First Turning Point In Screenplay Structure: Opportunity and New Situation by Michael Hauge


Film Courage:  Now that you’ve explained the 6-stages and we’ve already talked about Stage 1 (the set-up) can you also talk about what happens in Stage 2 (we’re still in Act 1)?

Michael Hauge:  Yes.  So I said at the 10 percent point of the story something that has never happened to the hero before is going to happen and that is the Opportunity.  It can be something good, meeting the person of their dreams if it’s a romantic comedy, let’s say.  It can be something terrible, like the first body of the serial killer movie is discovered or the spaceship that the aliens are landing on earth in shows up.  Whether it’s good or bad, it’s going to be something that forces the hero into Stage 2  into a new situation.  And in this stage the primary goal of the character is to figure out what’s going on (I’ve entered this new world).  Sometimes in movies it’s even a change in geography.  To go back to quite an old movie now, THELMA AND LOUISE, it’s when they leave town and go out to spend the weekend at some guy’s cabin or something like that.  In THE FIRM, when he takes the job with Bendini, Lambert & Locke  and he and his wife head to Memphis.  It could be a geographical change, it might not be.  But they are in a new situation and they have to figure out “What am I doing here?  What are the rules of this world I have entered.  What is expected of me or how do I deal with the news of the discovery of that body?  Or what am I going to do with this person I just met?”

A movie that I really enjoyed a lot this year is EYE IN THE SKY.  And we meet our hero Helen Mirren waking up and we see her living her every day life and we see that she is in the military and so on and when she gets a call and when she gets to the base or wherever it is, she discovers that they have found or they have confirmed that a group of terrorists, particularly these two Americans have shown up and she’s been doggin’ after them.  So she’s got to figure out how are we going to be following them or capturing them once they are all together.  She’s trying to figure out “What do I do?”

On the inner journey level in Stage 1 we see the character living fully in his identity.  Okay, like I mentioned Will Hunting in GOOD WILL HUNTING.  Or if you take a character like Hitch (HITCH Movie) who has also had his heart broken, so he is shut down.  He will help other people find love but he doesn’t believe in love for himself.  He’s stuck.

Stage 2, the character is still in his identity.  Still fully protected but the character will get a glimpse of what living fully, what living in his essence might be like.  So that is in HITCH when he first meets Albert Brenneman, the Kevin James character, for all of his schlubby personality is way more courageous and way more understanding of the value of falling in love than Hitch is.  So he gets just a look at what that might be like.  He doesn’t really register but we recognize “Okay, this is what this person needs to learn.”  We recognize early on in this story this is the journey this character needs to go on inside.  And then at the end of Stage 2 comes what I call the Change of Plans, another key turning point.  Another thing happens that has never happened before and that is going to move the character from figuring out what is going on to formulating the goal, the visible goal and taking the first steps to achieve it.

So, when that happens, let’s go back to EYE IN THE SKY.  What happens there is they discover that these terrorists have moved to a different location.  The location they can’t go in to capture the terrorists because it will create chaos outside.  The only way they can stop them is to use a drone, fire a missile, and bomb them.  Kill them, just blow them into oblivion.  So now the outer motivation for Helen Mirren becomes she wants to use a missile or a drone to kill the terrorists in this building.  And the rest of the movie will be her pursuit of the goal and all the obstacles she will encounter in trying to get there, all of the conflict.  And I didn’t mention it but I should have mentioned this earlier in the interview, but I’ll say it now…I began this by saying the primary goal of any storyteller is to illicit emotion.  One thing that is critical to understand is emotion comes out of conflict, not desire.  So the more you can build up the obstacles your characters have to face, the more emotionally involved the story will be.

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