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.


Avengers 2 – Three breakdowns – Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat and Anatomy of story 22 steps

Avengers 2 is a massive movie so I’ve done a massive breakdown using three popular templates; Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat and Anatomy of Story 22 steps. And also because I have delusions of grandeur and I like getting abused by total strangers on the internet I’ve included some thoughts on improving it’s structure.

Hero’s journey 

Call to Adventure

Tony Stark wants to create an artificial intelligence to defend the Earth

Refusal of the call

Bruce Banner warns him against it

Supernatural Aid

The stone inside Loki’s sceptre gives Stark and Banner the huge leap of knowledge to create the advanced level of artificial intelligence required for the Ultron project

Belly of the whale

Belly of the whale often has something to do with travelling to another place and the first hint of death. This happens in the cyber world when Ultron kills JARVIS.

Crossing the First Threshold

The Avengers fly to South Africa on the trail of Ultron

The Road of the trials

Road of the trials – All the Avengers, except for Hawkeye, must deal with their haunting hallucinations.

Meeting with the Goddess

Black Widow is the Goddess for The Hulk. His feelings for her inspire him to make a sacrifice at the end of the film to protect the one

he loves he must leave her

Woman as Temptress

Banner releases Natasha from Ultron’s prison and tells her we’re done, let’s leave and let the rest of the Avengers finish the job. She kisses him and sends him over the edge so that he transforms into the Hulk.

Atonement with the Father

The Atonement stage is about learning what’s right and getting an understanding of how you should be acting. Wanda learns of Ultron’s plans for human extinction and turns against him. She reveals to Captain America that Ultron gets his idea for saving the Earth by destroying it from Tony Stark.


Thor visits the magical pool and has a vision which reveals the meaning of his hallucination, he has had a vision.

Ultimate Boon

The Vision is created, the good embodiment of Stark’s original plan to defend the Earth. Now they actually have the ability to defeat Ultron

The Magic flight

Magic Flight – The city takes to the air with Ultron’s plan to wipe out the human race by turning a city into a giant meteor. The Avengers fight to stop him

Rescue from without

Nick Fury arrives with the Helicarrier

The crossing of the return Threshold

Hawkeye gives Wanda the speech about stepping out of the door and becoming an Avenger.

Master of two worlds

Master of two worlds – Vision destroys the final Ultron. We create that which will destroy us.

Freedom to live

Freedom to live – Hulk goes into hiding, Thor returns home, Hawkeye and Ironman appear to have retired. Captain America will lead the new team of Avengers.



Save the Cat

Opening Image

The Avengers working together as a team

Theme Stated

“We create that which destroys us” Ultron. It’s not at the start I know but it’s the theme of the film and he said it.

The Setup

The Avengers are a united team and recover Loki’s stolen sceptre

The Catalyst

Tony Stark wants to use the stone from the sceptre to create the Ultron Global defence program


Banner tries to convince him not to do it and they keep it hidden from the rest of the team but when the rest of the Avengers find out what he’s done they are less than impressed

Break into Act 2

The Avengers chase after Ultron to a South African ship yard

B Story

Banner and Black Widow are flirting with the idea of a relationship but Banner is wary of it because of his out of control condition

Fun and Games

Fighting against Ultron and the Twins. Hulkbuster vs Hulk

Mid point

They escape to Hawkeye’s secret farm and although they are slightly reeling from their fight against Ultron and the twins, Nick Fury arrives and tells them, previously they’ve had technology and resources but now they only have each other.

Bad guys close in

Ultron forces Dr Helen Cho to use her synthetic tissue technology to build a new body for him.

All is lost

They chase after Ultron through the streets of Seoul and recover the partially complete body for Ultron but Black Widow is captured during the fight

Dark night of the soul

Wanda reveals to Captain America she’s seen into Tony Stark’s mind and that Ultron’s insanity mirrors that of Tony’s. The Avengers fight over whether or not to install JARVIS into the partially completed body.

