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Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Lesson 8 of 18

Script Structure: Events Along the Journey

Hal Ackerman

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Hal Ackerman

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Lesson Info

8. Script Structure: Events Along the Journey

Lesson Info

Script Structure: Events Along the Journey

Now I knew that movies have acts, a new place that acts. Okay, what is gonna be Act two in a movie and again? A. So I started to watch these. I start to see again a repetition of things that around, you know, the sort of 70 or 80 minute mark in a story against something gigantically significant would occur. And usually it was something horrendous, whether even whether it was in a tragedy melodrama, even in a comedy, something terrible would happen. The thing that happens at the end of Act two is the worst thing that can happen to the protagonist. Short of death in The Godfather, it is the moment where his wife gets killed even in a comedy light comedy, like a movie like Splash that happened. It came out a 1,000, years ago when, when the character is in love with somebody who secretly was a mermaid at the end of Act two, he sees that she's a mermaid and he can't be in love with her. And so I started to As I started to realize, all of this I began for myself to to invent a kind of a tool...

that I call Asi. No, Graham, thank you for asking about that. Uh, and this scene, O gram is kind of like unturned all m r I of the key elements of a story. Because in addition to the three act to the big events that indeed eject I also noted that each act itself could almost be divided into a three act structure. And I started to realize, as I looked at all these these sort of time codes that I was doing for myself, that a key event, a really strong, strong event was happening almost every 10 pages, almost every 10 minutes. We'll put it that way, Uh, in a story. So on most scripts, I started to read movie scripts, something that that's a very important thing for all of us to do. All of this should read movie scripts, that and movie scripts, or roughly 100 roughly 110 pages. And I realized that roughly about every 10 pages, something important was happening. So I started. I created this scene, O gram, and if you if you look, I think you all have one in your packet. There are in Act One, which ends right over here. This bottom. You see, there are three big boxes down here is the box that ends act one, Act two and three. And in each of these, each of these boxes, when they will be filled in there would be one event. So the said the end of after one of the Godfather, Michael kills the police lieutenant and Salat. So the end of Act two a Polonia gets killed in the car crash. But what I noticed was that there be every 10 minutes or so. They would also be a very important event occurring. And so I would fill these things. And in each of these boxes, there would be one key event occurring. And so if you look if so, if you would, too, if you were to make a scene a gram for for you know, any film that you saw and you just read the events just the one liner description of each event that happened in each of these key 11 scenes, plus the exposition scene in the inciting event that we're gonna talk about in just a moment you would in those sequence in that that's that sequence of 13 events. You would really have told the essence of that whole story. So let's look for a second at the A C No Graham for The Godfather. That is also in your in your packet there. So there are some some key components that go into this thing here. What what I want you to notice is that the first important ones we said Michael kills three. End of Act one. Michael kills those two people. The end of act to a Polonia is killed dyes. And in the end of Act three, Michael slaughters his enemies. But if we look at some of the events that preceded, if we think about Act one having three act to it. The act the end of Act one of AC one is Michael moves his father out of that hospital room. Very wheels about. So if the exposition of Michael is when he says, that's my family, it's not me. And so how does he get from that moment to this moment? Well, it goes in steps. The first step. First important step. He wills his father out. And if any of you if you remember the Godfather very well, he whispers into his father's here. I'm with you now, pop. So there is a movement from that's my family. It's not me, too. I'm with you now, Pop. The next important movement is the decision is made that they're gonna have to kill those two people, the people who try to assassinate the Godfather because they thought he was dead. But he's alive and Michael volunteers to do it. And then the end of Act one, which is sort of the Act three of Act One, is that Michael actually kills it and supported its very important for you to understand the difference between a decision to do something and the act itself. That's why Michael's decision to make to kill them is not the end of Act one, because you can always go back on a decision. There's no consequence to a decision until the decision is made. Okay, and then if we look at look at the remainder of back to in The Godfather again, the key elements that happen, Um, the Don done learns that Michael was Michael now goes to Italy on Don Corleone, learns that Michael has done it, and it hurts him deeply because he wanted Michael to stay out. Then in Italy, Michael meets a Polonia. Very important, because that's gonna be the women in his life. Then Michael marries at Polonia, and then in New York, Sonny is killed, and then abalone gets killed. So these air the key events along the way, we're gonna talk in more detail about this in a little bit. Um, and then Act three again. Key events. Think of Act three having its three act structure, um, again, roughly well, the godfathers. A long movie. But roughly 10 minutes apart in New York, a peace deal was made so Michael can come home. Hey is home. He proposed the k on Ben. Um, the Don dies and Michael ascends. And then in the very end, Michael slaughters all of his enemies and the ring is kissed. And so if we look at the very beginning, that's my family. It's not me to the very end of Michael becoming the Godfather. That is the story of the Godfather. And so it's, I think it's It's important for all of us to study in this way existing films because we have to be practitioners of our craft. I mean, think about any occupation. I have some some folks about sports and stuff, but you know, ah football coach and a football team. They study the game film of their opponents because they want to learn about them. We have to learn about the thing that we are trying to produce, right. It is respect for the craft for us to understand that so that more movies we see, the more scripts we read and the more we use either this tool or some tools like it to help us understand the structure of a story that exists because what we want to do is now become not just, ah analysts, which is what this does but become synthesizes become. How do we now take what we learned about looking at the stories that we have looked at and now apply them to our stories? That's the important thing. The important thing here is not necessarily that you go to a party and you know what third but in the third made plot beat and godfather is nobody cares that you know that. But as practitioners, you need to know that and you need to care that you know that not because you know about the Godfather, but because you want to become intuitive practitioners of a very difficult craft which is constructing Ah, full story and not, you know, not just, you know, a seven or a page short story, not just a, you know, a longer nonfiction piece. Creative nonfiction might be a 30 or 40 pages. It has its inherent structure to it. But a movie story which which is a commercial piece which you know, one of the differences between a screenplay and any other piece of literature different from a novel different from a poem different from creative nonfiction from a short story Because those are all in their finished form. A poem is a poem A a novel is a novel, nothing more happens to it. A screenplay is only a step along the way to becoming a movie. And so we have to it. So it has to conform if we think of ourselves as as professionals. Right? You know, sometimes you can write poetry Just because you want to is for your own joy. Same thing with stories. You may not care that they get published or not, but for the most part, if we're writing a screenplay, it's because we want it to become a film. And so what we need to do is that the script itself needs to conform to certain industry standards. And people who are reading those scripts know what the standards are. What's your take on screen writing books that de emphasize the three act structure specifically like the sequence structure? And would those sequences be equivalent to what you've laid out with, like each sequence ending with the events like this one? Yeah. I mean, I think that that that movie stories do have an inherent structure to them, you know? I mean, there's so many ways of looking at anything really, Um, and what I'm trying to offer you here in my A in this course and in the way which I approach story is a way of finding the truth in your story. And there is almost no story that doesn't inherently have a beginning. A middle and an end to it. Now, in some especially third world of films, the beginning middle and do not necessarily come in that order, you know you have South American films. Good. Are you know the French New Wave. They did not necessarily go in linear order, but there still was. There still was an inherent emotional through line and emotional structure to it movie, and we talked about this a little bit later on one of the later steps that there are other techniques, flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling. But before we get into the fancy stuff, I think it's important for us to understand the basics. We need toe absolutely understand how to think about the inherent truth of a story and going back to Aristotle. You know, it has a beginning and has a middle and has an end on. We need to understand what that is, and then we can fool around, You know, once we know, you know, once you know how to play. Weaken drove the hunter backs.

