In an interview in New York Magazine, Damon Lindelof says: "The first 90 minutes of the movie are really an exercise in getting people to care about the people in the movie [so you can put] those people in jeopardy in the final set piece." Which seems to imply that the story is over before that final set piece... which is wrong in so many ways! And what is wrong with many of today's movies - including those written by Lindelof and pals. Whether it's the fault of the writers or the system, the result is the same.

Too many films from the summer of 2013 had the same issue - even though we know how the films will end - Superman will fight Zod and win - Act Three seems to missing the *journey* part... the *story* part. It's all rote. Just a big fight with no story left to tell. Did they correct this in the summer films of 2014? Nope. How about summer of 2023? Still a problem in some films! This is one of the reasons why the summer films have all seemed the same - when we get to the ending they *are* the same!

Once Act Three kicks in, the screenwriter has abdicated the story to the director who has abdicated the story to the FX guys... and they create a bunch of destruction that has no story. No journey. Without any story left, there is no real reason to watch the movie - except maybe the spectacle of destruction... and once you've destroyed some big Manhattan-like city, we've seen it and you need to show us a completely different spectacle. Destroying a city on film is used - like used toilet paper. You have to destroy something different... and in a different way. Every film needs to be different - and if there is no *story* left to make it individual, we're stuck finding brand new Act Threes.

In SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING's chapters on writing action sequences I stress that an action scene needs to be about character and story or it's trash. The same is true with that big action set piece in Act Three. If there is no story - it's just Superman fighting Zod for 30 minutes - it's trash. Even though your protagonist may have dealt with their emotional conflict at the beginning of Act Three, there are still a bunch of repercussions left over from before they got their sh*t together that still need to be resolved (along with the physical conflict). Plus, just because the protag may now realize that this is their world and they belong here... that doesn't mean that other people have accepted him or that resolving the physical conflict won't have some messy emotional issues. Your Act Three will still have story and emotions and character elements... or it's trash.

Also in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREEENWRITING one of the important techniques, even when the action scene is about character and story, is the use of *reversals* (complete with quote from the great Shane Black in the book) - story on a small scale... baby steps in the journey. A fight scene is not "they fight" - it's a story on a small scale. The outcome may be close to predetermined, but we still need the journey - where we worry that the protag may lose... or win at some expense. But these huge CGI battles tend to have no reversals, making them *dull action*. I think that's because these scenes end up being passed on to the Directors and CGI guys who aren't the *story experts*. "We'll have this gigantic fight scene where they destroy half the city!" and it's the same fight in every movie (often involving giant mechanical worms - why is that?). And because we *know* that the MAN OF STEEL will win the fight, it's boring. No twists, no big emotional moments, no tough decisions - just fightin'. You can safely leave the cinema when the fight begins because you won't miss anything. (Okay, you'll miss the outrage in MAN OF STEEL over millions of people probably killed as collateral damage.)

And that's the result of an Act Three without story - nothing to distract you from lapses in logic or problems with the pointless action itself. In MAN OF STEEL many people have complained about the millions who were no doubt killed in the destruction of New York City (er, I mean Metropolis). Defenders have told me that the city was evacuated - except we see Perry White and some other Daily Planet folks trying to escape... still in harms way. The Daily Planet people would be the first to escape - which means most of the city was still in those buildings that were destroyed. And once we get to the portion of this endless battle that takes place in Grand Central Station - it's still filled with people! This makes Superman kind of a mega-mass murderer for not taking this fight to someplace less populated. If there was some *story* left to tell, we wouldn't be so focused on the problems with the battle.

I know what you're thinking: "But Bill, MAN OF STEEL is a summer superhero movie! You can't expect Act Three to have story and character stuff!"

I'm so glad you thought that.


Shall we look at another summer superhero movie and compare? How about 2002`s SPIDER-MAN (which I still think is the best in the series - even though the Villain's Plan and Villain are kind of weak... this series just seemed to slip with every installment until Spider-Man was disco dancing for some reason so they had to reboot it... and that hasn't worked out so well.) SPIDER-MAN's Act Three was a series of epic battles... that still have *plenty* of story to tell, and do it in a mostly exciting way.

Main squeeze Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has been kidnaped by Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) - who dangles her from one hand and a tram car full of children in the other... dangling both hundreds of feet in the air! Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is given a choice by Green Goblin: "Let die the woman you love, or suffer the little children?" Then Green Goblin drops *both* at the same time. Unlike the passive battles in Act Three of MAN OF STEEL (yes, he's fighting; no he doesn't have to make any tough decisions except maybe for the moment where he has to save some token innocent people in Grand Central Station after thousands of other innocents have died a few minutes earlier), Spider-Man's battle is *active* - he must always be making really tough choices. "Make your choice Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded." There is a crowd on the bridge *watching* this portion of the battle - what will Spider-Man do? Who will he choose to save?

