At the 30 minute mark in a typical 120-minute screenplay, the hero makes a decision to leave an old world and leap into a new world. In “Star Wars” that occurs when Luke sees that storm troopers have killed his aunt and uncle so there’s no reason left for him to stay on the farm.
In “Back to the Future,” this occurs when Marty hops into the time machine and travels back to 1955 to avoid getting killed by terrorists.
In “Die Hard,” this occurs when John McClane witnesses the villain killing the corporate president and runs away.
The 30 minute mark acts like a one-way door where the hero enters, knowing his or her life will never be the same again. For many screenwriters, writing Act I up to the 30 minute mark is fairly easy. The hard part is the next fifteen minutes.
The general guidepost at the 45 minute mark is that the hero meets an ally or gets hope of some kind. Between the 30 – 45 minute mark, the hero is entering an unfamiliar world and usually needs help. That help often comes in the form of an ally.
Watch any two hour movie for this 45 minute mark and you’ll see that’s when the hero meets an ally who can help him or her. In “Star Wars,” the 45 minute mark is when Luke meets Hans Solo, who can take him off his planet in the Millennium Falcon.
In “Die Hard,” the 45 minute mark is when John McClane finally gets through to the police and convinces them to send a police officer to investigate the skyscraper.
In “Back to the Future,” the 45 minute mark is when Marty (the hero) meets his mom and dad when they were younger, who will later help him make sure he’s born in the future.
The 45 minute mark represents hope. At the end of Act I, the hero enters a new world. Just when things start looking bleak in this new world for the hero, an ally or other form of hope appears to give the hero a chance to finally achieve a False Victory at the 60 minute mark.
At the 60 minute or halfway mark, the hero often achieves a False Victory that appears to be the initial goal, but only achieves a physical element, but not an emotional one. The 45 minute mark helps bridge the gap between the 30 minute mark where the hero enters a new world and the 60 minute mark where the hero achieves a False Victory.
The 45 minute mark provides hope. Watch a great two hour movie and you’ll find that approximately the 45 minute mark, the hero meets an ally or some kind. In shorter movies, this 45 minute mark obviously occurs earlier, but you can spot it when the hero meets an ally.
“Legally Blonde” is 1.5 hours long, but you can spot this moment when the hero meets an ally in the form of a hair dresser. At the end of Act I, the hero has been accepted in law school. Now that she’s in law school, she faces new challenges.
She has to pass her tough law classes and get back with her boyfriend. Initially, she fails at both. Her law professor humiliates her and her classmates think she’s a ditzy blonde. In the meantime, her boyfriend announces that he’s engaged to marry another woman.
The combination of being humiliated in law school and feeling unprepared, and seeing her boyfriend engaged to another woman is too much for the hero. So she needs hope at this point and she finds it in the form of a hairdresser who becomes her ally.
The next time you watch a two hour movie, look for this moment of hope when the hero meets someone new who typically turns into an ally. Although not as obvious as the 30 minute mark defining the end of Act I, the 45 minute mark is just as important in keeping your story moving forward.