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Join independent film director and screenwriter Mark Tapio Kines as he walks you through the process of getting your screenplay idea out of your head and onto the printed page. Learn how to define your story's characters, obstacles, and scope; understand the importance of each of the three acts in a traditional narrative structure; and discover how to build tension and reveal key plot points. Lastly, Mark shows you how to format your screenplay to make it readable and well paced, and navigate the legalities of adapting an existing property, collaborating with a cowriter, or engaging in a work-for-hire contract.
The screenplay format has a very specific formula, 1 page of script equals 1 minute of screen time, so a 2-hour movie has a 120-page screenplay. Out of those 120 pages you can use no more than 10 pages, or 10 minutes, to establish your status quo and move on. The ratio stays the same no matter what, if your movie is 30 minutes and your screenplay is 30 pages, then you have just 2 & 1/2 pages to establish your status quo and move on. And by move on, I mean you literally have to destroy that status quo and initiate the drama.
You do this by introducing your first plot twist, the Routine Killer. This is the scene that really kicks off the action, the essence of this twist is that it delivers a piece of news that surprises your protagonist. Joseph Campbell referred to it as a Call to Adventure, some writers call it the inciting incident or the unexpected event, I call it the Routine Killer because that's what it does, it kills your protagonist's routine. It doesn't maim it or give it a boo-boo, it kills it by triggering a major turn of events.
Now the Routine Killer could be a big shock or it could be a small but intriguing discovery. It could be bad news or good. Let's say you're writing about a woman who is very happy with her job, suddenly her boss comes in and fires her, or maybe your protagonist is a homeless man who is at the end of his rope, suddenly he finds a big bag of money on the street. These are two very different twists that will send these people on two very different adventures. But both serve the same purpose, they destroy the character's status quo.
The Routing Killer has three characteristics, first, it has to be something your protagonist didn't plan for. Second, it has to happen suddenly. And third, it can't be easily undone, because otherwise you'd have no story. Watch the first 10 minutes of any movie you'll find this moment, in North by Northwest, Cary Grant is on his way to lunch, bossing his secretary around and life is normal. Then suddenly he's mistaken for another man and kidnapped.
In Crazy, Stupid, Love, Steve Carell and Julianne Moore play a long-married couple out on a date. For him it's business as usual, then suddenly she tells him she wants a divorce. Not every Routine Killer is so jarring. In a James Bond movie, this twist is when M gives 007 a new assignment. He takes it all on stride but we know it's going to be one of his more difficult jobs because that's what a James Bond movie is all about. So what is shaking him--not stirring him--out of his status quo, he just doesn't know it yet.
The possibilities for the Routine Killer are endless, it doesn't even have to be a bit of news, it can be a new character. This is really common in romantic comedies and in buddy movies. It's when the protagonist meets their sexy new neighbor, their obnoxious new partner, the guy who's going to be their archenemy, whatever. This person is about to change your protagonist's life for better or worse, that means they're killing your protagonist's routine. This twist is crucial to your narrative. In fact, it should be the scene that defines your story's very premise.
So don't make here some arbitrary thing that won't have much to do with your drama. Remember, every scene in your script needs to take your story one step closer to the event. The Routine Killer is that first step. So take out another sticky note and describe a scene that would kill your protagonist's routine. Make sure you include your protagonist's reaction, whether they're thrilled by this twist or horrified. Now that you have set your status quo, imagine what could really upset it in a nice surprising way, it's got to be something or someone that will eventually lead your protagonist on an adventure.
So be daring, impress yourself, your story is now officially moving forward, so you want to start it off with a bang.
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