Break into three

The Twins and Vision join the Avengers in the attack against Ultron at his stronghold in Sokovia


Gather team

Black Widow kisses Banner and shoves him over the edge so that he transforms into the Hulk. The whole team is now assembled

Storm the castle

They attack Ultron’s stronghold but Ultron uses the Vibramium to lift the entire city into the sky so that it will crash down back to Earth like a meteorite and be an extinction event for the humans, similar to what wiped out the dinosaurs

Dig down deep

They evacuate the city and defend the trigger against a final Ultron onslaught

Execution of new plan

Iron man from below and Thor from above detonate the evacuated city and save the world

Final Image

A new team has been assembled


The Anatomy of story 22 steps

Act 1

Self-Realization, Need, Desire

Tony wants to use his brilliant mind to create something that can protect the world, but he does so with a recklessness that disregards risk

Ghost & Context

Tony has a fear of the world destroyed and the Avengers defeated by an alien invasion and he didn’t do enough to save it. Remember in Avengers Tony put his life on the line to save the Earth but in Iron Man 3 he was struggling with his nightmares of it.


Tony is brilliant but reckless. He may act without thinking. “I have a plan, attack.” (from the first Avengers)

Inciting Incident

They recover the stone from Loki’s scepter to create an artificial intelligence with enough power to defend the world.

Overall Desire (start low)

Tony wants to create an armour around the planet to protect it in the same way the Ironman armor protects him. – The Ultron project.


The Avengers Team




The Twins

1st Reversal & Decision: changed desire & motive

The Avengers are attacked by Ultron

Act 2


Track down and destroy Ultron

Opponent’s Plan & 1st Counter Attack

Recruit the twins to help him and then obtain vibramium to help him annihilate humanity


Pursue Ultron to a shipyard in South Africa and fight Ultron and the Twins

Attack by Ally

There is a physical attack by Ally in Hulkbuster Vs Hulk but a moral one comes later at the farm when Captain America and Tony Stark have the argument over “Every time people try to win a war before it starts, people die, every time.”


Apparent Defeat

Ultron escapes with the Vibramium and the Avengers are not the most popular people in the world because Hulk destroyed a city

2nd Reversal & Decision: obsessive drive, changed desire & motive

Chase Ultron to South Korea and stop him from uploading himself into his perfect form

Audience revelation about opponent-ally

The Twins discover Ultron’s true objective and they turn against him and join the Avengers

3rd Reversal & Decision

With the Vision as part team they are going to confront Ultron and eliminate him.

Act 3

Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death

Attacking Ultron’s stronghold in Sokovia


They fight Ultron and his robot army as they evacuate the city

Self-Revelation/Thematic Revelation

Before Vision kills the final Ultron they both articulate their views on humanity and world order. Ultron represents Tony’s dark side and Vision represents his good.

Moral Decision

Tony decides to retire on a farm with Pepper.

New Equilibrium

A number of the original members of the team have gone their separate ways and Captain America is going to lead the new team of Avengers



Suggestions on how to improve it

Ultron killing Jarvis and going crazy seems more like the Mid point of the film rather than early on in Act I. If Tony had started the Ultron project in secret and it worked well at first, then Ultron slowly realised he was a sentient being. Then, the revelation to the team that Stark was hiding it from the team the whole time would have been stronger and led to the team breaking up somewhere towards the end of Act II. That’s a more classic structure framework for this set up.

Not sure about how they played the Black Widow/Banner love story. I would have liked to have seen Black Widow attempt to calm the Hulk when he was angry in South Africa but in the process Hulk injured her. This would have added to Banner not wanting to get involved with her because he doesn’t want to hurt her. In the film, it’s not quite perfect because at the start of Act III Banner wants to run away with Natasha and let the rest of the team fight Ultron. There doesn’t seem to be any moment in Act III where Banner’s motivation has changed and yet it does.

Not sure what they got out of hiding out in Hawkeye’s farm? Ultron is stealing vibramium and attempting to steal nuclear codes and they’re going to kick it back for a while on a farm. It took away from the urgency a little.

Did Ultron really need to recruit the twins? There was nothing compelling for him which required the use their powers. He’s got thousands of robots, why involve those two? He even uses the sceptre stone on Helen Cho, he should have used Scarlet Witch for this but even then he didn’t really have to as he could have just used the threat of violence on her.




Book, stage or screen?

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Samantha Napier, author of Dating the Alphabet and Gordon Napier AWG competition winner and writer/director of the feature film Hannah and the Hasbian will share their experiences in how they reinvented their stalled projects and found an audience.

