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Story Design: Conflict

Lesson 11 from: Screenwriting for Film and Television: How to Begin

Julio Vincent Gambuto

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Lesson Info

11. Story Design: Conflict

Next Lesson: Story Design: Angel

Lesson Info

Story Design: Conflict

Let's talk about conflict. Conflict is what arises when the heroes going after their want and the villain is going after their want, and those two things collide. So in a gun movie, it's like for, for example, for die hard, right? You've got McLean going up against Hans Gruber, and that creates conflict in a smaller, more intimate movie. Stay between a husband and a wife. You've got the point of view of the husband up against the point of view of the wife, and those two things create conflict. At least they did in the house that I grew up in. So let's take a look at the questions that you should answer with respect to conflict. This is what we do. We take our life. We take our trauma, we turn it into into art, right? Maybe you're doing the same. We'll see first. What is the conflict? The conflict, like I said, is what happens when the heroes going after his or her want and the villains going after their want. So answer the question. What exactly is the conflict of this movie? What does...

that conflict look like? Is it an argument? Is it a gunfight. Is it a swimming competition? Is it water balloon contest? What does it look like? I want you to answer that because that's gonna really help you build out your treatment and build out your script. What? Um, I actually watching on screen, remember, the script is a visual document. This is a visual medium film, TV. Obviously, you can lean more into your dialogue, but both film and TV. You've gotta be watching a conflict unfold, right? So you need to decide. Is the writer What is it that I'm watching? Um, I watching an argument for 90 minutes or for an hour every single week. Am I watching a boxing match? Am I watching A What am I watching? That shows me that conflict. I often read ah, lot of work by newer writers who believe that there's conflict in the work. But there's not conflict there on the page, right? You've got to get that conflict on the page in a way that it can be read and understood. Third, what is how does it progress or build? Your conflict should progress or build. And I mean this almost like scientifically or numerically, right? What do I mean, in my work, I always say, Okay, great. We're at, like, 10% of the conflict now. Now we're at, like, 25% of the conflict. Now we're at 50% of the conflict, and by the act to climax, which we're gonna get to in our story structure section, you wanna be at 100% of the conflict. So if it's a fight, we wanna be progressing that fight, right? The finale of Rocky doesn't have the same intensity as the first time that he's boxing. Same thing for good will hunting, right? He jokes at first. In fact, in his first therapy session, he doesn't even say anything. There's no conflict, obviously this conflict between them physically as they square off. But he's not even saying anything, so that will build and build and build. So I want you to think about when you understand what your conflict looks like. What does it sound like? What are we seeing in the movie or the TV show? How do we progress that conflict? You don't want to come out of the gate running with this huge conflict scene, and then suddenly nothing feels bigger than that for the rest of the movie or the show, you want to progress it and build it quick. Note. There are a lot of movies and TV shows that start with a bang, which I would call the hook or the hot start, which will get Thio where it's super intense to grab your attention. But then, once we settle in six months later, Ah, week later, whatever that is, we then grow the conflict and understand throughout the story how that's building and progressing for what is the climax? Yes, how does that conflict climax? What is the final biggest moment of that conflict? If it's a boxing movie, it's gotta be the big finale. If it's a shoot him up movie, it's gotta be the big square off the most guns, the most people, the most blood. I don't love love movies. That's a personal choice. But if that's the kind of movies that you love, go for it. What is the biggest version of that? And a lot of my work. It's people fighting with each other right and arguing. Well, what's the biggest argument they can have? And how does that argument turn into something physical in the physical world. So, for example, I'm working on another script Now about my family growing up right. I wanna climax it by having the father character grabbed the wedding portrait off the wall and throw it across the room and bust this big mirror. That didn't happen in real life. But in the movie it will write. What I want you to do is find the ultimate moment where that conflict can climax. How do you visually represent that? How do you make it more visual for film or for TV? Which is highly visual is well, how do you climax that moment? Not to be crude, but when you think a lot about progressions and climax, I want you to think about sex, right? It starts out with meeting. It moves to flirting. Then there's a kiss. Then it builds with foreplay. And ultimately it climaxes, right? You wanna build in stages, which is why a lot of love stories start out. They don't know each other now. They know each other, but they're at odds with each other. Well, they can get over that first problem that they have with each other and then by the middle of the movie. They kiss or they say, I love you. And then things start to go wrong. And then they have to understand why they love each other, Why it's so incredible and important that they be together and ultimately overcome the things that stand in their way. We'll talk more about that when we talk about story structure. But I want you to understand, in conflict you've got to progress that to a climax. Five. Who will win the conflict? Make that decision right. Ultimately, your hero should win the conflict. If you want the movie to be really satisfying for the audience, they have followed the hero throughout the hero's journey on. We want to see the hero when that conflict. Very often, when the hero doesn't win the conflict, you have a tragedy, right? That's what a tragedy is. It never really recovers from its lowest point. The hero doesn't win. That's what makes it tragic. Let's take a look again. It die hard first. What is the conflict? The conflict is between the hero, McLean and Hans Grouper, the villain. What does it look like? Okay, well, it looks like guns and explosions and dead bodies because it's an action movie and very often genres across a genre. Films will share what their conflicts look like, right smaller, more personal movies. That conflict, like I said earlier, might look like an argument might look like. Ah, husband and wife arguing over a certain point, etcetera, etcetera. They are polar opposite worldviews, that air coming into conflict. How does it progress or build in Die hard? Obviously, it progresses through the number of henchman who are shot and killed. And ultimately, the big finale Standoff is between our hero and our villain. One of the main things that progress is, or at least one point where we progress is when McClane, uh, you know, Marco's body is dropped onto the patrol car. That tells the local police that there's a problem here in the tower, and it pushes the action forward and progress is us. What is the climax? Well, we're up on that high tower, right? And Hans has got Holly, the ex wife. Now he knows that he's McClain's. She's McClain's wife, and he's holding her hostage. They have a shoot off. It looks like the villain is gonna go through the window. He does go through the window. He's hanging on by the wristwatch. And ultimately McLean comes over and un does the wristwatch and our villain falls to his death. Who wins the conflict? McLean the hero. So I want you to be clear about all these points, right? I want you to put your story through these questions so that you're super clear about it. Because again, like I said, the important thing here is that you'd be as equally is clear about your villain and your conflict as you are about the hero and the want.

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