Class Description

The most overwhelming, yet critical step for the screenwriter is the first draft. Staring at a blank sheet of paper can induce "writers block" faster than any other challenge facing a screenwriter. Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft will equip you with a roadmap for tackling your initial draft and guide you to the next steps on the scriptwriting journey. 

In this class, Hal Ackerman will teach you how to jumpstart the writing process and complete a written first draft of your screenplay. You’ll learn how to:
  • Organize your ideas into scenes and acts
  • Approach character development and dialogue
  • Take next steps after the first draft is complete
Hal has been teaching screenwriting to students at UCLA since 1985. He has sold material to all the broadcast networks and authored well-known books on the art of screenplay writing and selling In this class, he’ll offer actionable insights on developing your concepts and turning your ideas into a compelling and complete script.

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft is your opportunity to learn how to conquer one of screenwriting’s greatest challenges and get your ideas developed and down on paper. 

Check out our complete collection of filmmaking classes here


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Hal Ackerman is the Man!!! Loved this course and will be watching it again. Mr. Ackerman is one of those people who truly wants to help you get better at your craft. He's encouraging yet realistic about what it takes to write a great screenplay. I highly recommend this interesting and helpful class.


After taking a number of other screenwriting courses, I can tell you that Hal Ackerman's course, The Art of the First Draft, is the BEST EVER!! His methodology of teaching is fantastic. He takes you on this journey from start to finish in a way that you WILL KNOW how to write a script by the time you finish this course. I liked how he used examples throughout his training to help you better understand screenwriting. If you really want to learn how to be a good screenwriter, then I would highly recommend taking Hal's course. You won't be disappointed.


I've read a lot of books on the subject and I've been to a few seminars. Hal Ackerman's class is genuinely one of the best and the most helpful classes I have experienced. What makes the class so great is that every concept has you putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard right away. Ackerman really has tools that are called to be used. Thanks for the wonderful resource.