The basic structure of every movie can be divided into eight 15 minute segments. The basis for the 15 Minute Movie Method is that all movies can be divided into eight distinct segments. Since the average movie is 120 minutes long, these eight segments roughly correspond to 15 minutes each. Of course, all movies differ slightly in the length of each segment, but the general principles holds firm. All movies consist of eight segments that are roughly 15 minutes in length (for a 120 minutes movie). If a movie only lasts 90 minutes (common in animated movies), then each segment is roughly 11 minutes).
Don’t get too hung up over the exact time length; just be aware that movies consist of eight distinct parts.
Act I — Exposition
- Make hero likable
- State hero’s problem
- Hero offered change but refuses
- Hero deals with old world in a new light
- Teams up with an ally
- A door opens to new world
Act IIa — Rising Action
- Taking action
- Learning new world
- On a new path
- Implementing a plan
- First conflict with villain
- False victory
Act IIb — Rising Action
- Villain fights back
- Hero on the run
- First villain victory
- New problem for hero
- Villain takes control
- Hero isolated
Act III — Climax
- Noose tightening around hero
- Villain succeeds in his goal
- Hero risks all
- Confrontation with villain
- Who wins?
Act I: Exposition
Segment #1 (0-15 minutes) introduces the hero, states the problem, and defines the conflict.
Segment #2 (15-30 minutes) shows the hero in the same world, but something has changed that will never be the same. This is the segment where the hero meets with an ally who will prove useful later on.
Act IIa: Positive Rising Action
Segment #3 (30-45 minutes) shows the hero entering a new world and pursuing a plan to reach a goal. This is where the hero initially succeeds.
Segment #4 (45-60 minutes) shows the hero first battling the villain and winning, but culminating in a False Victory. In other words, the goal that the hero set out to pursue at the beginning of Act II has been reached, but it still doesn’t solve the hero’s ultimate problem.
Act IIb: Negative Rising Action
Segment #5 (60-75 minutes) shows the villain fighting back and putting the hero on the defensive. This is usually where the villain tastes the first success over the hero.
Segment #6 (75-90 minutes) shows the villain taking control of the situation and leaving the hero isolated in a hopeless situation. This is often a point where somebody helpful to the hero dies or is lost, compounding the hero’s sense of isolation and despair.
Act III: Climax
Segment #7 (90-105 minutes) shows the hero in worse circumstances while the villain succeeds in his goal. This is the point where the hero risks everything to succeed.
Segment #8 (105-120 minutes) shows the hero confronting the villain face to face and ultimately winning (or losing).
I’ll go over each segment in more detail later, but this is the essence of the 15 Minute Movie Method.
Divide a movie into eight parts.
Each part serves a distinct purpose in the story.
Each part contains its own Exposition, Rising Action, and Climax.
Writing 15 minute mini-movies is far easier than trying to create an entire 30-minute script for Act I or Act II, or a daunting 60-minute script for Act II. All you need to focus on is 15 minutes of your screenplay at a time, link these separate 15 minute segments together, and then you’ll have a complete screenplay.
It’s far easier to write a 15 minute mini-movie compared to trying to write a monstrous 120 minute movie. By just focusing on a little part at a time, you can craft a structured screenplay. Think of the 15 Minute Movie Method as a general framework and it’s up to you to build around it. Without such a framework, you’re stuck trying to build something with no guidance whatsoever, and that’s why screenwriting can be so frustrating. Eliminate the frustration and focus on 15 minute segments. You may be astounded at how simple this one technique alone can help you shape your ideas into a structured screenplay.