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Day 37: Come Ups Act 2 pt. 1

Today we going to look at the changes made to the first half of the second act of my screenplay Come Ups after applying the Save the Cat (STC) paradigm to the script. This will be a much larger section of the script than we have previously examined because the plot points cover a larger swath of material. You can download both the original version and the STC version at the links above to follow along.

The first thing you will notice is that the second act of the original begins at the very bottom of page 36, whereas the STC version begins not quite halfway down page 28. This is due to the changes made in the first act that allowed our Break into Act II to occur on page 25, as required by the STC paradigm. Everything is wrapped up (more or less) by page 28 and the second act begins with the arrival of Grady, Shep and Tyler at Grady’s house.

Under the STC paradigm, the B Story should begin on page 30. Typically, this is the love story, though not necessarily so, but the B Story, according to Blake Snyder, is what should carry the theme of the film. The B Story will also introduce us to a new set of characters. As we move through the B Story we will enter the phase of the script that Snyder calls “Fun & Games.” This will run approximately from pages 30-55 and delivers “the promise of the premise.” Snyder goes on to say you will find most of the movies trailer moments in this section.

I certainly have trailer moments and new characters are introduced, but my B Story isn’t quite what Mr. Snyder calls for. Am I doing something bold and tweaking the traditional story structure or have I made a huge blunder? Someone like screenwriter/consultant Corey Mandell might say it’s fresh and original, exactly what agents and producers are looking for. Method gurus like Mr. Snyder will most probably be decidedly against this second act opening. I think it will most likely come down to two things: who’s reading the script and does it suffer the dreaded second act lull inherent in most new scripts. I think I’ve avoided the lull, but then most writers think that. Only time will tell.

The second act begins with the impromptu surgery to remove the bullet lodged in Shep’s shoulder. In the original, the scene went on much longer and there was a graphic portrayal of the extraction. In going over it again, much of that ‘surgery’ was there for the gore and gruesomeness. It’s not necessary to the plot and it lacks forward progression. I needed to clean up the aftermath of the shootout and treat Shep’s wound, and we get to see that the men’s world has been clearly turned upside down. There is a definite sense of panic even though they have returned to a place that should be safe. I’ve also introduced a couple of new characters, Maurah and the kids, all of whom will play an important part later. But once we get to the actual surgery, everything we need to know has been accomplished. So we get a little glimpse of gruesomeness, just enough to gross a few people out, as the knife slices into Shep’s shoulder. And we’re out. There is an old adage that you should get into a scene late and get out early. This is clearly a case where getting out sooner was the better option.

Some might argue that this is the actual act break. It finishes up the primary action of the first act, and Shep has the line “If you can’t trust your best friend, who else is there?” This clearly signals his intention to go along with Tyler’s crazy scheme; he’s made a strong decision. I would argue that the world has already changed for them. It’s an alternate universe they are trying to adapt too, but they made the decision to go in this direction 6 pages ago. What this scene is not is the clear beginning of a B Story. But it does fit with Snyder’s description of Fun & Games. I would offer that this scene with all its mayhem delivers on the premise. And you know that shoulder slicing and Shep’s screaming will be in the trailer.

Next, we pick up with Reydel. He too is trying to deal with a changed world. In Act 1 he had a brother. Now he has a dead brother and several dead cohorts. You could say this is his ‘surgery’ scene. Like the three friends, he has to clean up the aftermath of the gun battle. However, Reydel seems a little more calm and methodical about it. We finally slow down a bit and are given an opportunity to catch our breath. This is one of the elements that Snyder calls for in the B Story, but Reydel isn’t really our B Story. . .or is he? With the way the story is playing out, he would seem to be the antagonist at this point, the villain who will seek revenge for the death of his brother (not to mention the loss of all that loot). But what we are about to find out is Hiram is our ultimate villain, Reydel is just sort of a subordinate villain. . .or perhaps even a protagonist at heart.

I had thought my B Story was Hiram, but the restructuring of the script has me rethinking that. Hiram and Shep will have the final confrontation. If Shep is my protagonist and Hiram is the ultimate antagonist, then Hiram is clearly a part of the A Story. Then Reydel and his dealings with Hiram must necessarily be the B Story. But that story doesn’t really get under way until page 35, 5 pages too late by Snyder’s STC theory. Of course, Reydel is already dealing with the fallout of killing Hiram’s crew by page 31, setting up that B Story with Hiram. So I have three options. The first is to continue the story as is and see if the organic structure I have created works. Or I can do a little finessing with the first act to get Reydel’s arrival at Ramon’s to land on page 30. The third option is very aggressive. I would probably have to lose the opening scenes with Reydel and his crew and pick up with Grady, Shep and Tyler on the boat. This would shove all the first act action toward the top of the script and pull the first Hiram scene closer to page 30. That will require an immense amount of rewriting to realign the first act beats. However, opening with the boat scenes will have the benefit of clearly establishing the trio as our protagonists in general and Shep specifically and it eliminates a good portion of B Story from the first act. On the downside, we lose information about Reydel that will drive him in the B Story to come. The first act will also end with the shoulder slicing as opposed to Reydel’s stronger “Got you, mother fucker.”

