The first half of Act II is where the hero enters a new world, gradually masters it, and achieves a goal — only to find out that it still hasn’t gotten him what he really wants.
By the end of Act I, the hero either voluntarily or is forced to take some action and enter a new world. Where Act I shows the hero in dreary surroundings and going nowhere in life, the first half of Act II (which I call Act IIa) focuses on two things:
First, the hero enters a new world and achieves minor success (30-45 minutes). Second, the hero pursues a False Victory and achieves it by the midpoint of the movie (45-60 minutes). The midpoint is typically the highest and most successful point for the hero of the entire movie so far.
In “Finding Nemo,” the first half begins with Nemo’s dad frantically swimming after the boat that has captured Nemo (Inciting Incident). After losing track of the boat, Nemo’s dad literally runs into Dory, his new ally. Typically, an ally appears in the last half of Act I. Nemo’s dad struggles with Dory’s memory loss problem (Rising Action) until both of them are found by a shark (Climax).
The second half of Act IIa occurs when the shark doesn’t eat them, but leads them away (Inciting Incident). During the meeting of sharks, Nemo’s dad is trying to escape and look for Nemo (Rising Action), and then he discovers the diver’s mask. The shark soon smells blood and chases Nemo’s dad and Dory into a submarine, which touches off a minefield (Climax).
At this point, Nemo’s dad has achieved his first major victory of the story, by escaping from the sharks and finding a clue that Nemo is in Sydney. This False Victory still hasn’t achieved the ultimate goal, which is to find Nemo, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Let’s take a look at the screenplay that taught me a lot about screenwriting, “Die Hard.” In the first half of Act IIa (30-45 minutes), Bruce Willis escapes from the terrorists (Inciting Incident), pulls the fire alarm to get help (Rising Action), and kills the terrorists sent to kill him (Climax).
In the second half of Act IIa (45-60 minutes), Bruce Willis sends back the dead terrorist’s body in the elevator (Inciting Incident), learns about the terrorists while getting caught while contacting the police (Rising Action), and finally gets the attention of the police by throwing a dead terrorist onto the police car’s window (Climax). This False Victory doesn’t achieve the ultimate goal of getting rid of the terrorists, but it does put pressure on the terrorists.
So Act IIa, the Positive Rising Action, follows the hero’s gradual growth from being lost and confused in Act I to achieving a high point at the midpoint of the movie (the end of Act IIa).
During Act IIa, the hero is on the offensive while the villain is typically pursuing a goal (starting in Act I) and suddenly finds himself on the defensive from the hero’s actions.
To review the 15 Minute Movie Method, here’s a quick summary of the main actions in each Act:
Act I — Exposition
n0-15 minutes: Hero introduced, problem stated, and peek into new world.
15-30 minutes: Hero meets a new ally and enters into a new world.
Act IIa — Positive Rising Action
30-45 minutes: Hero learns rules of new world but something disrupts his plans.
45-60 minutes: Hero achieves a False Victory.
Act IIb — Negative Rising Action
60-75 minutes: Villain takes control.
75-90 minutes: Villain achieves his goal, which puts hero isolated and alone.
Act III — Climax
90-105 minutes: Hero risks all
105-120 minutes: Hero confronts villain
The two halves of Act II (Act IIa and Act IIb) are like mirror images of each other. Where Act IIa begins with the hero confused and ends with a False Victory, Act IIb begins with the False Victory and ends with the hero more lost and isolated from his goal than ever before.
These 15 minute segments simply direct the ebb and flow of a typical screenplay story. In Act I, we see a lost hero. In Act IIa, we see the hero trying to achieve a goal. In Act IIb, we see the hero getting further away from the goal. In Act III, we see the hero fighting the climactic battle to either get or lose the goal for good.
This isn’t a screenplay writing formula any more than the 26 letters of the alphabet are a formula for writing words. Just use the 15 minute movie method as a framework to guide your story along. Nothing is set in stone.
The 15 minute movie method typically says an ally appears to the hero in Act I, but in “Finding Nemo,” the ally doesn’t appear until the first half of Act IIa. However, having an ally appear much later would probably not work at all. Just as long as you get the main story points in the right order, it doesn’t matter how many minutes you need to tell each part of your story just as long as you’ve created a story worth following in the first place.