Some of the most successful stories have started in another medium, Strictly Ballroom debuted as a play then became a film and now is a musical.  Graeme Simsion first wrote The Rosie Project as screenplay, when it became clear it wouldn’t be made he turned it into a book which was so successful it’s now being made into a film.  The hugely popular Annoying Orange started as an online sketch it was turned into an online series then a TV series and also now includes books.

These are all examples of creators who began with one idea, transformed it into another format and found success.

More opportunities exist for writers than ever before; a book, eBook, play, film, TV, Online video, pod cast. Stories and concepts are malleable, if you find a story you’ve created has stalled in it’s current form, it may be given new life in another form.

This course outlines all the alternatives for writers to get their work in front of an audience.

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Samantha and Gordon share their experiences with their projects

Overview of different mediums, books, stage and screen

Places and resources you can access locally and online

Practical exercise



Six hour course


Samantha and Gordon share their experiences with their projects

Overview of different mediums, book, stage and screen

Gordon outlines the structure of story through ‘The Heroes Journey’

Practical exercises

Lunch break

Videos from industry people giving practical advice

Places and resources you can access locally and online

Practical exercises including loglines and pitching



Samantha Napier‘s book Dating the Alphabet is available through HarperCollins.



Up – The Hero’s Journey breakdown

Ordinary world

Carl is a young boy with dreams of emulating his hero Charles Muntz

Call to Adventure

Carl meets Ellie and they promise to live a life of adventure

Refusal of the call

Everyday life seemed to get in the way of their plans

Supernatural Aid

Carl is an old man and the hero of the story. He plays a reluctant mentor for Russell and ends up learning something from him.

Crossing the First Threshold

Attaching balloons to his house and taking off for one last adventure

Belly of the whale

A near death experience in the thunderstorm and it carries them away to a far off place near Paradise falls

The Road of the trials

Carl struggles to get his house to Paradise falls as he has to tow it along and endure the constant nattering and clumsy behaviour of Russel the wilderness explorer

Meeting with the Goddess

Russel and Ellie are Carl’s inspiration. Carl and Ellie never had children but they loved each other dearly, when Ellie died, love also died in Carl’s life and it takes Russell to appear in his life to awaken it again.

Woman as Temptress

The distraction from his goal is Kevin the bird. When Carl meets Muntz, he’s excited, however he shifts between trying to get his house to Paradise falls to rescuing Kevin.

Atonement with the Father

Russell tells Carl a story about sitting on the curb counting cars with his father. Russell admits that although this sounds boring, sometimes the boring things in life are the things he remembers and loves the most. Up until this moment, Carl has seen Russel as an annoying kid but now he sees Russell as lonely boy seeking love and attention because he doesn’t get it from his dad.

Death of the mentor

Russel is upset with Carl because he had to save his house from burning down and in doing so, allowed Muntz to capture Kevin. Russel abandons Carl and flies off to rescue Kevin


Carl flicks through Ellie’s book and discovers that far from living an unfulfilled life, their relationship was her life’s greatest adventure and she encourages him to live on and have another.

Ultimate Boon

He throws all the excess weight out of the house and gets it back in the air and goes after Muntz. Now he’s a changed man, he’s excited and filled with passion instead of being a grumpy old man and he’s ready to take on the final challenge ahead.

The Magic flight

Fighting with Charles Muntz as he rescues Russell, Kevin and Dug

Rescue from without

About to be killed by Muntz and Dug the dog knocks the controls and throws the blimp to one side allowing the old man to escape

The crossing of the return Threshold

He returns home with his new friends and allies, Russell, Dug and the rest of the pack

Master of two worlds

His has achieved the dream of the house by the falls but also he’s achieved happiness by living in the now.

Freedom to live

He sits on the sidewalk counting cars with the Russell, something boring but better than an wild adventure because he’s with someone he loves


Up is a perfectly structured, it’s a love story which spans virtually Carl’s entire life.


live die repeat

Edge of Tomorrow – The Hero’s journey breakdown

Ordinary world

Major William Cage is a coward in the army who has never seen the front line in the war against the aliens in Europe

Call to Adventure

He is covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and this gives him the power to reset the day and be transported back in time back to base when he dies.

