to the end of the screenplay. It is held together with the dramatic context known as Resolution. I think it’s important to remember that resolution does not mean ending; resolution means solution.
Act III is that unit of action that resolves the story. It is not the ending; the ending is that specific scene or shot or sequence that ends the script. Beginning, middle, and end; Act I, Act II, Act III; Set-Up, Confrontation, Resolution—these parts make up the whole. It is the relationship between these parts that determines the whole.
A Plot Point is defined as any incident, episode, or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction.
Plot Point I occurs at the end of Act I, anywhere from pages 20 to 25 or 30. A Plot Point is always a function of the main character.
Plot Points serve an essential purpose in the screenplay; they are a major story progression and keep the story line anchored in place.
Plot Points do not have to be big, dynamic scenes or sequences; they can be quiet scenes in which a decision is made.
Plot Point II is really the same as Plot Point I; it is the way to move the story forward, from Act II to Act III. It is a story progression. As mentioned, it usually occurs anywhere between pages 80 or 90 of the screenplay.
The dramatic structure of the screenplay may be denned as a linear arrangement of related incidents, episodes, or events leading to a dramatic resolution. How you utilize these structural components determines the form of your screenplay.
Read and study scripts like:
• Chinatown, Network (Paddy Chayefsky)
• American Beauty
• The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont)
• Sideways (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor)
• The Matrix
• Annie Hall
• Lord of the Rings.
These scripts are excellent teaching aids.