This third option feels really forced at this point and in order to make it work I’ll probably have to do a complete rewrite from page 1. That’s not something I really want to consider at this point. I’ve made a conscious choice to bend the STC rules a bit and create a story that’s more organic and less cookie cutter by-the-numbers. That may not have been a good choice, but I’m sticking with it for now. After I’ve completed this draft, I’ll go back and see if I can adjust it slightly to have the first Reydel/Ramon scene land on page 30. That will put me closer to the rules, but still stay true to organic nature of the story. With that in mind, let’s continue with the analysis up to the second act midpoint.

With some trimming and a little restructuring I managed to cut those first Reydel/Ramon scenes down from three pages to just two. It’s a relatively mellow sequence, but there are dark undertones to help maintain tension. It is in some ways a mirror scene to the one where the three men were panicking at the SUV on what to do and Tyler pulls his gun to get compliance. Reydel does a similar thing here.

Back at Grady’s house we find the tension has dropped a bit, continuing our breather, but Grady still gets a mini-confrontation with Tyler. He is restrained by his wife, giving us a little insight into the strength of Grady’s family relationships. This scene is about a half page shorter than the original.

Next we get a brief scene where Reydel burns the bodies. You can bet this scene will be in the trailer. Always show the fire!

In the original version, we returned to Grady’s house and furthered his connections with family with the small scene involving his son. It’s a nice quiet moment that furthers our breather from the action of Act I and really sets up the tragedy to come later in the script. This scene happened on page 48, which puts it really close to the midpoint when we should have been starting to ratchet up the tension again. With the rewrites, it landed earlier in the script but still came really close to Grady’s confrontation scene with Tyler. It felt like there needed to be more space between those two scenes and allow Grady to cool off a bit. Plus we still hadn’t met Hiram. I was almost halfway through the story and my villain had yet to put in an appearance. And when he did it was through a televised news conference that was more exposition than anything else. Not a good entrance for the bad guy.

So I wrote a scene where Hiram called Reydel from a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. It was a bad cop cliché and Hiram still didn’t know about the meetup going south. But at least I had him putting in an appearance. Ultimately, that scene got tossed and the current scene was written. Using the adage to get in late, I had Hiram already at the scene of the crime with the investigation well under way. I also introduced a new character – important for the B Story – but at first he was just a device to get rid of Esteban’s car. That’s the one thing Reydel wasn’t able to take care of. But if you’re going to introduce a character, you might as well do something with him, and I came up with an idea for poor Buck. You’ll find out what that is in the second half of the act.

With this scene, I clearly establish who the bad guy is and set my A and B Stories on a collision course. Reydel will have to find the guys in the boat or his family will suffer at the hands of Hiram. As a result, Reydel promptly kills Ramon to leave no witnesses. Originally, Reydel did this on his own volition. But that made Reydel unlikable. By having Hiram ask about witnesses, it forces Reydel to commit an act he didn’t necessarily want to do. He may not be the greatest man, but at least we don’t actively dislike him. That antipathy will be reserved for Hiram.

From there we get our original father/son scene between Grady and Cody. This heartwarming family moment (with a little foreshadowing) nicely counterbalances the shock of Reydel killing Ramon.

On page 39 we find Tyler hiding part of his loot under a bridge. This scene is trimmed a bit from the original, but the trailer elements are all there: the shot of the money, sealing off the crevice, Tyler’s face caught in the strobing flashes of the police cars.

The montage in the original script has been cut and a new scene added. When Reydel arrives home he finds Buck watching the house. This reinforces Hiram’s order not to run. Without that the audience might question why Reydel doesn’t just grab his wife and kid and bolt. I reinforced this again in the next scene with Calida with some additional lines and hinted at Calida’s own collusion in Reydel’s activities, none of which exists in the original.

Several days pass, as indicated by the newscast Grady is watching, and Shep finally wakes up following his makeshift surgery. We get a little exposition as to what’s been happening and start to ratchet up the tension a bit as Grady and Shep realize they are the subjects of a manhunt. The stakes are raised when Shep recalls Tyler making off with the briefcase of money. This scene is slightly trimmed from the original.

