GUY: Here’s my pitch: A guy must bond with his gambler father to get closure on his childhood.
ME: Great. What’s the second act?
GUY: Well, it’s whatever happens between page 25 and page 90.
ME: Right, but how is this explored? So he needs to bond with his father. Do they bond by surfing? Kidnapping a girl? Planning a casino heist.
ME: But they could, right? You see how each avenue of exploration changes the genre, tone and visuals of the movie. How is yours explored?
GUY: I don’t know.
ME: Then you only have half an idea.
The second act is the exploration of the idea. It’s the money part.
The three act structure tends to trip people up. People are either way too into it, or they’re way too dismissive of it. While it’s true that many professional writers don’t set out to neatly color within the lines as they’re writing their work, it’s also true that the three act structure is a useful teaching tool for people who are looking for something, anything to hang an understanding off of as they’re starting out.
I’ve heard of college classes where they read each other’s screenplays, but only the second act. That’s apocryphal, but I love that idea, because the second act is the movie.
People either get this or they don’t. This is why the premise test is useful .
If all stories can be broken down like this. It’s not the only way, but it’s a way.
An <ADJECTIVE> <PROTAGONIST TYPE> must <GOAL> or else <STAKES>. They do this by <DOING> and learns <THEME>.
The doing is the important part. If you know what your main characters spends the most time doing, you have a movie. If you don’t know, you idea is likely under developed.