Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lindsay Doran's Elements of a First Act

Producer Lindsay Doran recently gave a talk at Sony Pictures Animation on the topic of constructing a first act. As part of her talk she listed ten elements one might expect to find in the first act of a screenplay. She's happy to share the list but would be interested to hear if anyone thinks she left something out.


a. Establish the main character(s)

b. Establish what they want (this might change scene to scene, or even within a scene, so make sure it's clear what they want every second) (My most basic rule is: Nothing can happen till somebody wants something.)

c. Create a rooting interest -Do we want the main character to get what he wants, or are we rooting against it? (Stranger Than Fiction is an example of a character who wants his life to stay exactly the same while the audience wants to see his life shaken up. But once he realizes he's going to die, we're on his side.)

d. Establish the stakes - Why does it matter that the various characters get what they want? What will happen if they don’t? If the stakes aren't life or death, they still have to feel like life and death. (Wall*E isn't going to die if he never gets to hold someone's hand, but I can't bear the idea that he might never get to know that feeling for himself rather than watching it endlessly on an old tape of Hello Dolly. Annie in "Bridesmaids" isn't going to die if she loses Lillian's friendship, but underneath the comedy there are plenty of moments that show me how desperately lonely and unhappy she is, and that her life is spiraling downward, so I believe that it matters that she hangs on to that friendship.)

e. Establish the obstacles – These might also change from scene to scene or in the middle of a scene

f. Set up ticking clock - What creates time pressure for these characters?

g. Set up tone – Sometimes it's not clear that a script is supposed to be a comedy, or a drama mixed with comedy, or even a parody.

h. Set up theme (My talk was to the filmmakers at Sony Pictures Animation, and in animated movies theme is a crucial element. But I think it should be a crucial element in every movie.)

i. Create Suspense (Unless you're making The Tree of Life or Meek's Cutoff, every story should have suspense.)

j. Start the story – In other words, get to the premise. But take enough time with the other elements so that when the rubber band snaps - assuming the first act up until that moment has felt like a rubber band being pulled back - we really care.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Listen to "Ready for My Closeup, Ms. Mills" Mondays, 1:00-1:30pm, on KOOP, 91.7, streaming live at

Listen to "Ready for My Closeup, Ms. Mills" Mondays, 1:00-1:30pm (CST), on KOOP, 91.7, streaming live at AFF member Sherry Mills interviews (mostly) women and men in the creative arts and (mostly) film world. Contact her at

Listen to Sherry on the radio: "Ready for My Closeup, Ms. Mills!"
Mondays, 1:00-1:30pm, on KOOP, 91.7, streaming LIVE at!
Guest 11/14/11: Voice Actor & Coach Lainie Frasier of Voiceworks
Guest 11/7/11: Shelley Eager, Executive Director of the Austin Cinematic Symphony
Guest 11/2/11: Alex Ward, General Manager of I Luv Video
Guest 10/26/11: Author/Filmmaker Kelley Baker, AKA "The Angry Filmmaker"
Guest 10/19/11: Big Event Producer Debra Davis
Guests 10/12/11: Carla Jackson, Kelvin Phillips, Michael Morlan from the film "A Swingin' Trio"
Guest 10/5/11: Stephen Janisse & Kelly Williams, Programmers for the Austin Film Festival
Guest 9/28/11: Rebecca Campbell, Executive Director of the Austin Film Society
Guests 9/21/11: Steve Mims & Joe Bailey, producers of the documentary "Incendiary"
Guest 9/14/11: Actress/Writer/Designer Jolyn Janis
Guest 9/7/11: Jill Chamberlain, Founder/Director of the Screenwriting Workshop
Guest 8/31/11: Dr. Caroline Frick, UT R/T/F Faculty
Guests 8/24/11: Michelle Forbes & Laura Luthy of aGLIFF
Guests 8/17/11: Carolyn Banks & Jean Zurow of Upstart
Guests 8/10/11: Carlyn Hudson & Maggie Lea of East Austin Screenings
Guests 8/3/11: Amparo Garcia-Crow, Timeca Seretti, Carla Jackson, Chithra Jeyaram of the "Women of Color" panel & screening

Friday, November 04, 2011


In the running for Best Narrative Feature at the Austin Film Festival in 2008, Bigga Than Ben: A Russians' Guide to Ripping Off London is now raising funds towards its US release via an indieGoGo. The film made the Times Top 100 films of 2008 and received great reviews in the UK, opening on 85 screens in Russia (maybe they thought it was a real guide?) and winning awards. Starring Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian, Dorian Gray) and Andrei Chadov, Bigga Than Ben perks include signed Ben Barnes posters, credits and original paintings. Currently this is the only place you can buy the US version as a limited edition:

'Dark, funny, charming, fast, immoral, decadent and delightful...a fresh blast of foul air. Chadov and Barnes are the best double act buddies since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' - Cosmo Landesman, Sunday Times.

'Well it's not the sound of music' - my dad.