A new scene has been added to piggyback on this scene. When Grady says ‘we need to find your brother,’ we immediately see what Tyler has been up to, which is mainly spending his newfound cash. This is a little comic relief to sort of reset the audience for what is coming up. Without it, the story runs the risk of wearing the audience out before they get to the end.

Following the comic bit with Tyler and his new truck is a rewrite of Reydel and Calida at home. This scene originally came after the front yard confrontation with Elena. It replaces a scene where Reydel was playing football with his son. I was trying to show Reydel keeping up appearances, but this seemed awkward for a man who has just killed a friend and lost his brother along with his entire crew. It just didn’t work. The family was essentially under house arrest and we needed to see the duress they were under. With this scene we get a further explanation of why Reydel didn’t run. This leads directly into the confrontation with Elena in the front yard. I also added a bit for Calida to step in and deflect Elena’s accusations in the front yard. Calida is obviously very much aware of Reydel’s activities and is more than willing to step up to protect her family. She makes her disgust with Reydel evident in the next scene with the comment about her dirty hands.

We pick up the hunt for Tyler at Stan’ Hideaway and this scene presented some interesting challenges. There is a little comic relief and we get the hint of a love interest for Shep in the character of Reggie. Unfortunately that story didn’t go anywhere. She existed mainly as a device to get info about Tyler’s new truck to Shep, and she is an obstacle in the hunt for Tyler. She doesn’t know where he is, go ask Willie. Then we had another scene in the same bar. Where’s Tyler? Try the strip bar. Not a lot of forward progress and a false obstacle to overcome. And I introduced not one, but two characters that are never heard of again. Plus the dangling storyline of Shep’s love interest. All around bad story telling.

I cut the scene with Willie entirely. Gone. Just have Reggie tell them Tyler’s at the strip club. I still have the problem of Reggie, though. I could eliminate her and just have the guys go straight to the strip club. It’s an obvious place Tyler might be. We get a hint of that back in the Set Up. My midpoint is also a little late. By removing this scene it should land just about perfectly. So why not get rid of it? Well, it’s nice to see the guys doing something to find Tyler. They’re proactive. That’s good for protagonists.

I also have a problem with my ending. I know we’re not there yet, but the ending is kind of contrived. What should be a twist is set up a couple of scenes earlier and we know it’s coming before it ever gets there. Not a good way to end a movie. If I keep Reggie in the story, I can maybe expand her relationship with Shep a bit and find an alternate way for him to get rid of the money and keep it from Hiram. So she stays in for the moment. That also gives everyone a significant other. Grady has Maurah. Reydel has Calida. Tyler has the strippers. And Shep now has Reggie.

This leads us into our final two scenes at the strip club. Unfortunately for me, they start at the bottom of page 51 and I need it wrapped up by page 55. That’s only four pages. And I missed it. The midpoint technically comes at the top of page 57. I’m just over a page from where I should be. I tried to convince myself that the midpoint actually occurs on page 55 when Shep feels overwhelmed and sort of gives up, but of course he doesn’t; it’s just a brief moment when runs out of anger to spew at Tyler. He’s back at it literally seconds later. No, the midpoint is actually when Grady says he’s done and walks away.

Blake Snyder tells us that the midpoint should be an up moment for the hero, although it’s a false up, or a down moment, when everything seems to come crashing down, but this too is a false down (otherwise there wouldn’t be any story left to tell). This is that moment for Shep, and it’s a big downturn. His brother is a screw up and has gotten them all into some serious shit. It’s at this moment, when he needs him most, his best friend turns his back. Shep is alone. He must deal with Tyler and Hiram on his own. This is made all the worse because Shep told Grady back at the top of the act “If you can’t trust your best friend, who else is there?” Our reluctant hero will now have to make the hard decisions. He’s going to have to step up to the plate if he wants to protect his brother and survive.

In a traditionally structured story, this would have occurred at the end of Act 1 and Shep would have gone head to head with Hiram, probably going through Reydel first. But Shep is flawed; he is not a man of action. He is happy to cede that role to Grady, but Grady has other priorities and now Shep is forced to do what he has avoided. Was this a good decision for me to make? I don’t know. I have the 3-act structure and I have employed the STC paradigm to help tell the story in a concise way, but I have allowed the story to progress in a more organic fashion. I’ve allowed my A and B Stories to intertwine earlier than they typically would, and I’ve presented a less than adventurous hero. I’ve bent the rules and created something familiar, yet different. Will it work for audiences, or better yet, a reader? I’ll just have to finish the story to find out.

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