Life-Changing Events in Act I

In Act I, which represents the first 30 minutes of a typical 120-minute screenplay, the hero is stuck in a dead end life but extremely reluctant to leave it. That’s why Act I needs two life-changing events that force the hero to leave the dead end life and leap into a new world. The first life-changing event often occurs outside of the hero’s control, but the second life-changing event is solely in the hero’s control.

In “Beauty and the Beast,” the hero’s father gets lost in a forest and wanders into the Beast’s castle where he’s imprisoned. (An event out of the hero’s control.) That’s bad enough but when the hero (Belle) finds her father locked up in the castle, she volunteers to take his place. So the two life-changing events in “Beauty and the Beast” are:

  • The hero’s father gets imprisoned in a castle by a Beast
  • The hero volunteers to change places with her father as prisoner in the castle

In “Back to the Future,” the first life-changing event occurs when terrorists kill Doc in front of the hero, then see him and try to kill the hero too. To escape the terrorists, the hero takes off in the time machine.

Life-changing events in Act I exist solely to keep the hero from going back to his or her old way of life. In “Beauty and the Beast,” the hero has lost her father, which drastically changes her life. In “Back to the Future,” the hero witnesses his friend get gunned down before his eyes.

The life-changing events in Act I push the hero into action. Even if the hero chooses to do nothing, his or her life will already be changed forever. The first life-changing event intrudes into the hero’s life. The second life-changing event is the hero’s decision to find a way to fix the first life-changing event.

In “Green Book,” the first life-changing event occurs when the hero loses his job. To resolve this problem, he looks for a new job and gets a job driving a black pianist around the Deep South.

When writing your own screenplay, identify the two life-changing events in your story:

  • Something intrudes and alters the hero’s life
  • The hero tries to solve this first problem by taking action, which changes his or her life for good

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