You see how that's active and involving? How that is still story? The story will radically change if Spider-Man saves Mary Jane and allows the kids to die... and change in a different way if he saves the kids and Mary Jane dies. We do not know how this will resolve - even though we still know that Spider-Man will win this battle by the end. It's *the journey*!

"We are who we choose to be," Green Goblin says. "Choose!"

There's a great shot of Spider-Man's face, where Mary Jane is reflected in one eye and the tram of children in the other; as Spider-Man decides. A *visual* way to show him considering which he should do - and something that could easily have been in the screenplay.

And then Spider-Man makes his choice.

And saves Mary Jane!

But he's a smart superhero, and has a plan - he swings around with Mary Jane in his arms and grabs the tram cable - holding both hundreds of feet in the air. Not easy. And two things add to the suspense (and story) in this part of the scene - his web can not hold both the tram and Mary Jane and Spider-Man and is beginning to tear... so all of them may fall to their death; and Green Goblin is attacking! What will happen? Will Spider-Man's plan backfire and *all of them* will end up dying?

Okay, there's even more story at this point! There is a barge in the river that is coming to the rescue... if Spider-Man's web will hold out. But it's moving *slowly*. Will it make it there in time? Plus, Spider-Man tells Mary Jane she must climb down the tram cable to the tram so that he can safely lower her down to the barge with the kids... when the barge finally gets here. Mary Jane isn't sure she can do this... and might lose her grip and fall to her death. See how even though we are pretty sure Mary Jane won't be killed, this has us wondering if we might be wrong... and worrying that those kids who probably won't be in the sequel might die a horrible death in front of the crowd of onlookers on the bridge?

In this scene, Spider-Man's web *does* give out, Mary Jane almost falls to her death, Green Goblin continues attacking, Spider-Man has to let go of the tram full of kids for a moment... then catch them, Mary Jane *does* fall - but barely manages to grab the edge of the tram, the barge put-puts along ("He's not going to make it!"), and the crowd on the bridge takes a side - they throw debris at Green Goblin when he tries to kill Spider-Man. (This is a much better "public sides with Spidey" scene than the runaway train scene in SPIDER-MAN 2.) "You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!" The barge finally gets there, Spider-Man lowers the tram full of kids and Mary Jane, and all is over...


Because Green Goblin slams Spider-Man into an old building, and the next part of this battle begins. This is the mano-a-mano fight portion, and these can become boring without great reversals... except this story still has plenty of story left. By the way - this fight scene *does* have plenty of great reversals - Spider-Man is taking a beating, and his last ditch effort to shoot a web at Green Goblin is thwarted. "You've spun your last web, Spider-Man," as the villain steps on his wrist. "Had you not been so selfish, your little girlfriend's death would have been quick and painless. But now that you've really pissed me off, I'm gonna finish her nice and slow." So this fight scene isn't just about Spider-Man and Green Goblin... but also about Mary Jane. It's mano-a-mano *with tangible stakes*.

But there is still story - still major plot twists. In the middle of this fight, Green Goblin's secret identity is revealed to Spider-Man. It's his best friend's Dad! "I've been like a father to you. Be a son to me now." Okay, how do you kill your best friend's Dad? Yeah, he's a super villain and killed some people... but he really has been a father figure to you. New information changes the scene. This is no longer just some hero vs. villain mano-a-mano fight, it's a huge messy decision where no matter what Spider-Man does it's wrong. Let the villain live? Can't do that in a movie. Kill your best friend's dad? Can't do that in a movie, either! So what does he do? What *can* he do? This is a great dilemma - and whatever his decision will change the course of the story - even though we are close to the end of the big Act Three fight scene! Can't leave the cinema yet! Still plenty of story to go!

There's a great *moment* that comes here that resolves an emotional conflict from the beginning of this story - Peter Parker is an orphan raised by his Aunt May & Uncle Ben, but searching for a father figure.... and Osborne was that father figure for a while (after Peter contributed to the murder of his uncle). Now Osborne is asking that Peter be a son to him... and Peter declares, "I have a father, his name was Ben Parker." A big emotional moment - in the middle of the fight scene!

