Every movie is a mystery. You tease the audience with tidbits of information and once you’ve got them hooked, then they’ll want to see how it all turns out.
Every movie essentially begins in the middle of some action that we don’t quite understand. If a movie truly began at the beginning, it would be too boring for us to care. By opening a movie in the middle of some action, it immediately grabs our attention and makes us wonder, “What’s going on?”
As the story progresses, we should gradually learn a few things right away. First, we need to know who the villain is. In some movies like “Star Wars,” the villain is easily recognized as a single person. In other movies like “Monsters vs. Aliens,” the villain isn’t shown in the beginning. INstead, we see a meteor, which represents the villain since it’s the goal that the villain wants to possess.
The beginning of every movie needs to tell us who the villain is, who the hero is, and what the hero wants. Now we’ll have a reason to watch.
Roughly by the halfway point, we should have a clear idea what problems the hero is facing and what the villain is trying to achieve. By the second half of most movies, we’re no longer wondering what’s going on. Instead, we’re wondering, what’s going to happen next?
It’s this subtle shift that makes the two halves of every movie. The first half is the mystery part where you as the screenwriter gradually doles out the information about the story until the audience finally understands what’s happening.
By the second half of the movie, we should already know what’s happening so we switch oru focus to what will happen next?
In “Star Wars,” we’re gradually learning more about the Death Star and what Darth Vader wants. In the second half of the movie, we know what Darth Vader wants and now it’s just a race between the hero and the villain to see who can get to the finish line first.
In “Die Hard,” by the halfway point, we know who and what the terrorists really want. Now it’s just like a roller coaster at the top of a hill, ready to start its descent. The first half of “Die Hard” is about trying to figure out what the terrorists are doing. The second half is about just battling the terrorists.
In “WALL-E,” the first half is just figuring out who Eve is and what is this massive spaceship that Even is returning to. By the halfway point, we know what the villain is trying to do and now it’s just a matter of watching the hero and villain struggle with the hero rushing to an inevitable confrontation with the villain.
In “Terminator 2,” the halfway point is where everyone is safe at the out of the way camp where all the weapons are stashed away. Up until then, we’ve been trying to figure out who the villain is and what he wants along with how it (the liquid metal Terminator) works.
After the halfway point, it’s all downhill with the heroes battling the liquid metal Terminator. The second half of every movie is mostly about conflict while the first half is mostly about exposition to the villain’s goal, which gets teased out to us in little pieces ntil we understand what’s going on.
The first half of the movie is like setting up a bunch of dominoes in a pattern. The second half of a movie is lke knocking those dominoes down.
Think of your movie as two halves. First, the Mystery of what’s going on. Second, the Battle where the hero starts battling the villain. During this second half of the movie, we rarely see new characters introduced. Everything we need to know appears in the first half of the movie.
By thinking of your movie as two separate halves, you can better structure your story so it teases an audience at the beginning, then satisfies their need for action in the second half of the movie.