Thursday, January 1, 2009

Screenplay Structure

Here are some helpful resources to start thinking about a story as a movie:

I adapted the following from Michael Hauge, “Screenplay Structure/The Five Key Turning Points of All Successful Scripts,”


Stage I: The Setup

10% (10 pages, based on standard screenplays in which 100 pages=100 minutes)
Draw the reader/audience into the initial setting of the story. Reveal the everyday life that the hero has been living. Establish identification with the hero by making the hero sympathetic, threatened, likable, funny and/or powerful.

Turning Point 1: The Opportunity
At 10% (page 10)
Present the hero with an opportunity to create a new, visible desire that will start this character on a journey.

Stage II: New Situation
Next 15% (to 25%: to page 25)
The opportunity produces a new situation, and the hero reacts to it.

Turning Point 2: The Change of Plans
At 25% (page 25)
Something happens to your hero one-fourth of the way through your screenplay that will transform their* original desire into a specific, visible goal with a clearly defined end point.


At this point, you have defined your story concept and revealed your hero’s outer motivation. (The outer motivation is the visible finish line that your audience is rooting for your hero to achieve by the end of the film.)

Stage III: Progress
Next 25% (to page 50)
Your hero’s plan seems to be working as she or he takes action to achieve their goal.

Turning Point 3: The Point of No Return
At 50% (page 50)
At the exact midpoint of the screenplay, your hero commits to a goal. Up to this point, she or he had the option of turning back, giving up their plan, and returning to the life they were living at the beginning of the film. Hero burns bridges and jumps in!

Stage IV: Complications and Higher Stakes
Next 25% (to 75%: around page 75)
Achieving the visible goal becomes far more difficult. Hero has much more to lose if he or she fails. This conflict continues to build until, just as it seems that success is within the hero’s grasp…

Turning Point 4: The Major Setback
At 75% (around page 75)
A major setback occurs to the hero that makes the audience think all is lost. This disastrous event leaves the hero with only one option.


Hero must make one last, all or nothing, do or die effort as hero enters…

Stage V: The Final Push
Next 15% (to 90%: to page 90)
Beaten and battered, hero must now risk everything she or he has, and give every ounce of strength and courage they possess, to achieve their ultimate goal. During this stage of your script, the conflict is overwhelming, the pace has accelerated, and everything works against your hero, until she or he reaches…

Turning Point 5: The Climax
9% (to 99%: to page 99)
Several things must occur at the climax of the film: the hero must face the biggest obstacle of the entire story; The hero must determine their own fate; and the outer motivation must be resolved once and for all. This is the big moment where your placement will be determined by the amount of time you need for…

Stage VI: The Aftermath
1% (to 100%: page 100)
No movie ends precisely with the resolution of the hero’s objective. You must reveal the new life your hero is living now that he or she has completed their journey. There is little to show or explain, and the writer’s goal is to leave the audience stunned or elated. So the climax occurs near the very end of the film. (In most romantic comedies, mysteries and dramas, the aftermath will include the final five or ten pages of the script.)

* Rather than repeating unwieldy pronouns (she or he/his or her) I have sometimes used the "singular they." This has long been part of common usage. ("No one will get granny off that mountain unless they kill her first.") Rather than being a grammatical purist on this, I believe we can let grammar evolve to meet a greater need for inclusion of both sexes, with clear meaning and graceful expression.