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Act 1

Lesson 17 from: Screenwriting for Film and Television: How to Begin

Julio Vincent Gambuto

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Lesson Info

17. Act 1

Learn what makes for a successful first act.
Next Lesson: Act 2

Lesson Info

Act 1

what I'm gonna walk you through are the elements or moments that typically appear in each of these acts of a feature film screenplay. Earlier, we talked about the story fundamentals as being those structural elements of a house, right, The door, the window, the roof. It needs those in order to be called a house. Just like a story needs those fundamentals in order for you to call it a story. What I'm gonna show you now is a little bit more decoration, right in each of these rooms of the house. Think of those is a separate act right there in the living room. Now there's typically a lamp. There's typically a couch. There's typically a rug. I don't know. I've been in some living rooms that don't have lamps. They're all a little bit different. But what I want to show you are the elements or moments that ought to appear in each of these acts and that typically appear now as we advance through this class and even into my next class, the MAWR work you do in screenwriting and them or writing yo...

u dio you need to know these basic things in order to really really get the craft work that I want you to get, so allow me to introduce them to you. Act one usually starts with a hook. What's a hook? Ah, Hook is the thing that captures captures your attention. The Bond movies do this really well. They start with this high adrenaline scene. They're already in it. There in the action, you're already hooked. You could start with an argument. You could start with a gunshot. You could start with an image that's captivating. However you start, think about what you want your hook to be. I've heard people call it a hot start as well. In fact, I've worked with some media executives that use that in other in other contexts and in other worlds. Ah, hook or hot start is a great way to just capture attention, especially in the media landscape that we're working in, right, even for movies. Even for feature films that people are watching at home on their screens, you want to grab their attention. Next, the regular world. It's really important. Thio really describe the world of the character before anything happens in that world, meaning what is Juno's life like before she gets pregnant. What is Will hunting's life like before he does that equation on the board? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What does it sound like? This is the characters regular world story, fundamental wise? This is really the before state, right? What is the character like before the journey of the movie? Then there's the inciting incident. The inciting incident usually appears about halfway through the first act. The inciting incident is the moment that that regular world gets completely disrupted. I was going along totally fine, and then one day this happened and it changed my world. Think about that in the context of your work. What's the regular world of your character and what happens that changes that regular world and forces them on to a new journey? The villain. Now you don't have to introduce your villain in the first act. You can introduce your villain in the second act. You can come to understand your villain later, especially if it's an internal villain. But generally speaking, the villain is introduce somewhere in the first act. Now again. Usually it's different for every movie, but think about specifically where you want to introduce your villain conflict. The first conflict. Your characters gotta have some conflict in the 1st 25 pages where we don't understand what we're watching right, Who is it that comes in their way, stops them from getting what it is? Whatever that they want? Who is it that disrupts their regular world? Who or what is it that shakes up their day to day? We want that first conflict to climax in the first act climax. The 1st 25 pages should take the character on a journey already before they even embark on the rest of the movie. Their regular world is disrupted by something called the inciting incident. That incident insights action on their part, and by the end of the first act, they want to declare what it is that they want. What journey they're about to go on. Let's look at Act one on the story chart. Act one is about 25 pages. I've divided here into four sections so that you can see it laid out. Now where do these elements appear? They can appear wherever you want them to appear, but typically this is what it looks like. First, we start out. The first five per six pages are your hook. What is it that gets the attention of your audience? Then we understand the regular world of the character. What is the character's life like before they go on their journey and inciting? Incident happens around page 13. Around the midpoint of this first act, something happens that disrupts the regular world of the character. Then there's the aftermath or the denial of that meaning. How does the character respond to the inciting incident? Oh my gosh, this thing has happened. What is your character's response to that? In fact, sometimes people call it the denial of the call. All that means is that they have been called to action called on a journey. And in this part of the first act there, saying Nope, sorry, not going to do it. But things get a little bit more complicated when you introduce the villain again. The villain does not have to appear here. All I'm asking you to do is to consider exactly where your villain is introduced in the story. Does it happen in the first act? If it does, you wanna introduce them in time so that you can have conflict with them. And then the first act obviously has a conflict as noted there and a climaxes by page 25. By page 25 your hero should declare their want or their journey. What is it that they're going after? Where they going? Where is this adventure taking them and the rest of the movie? Funny enough. If you think about stories this way, if you think about screenplays this way, movies this way you'll never watch a movie the same way again. Trust me by a minute. 13. 0, there's the inciting incident. You can start to realize that Look at minute 13 in a movie. Look at Page 13 in the screenplay. It's 13 or 14. It's generally halfway through that first act. You'll start to see that moment, then that moment, by the end of the first act. Oh, they want something. They have declared their goal. They're going on a journey. You'll start to see it and do some story analysis, and you're really gonna see it appear in the same moment in the same time. Script after script after script. So by the end of Act one, let's just boil it down. I want to know who the stories about what they want, what the problem is and what the journey is that they're about to go on. Let's look at two.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Case Study Films
Story Analysis Template.xlsx
Sample TV Scripts
Story Design Worksheet
Story Fundamentals Worksheet
Seed to Script Process

Ratings and Reviews

Carlos Sandoval

Just a great way to start on your path to screenwriting. A clear and concise class with a friendly tone and humor. I think it is important that a teacher has actually worked in the field. Kudos.


Perfect for a beginner or actors who need a better understanding of what is and why is. Info packed and FUN too!

Asem Nurkina

I took this class last year. And after one year of working with presented tools (story design worksheet, story fundamentals workseet, seed to script process) on different projects I can say that it is very powerful and useful course I ever taken. I can strongly recommend this detailed screenwriting guidance by Julio Vincent Gambuto.

Student Work