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If your film is about an astronaut who gets stranded in space, your first turning-point is when he gets stranded in space.

If your film is about a woman who gets kidnapped by a serial-killer and has to escape, your first turning-point is when she gets kidnapped. The second turning-point is her escape.

If your film is about a dog who learns how to speak English - the first words to come out of his mouth come at the first turning-point. It’s when everyone (or just someone) learns that he can talk.

If your film is about a towering inferno, the fire breaks out in the apartment building at your first turning-point. The first act will be getting everyone into the doomed building.

The first turning-point is when your protagonist learns of his quest or goal. It gives him raison d' être. A reason for being.

When you tell people what your screenplay is about, you are telling them what the first turning-point is! That - and, pretty much, nothing more.

‘My movie is about a guy who has to save the world from giant, killer caterpillars!’

Well, the giant wormy ones probably start attacking at the first turning-point! And, you can probably bet that the opening-scene is an inciting-incident where the caterpillars land on Earth or kill some guy out in the woods somewhere, then right afterwards is when the protagonist is introduced in his idyllic life. See how easy it is to write like Hollywood?!!

What’s your screenplay about? When people ask, what do you tell them?

‘It’s about a guy who…’ A guy who does… Something.

Well, that something is your first turning-point! It’s when your protagonist (and the audience) finds out what his goal is, what he has to do by the end of the film in order to ‘win’.

When I tell you that a lot of people in Hollywood don’t even know this stuff, I’m not kidding! For instance, ALLIED (2016) was on cable last night, so let’s talk about that movie. It’s a $100+ million budget film about a Canadian intelligence officer in WWII, starring Brad Pitt.

Now, before I even watched the film, I looked it up online and noticed that it wasn’t a Canadian co-production. It was actually a US-British-Chinese film. My, isn’t that odd? Why on Earth would they make a Canadian the protagonist, instead of an American (or even a Brit)?… They would never make a Chinese character the protagonist, but they never make Canadians the protagonist either. So, what gives??? Being Canadian, I was worried right from the get-go. The protagonist must do something extremely bad for the film-makers to make him a Canadian! Uh oh, this doesn’t bode well…

Back to the film… Allied is about Brad Pitt’s Canadian air-force pilot and intelligence officer - whose wife is accused of being a Nazi spy! Now, you’ve been reading this site, so you can probably tell me right now, what’s the first-turning point?

It’s obvious, right? This-right-here is the first turning-point, isn’t it? When the protagonist finds out about the accusations that his wife is a spy?

When 1st Turning-Points Go Wrong: The First Turning-Point!

Screenwriting 101:

PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT

SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

SCREENPLAY TEMPLATE

SAMPLE SCREENPLAY PAGES

BEGINNER SCREENWRITERS

FILM SCHOOLS

SCREENWRITING DEGREES

SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE

HOW LONG SHOULD EACH ACT BE?

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

START WRITING NOW

STORY-STRUCTURE TEMPLATE

THE FIRST TURNING POINT

THE SECOND TURNING POINT

PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER-ARC

GET COVERAGE


FORWARD Where Does the First Turning-Point Go?

Audiences are fickle. They will give you a while to get to the point, but they won’t give you forever. And, attention-spans are plummeting fast. So, if you want to keep audiences interested and happy, you have to keep things moving. For your screenplay, that means that you have to tell them what’s really going on pretty fast.

Like 22 minutes fast. The length of a typical sitcom.

If you don’t tell your audience what’s going on for half-an-hour, they’re going to lose interest QUICKLY. A hundred years of Hollywood films tells us you really only have about 20 or so minutes to get to the point.

If your first turning-point is at 25 minutes, you can probably get away with it. Half and hour and you’re really pushing it. Any more than that, and you are just shooting yourself in the foot (see below). Your audience will have long-since gotten bored and changed the channel.

Also, you don’t want it too early. You need to introduce everyone first. And, definitely don’t mistake the inciting-incident for your first turning-point. The inciting incident is often called the ‘minor inciting incident’ and the first turning point the ‘major inciting incident’ so it’s easy to confuse the two.

An inciting-incident often has nothing to do with the protagonist (such as our killer caterpillars above), whereas the first turning-point typically has everything to do with the main-character (all of a sudden the protagonist is faced with killer caterpillars and is forced to act in order to save the world).

Pay attention to where the first turning point is in every movie you watch! You’ll notice that it’s always around minute 23 or so. At Minute 15, you’ll have no idea what’s going on, but by Minute 25, you know exactly what’s going on and exactly what the protagonist has to do.

The 1st turning-point tells you what the film’s about - and Allied is about a man whose wife is an accused spy. So, that’s the first turning point, the second the audience hears that the wife could be a spy.

But, the screenwriter puts it in the wrong place! It doesn’t come until almost an hour into the film! If you’re wondering why the film is so boring - this is why! The first turning-point comes literally 30 minutes too late! The audience has no idea what’s going on for almost the first hour. Which is also why the film is so long. It could have been half an hour shorter if the first turning point was in the right spot.

So, how did this get made? And, not just made, but how did it garner a hundred-million dollar budget (plus as much again for prints & advertising)? Because the writer created a billion-dollar franchise (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?)! So, no one will ever point out that his structure is terrible and his movie is boring because of it.

So, what’s so bad that they had to make the protagonist a Canadian?… Well, the second turning-point actually! There, the main-character finds out that his wife actually is a spy. And, what does he do in the third act? He betrays his country (and the Allies) to try and save her. He fails and, in the end, has to put a bullet in her head himself.

Obviously, this type of character couldn’t possibly be American (or British). Sigh...

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