Action Opener


I’ve been asked by a reader to explain “How come some movies don’t have an inciting incident on page 10 like Syd Fields says they should?” (and also Save the Cat)

I’ll take you back to when I was in Film school, I asked a writing teacher one time, who was a Syd Fields devotee, why Stars Wars didn’t fit the paradigm and she said “It’s the exception which proves the rule.” So either she didn’t know the answer or she thought I was an A hole and didn’t want to talk to me. (probably both were true)

If you ever sit in the edit room of a film you’ll see they chop and change scenes around with complete disregard for page count and there’s heaps of professional writers who say page count templates are all garbage.

But on the other hand, Syd Fields and Blake Snyder have probably read tens of thousands of scripts between them and they arrived at the conclusion that certain things happened at certain page counts of the screenplay and there’s also plenty of professional writers who say these systems extremely useful.

So what is it? Useful or garbage?

Generally speaking, it’s a good indication if your script is working or not if it has a similar form and function to other successful scripts, so if you’re violating the paradigm substantially then you should have a good reason.

And one of those reasons is the Action Opener ™ (I’ve trademarked it so back off)

I’ve looked at a few films which don’t fit the mold and although they break the rule of the placement of the inciting incident, they change a few other things and get the paradigms back on track pretty quickly.

Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spy (2015) and Deadpool.

Instead of having the inciting incident 10 pages in, they’re around 17-18 minutes into the film. Star Wars has the Rebel ship’s capture, Indy is chased by a giant rock, Spy has a couple of missions and Deadpool has the highway scene. So instead of following the usual route of introducing the character they get things moving with an action piece.

However, after the Action Opener ™ it changes the timing of the rest of Act I and gets back on track. There is still the Refusal of the Call after the Call to Adventure but there is a much shorter time than you would normally see between the Call to Adventure and Crossing the First Threshold. It’s usually just a scene or two, but short and then we’re into Act II.

So basically audiences tolerate a delay in the Call to Adventure or Inciting Incident but there needs to be something exciting happening instead – the Action Opener ™ but after you’ve played that card you also need to re-calibrate the script so you don’t have 20 pages playing out before you move into Act II like you would if the script followed the traditional route.

And if you’ve got any questions, that’s what the thing down below is for.

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