The final part of the battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin is messy because this *is* his best friend's Dad... and he is forced to kill him (actually a "hoist by my own petard" where Spider-Man evades Goblin's giant sword-missile gizmo and it hits Green Goblin), but he villain's dying words are: "Peter, don't tell Harry." More story! A nice emotional twist *after* the villain has been vanquished!

Spider-Man gently takes his best friend's Dad back to his home and places him in his bed, so that he will have died as Mr. Osborne rather than the evil Green Goblin. When Harry (James Franco) - Peter Parker's best friend - enters the room! "What have you done!" And at Mr. Osborne's funeral, Harry tells Peter: "One day Spider-Man will pay. I swear on my father's grave Spider-Man will pay." Wow - still story at the tail end of the movie. Peter's best friend wants to kill Peter's alter ego. "Thank God for you, Peter. You're the only family I have left." The shot focuses on Peter's face - as he realizes this friendship just became insanely difficult. And then Peter hugs Harry - the man who has just vowed to kill him. Story, emotion, character. But wait, there's *more*!

"No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, the ones I love will always be the ones who pay."

And now the kicker - Mary Jane, the woman that Peter Parker has secretly loved all along, comes to him and admits that when she almost died she realizes there was only one man that she really loved, "And it was you, Pete. There's only one man who has always been there fore me, who makes me feel that I'm more than I ever thought I could be, that I'm just me and that's okay. The truth is, I love you. I love you so much Peter." And she kisses him. And he realizes that if she is with him, she will be in danger... so he breaks *both* of their hearts by rejecting her. Telling her will always be there for her, but only as a friend. And walks away.

But wait, there's more!

Mary Jane (who once smooched Spider-Man) touches her lips after he walks away, then looks at him... wondering why that kiss is so familiar. So we have changes in the story throughout the entire Act Three battle and right up until the very last shot of the film. Plus *huge* emotional moments - *in* the Act Three battle and in that last shot. Could anyone in the audience have guessed that when the hero gets the girl at the end he would *dump her*? That's story that keeps going until the very end. The journey doesn't stop until the movie is over.


This tip began with that Lindelof interview, so let's look at Act Three of WORLD WAR Z, which he was brought in to write. The film was finished, and I guess test audiences gave it a fail, so they brought Lindelof in to write a new end that was shot to replace the old end. My "civilian" friends (not in the industry - warehouse guys) said they completely left it open for a sequel and asked me if this was gonna be a trilogy or something. That kind of plays to Lindelof's issues about resolving the conflict and tying up the loose ends before that final Fade Out. He still seems to have issues there, but I think his Act Three is pretty damned good... because he *does* focus on the characters and story.

The original Act Three was a giant war against the zombies in Russia... which was probably mostly story and character free. Lindelof's Act Three takes place in a World Health Organization Laboratory in Cornwall, UK... where our protagonist and a small group of scientists have to cross to the infected side of the laboratory to grab a virus that might make humans "invisible" to zombies (as "rotten meat"). One of the fun casting gags in this sequence is Peter Capaldi as the WHO doctor... who now plays Dr. Who. But the tension filled sequence is our hero Brad Pitt and a couple of others sneaking into zombie infested territory and trying not to be caught and bit. Act Three becomes more personal, and more about a series of tasks that need to be done in order to get the virus which may save mankind. Small things like accidentally making a noise that alerts the zombies becomes a pivotal part of the scene. It succeeds in turning a large event into something personal.

For some reason, movies today have thrown away the journey completely (or they are under the mistaken impression that giant CGI battles are story) and you can grab your coat at the beginning of the big end fight and leave - because you know how it will turn out and there won't be any story stuff. No more journey left! Just 30 minutes of pointless destruction before that inevitable ending.

Once the journey comes to an end, the story is over... and your screenplay should be over. (Though sometimes there's a *brief* scene or two of "falling action" where the world returns to a peaceful state.) Act Three is not supposed to be the Endless CGI Fight Scene Act, it's the *resolution* act - where all of the problems that have been growing since page 1 are dealt with one-by-one... and that should not be easy. Make sure you still have story and emotional problems and plot twists and big decisions until the very end of your story. Because once we have run out of that story-fuel? The journey is over!


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*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)

Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

ONLY $4.99 - and no postage!



*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!



*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!



Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more. * * * Buy It!

copyright 2020 by William C. Martell

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bluebook E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there will soon be novels.

Furious Action Class

Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.


Naked Class The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3! The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!


Every screenwriting book in the world!
In Association With
From the latest screenwriting book to guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the discount!


Each Blue Book is 48 pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!

THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The Market!


My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
...............................BILL'S CORNER

Available Scripts


Take classes on MP3!