Refusal of the call

He doesn’t understand his new ability and rather than use it to be a hero he’s still thinking about himself and how to get out of the situation

Belly of the whale

Inside the aerial personnel carrier taking them to the beach, a missile hits it and he barely escapes before it explodes

Supernatural Aid

He rescues Sergeant Rita Vrataski. She realizes he has the ability she once had and tells him to find her when he wakes up.

Crossing the First Threshold

He tracks down Rita and convinces her of his situation

The Road of the trials

Rita trains Cage to be a soldier. His skills, knowledge and courage gradually increase with each loop

Woman as Temptress

Continued failures lead him to abandon his mission and escape to England. He learns that the Mimics are launching an invasion of England while the failed invasion in France is taking place. While in a pub watching the disaster he’s told he is a coward and he wont be tempted to deter from his mission again

Death of the mentor

Vrataski continually dies in a certain spot and Cage decides to hunt the Omega without her

Atonement with the Father

When Cage gets to the dam and discovers the Omega is not there he understands the visions are a trap. He kills himself before the aliens are able to steal his blood. He is now the soldier that Vrataski was determined to create. He is smart and skilled enough to take on the aliens.


Cage steals a prototype of a device built by Carter to give him the ability to see the true location of the Omega

Ultimate Boon

This is a reversal of a boon. Cage receives a blood transfusion which removes his ability to reset the day when he dies.

The Magic flight

Assembles his squad and launches an attack on the Omega hiding beneath the Louvre

Rescue from without

Members of his squad sacrifice themselves to enable Cage and Vrataski to enter the Louvre

The crossing of the return Threshold

Cage and Vrataski accept that it’s a suicide mission and make their final charge at the Omega

Master of two worlds

He has both defeated the alien and summoned the courage to give up his own life to save the world – Both his inner and his outer problem are conquered

Freedom to live

He wakes up and the Aliens have been defeated. He tracks down Rita and is amused that she has no idea what has happened between them




This movie was awesome. I’m not sure why it only did just under four hundred million at the box office because it deserved to do twice that. I left out the Goddess stage because Rita really performs that role of inspiring and motivating him to complete the mission as her role as his mentor. Have a look at this film to see how well it handles the end of Act II –  Atonement, Apotheosis and Boon. After his Atonement he needs no more training in fact he is the one who teaches Vrataski about the visions. The Apotheosis is a classic piece of obtaining vital knowledge to complete Act III and the Boon is a reversal, stripping him of his power which of course increases the jeopardy, because if he didn’t have that happen to him then we would know he could still just reset the day again if he failed.


Some people may think that the Call and the refusal is when the General orders him to the front line and he runs away. Just being sent to the front line is not the driver of action in this story, it’s the fact he can reset the day and go back in time.


The Dark Knight Rises – The Hero’s journey breakdown

Ordinary world

Bruce Wayne lives the life of a hermit in his house. He’s no longer the Batman because as a result of the Harvey Dent act he’s not needed.

Call to Adventure

Bane commences his plan to purify the world by destroying Gotham. He is an opponent of unprecedented strength, which no ordinary human can beat.

Refusal of the call

“The Batman has to come back.”

“What if he doesn’t exist anymore”

Crossing the First Threshold

Bane and his men attack the stock exchange and the Batman returns. The police go after him instead of Bane’s men, wanting him to pay for the murder of Dent eight years ago.

Meeting with the Goddess                            

Blake is the Goddess. He goes to Bruce Wayne and tells him that Commisioner Gordon has been shot and that he needs a return of the Batman. At first Bruce is uninterested but then Blake tells him his story of how he shares the same pain as Bruce that he is an orphan from crime. Blake also tells him that his orphanage used to be funded by the Wayne Foundation and at the end of the film Bruce donates Wayne manor to the orphans of Gotham.

Woman as Temptress

Alfred is the Temptress. He is the one who tells Bruce to hang up the cowl and walk away.  He tells him his dream of seeing him in café in Florence with his wife and children, happy.

Watch here

Belly of the whale

Cat woman leads the Batman into a trap and he must fight Bane. The Batman is no match for Bane and has his back broken.

The Road of the trials

Imprisoned in a dungeon in India, Bruce first has his back fixed and then he trains his body

and his mind to escape

Supernatural Aid

His prison inmates who at first heal him and then teach him what he needs to learn to rise up out of the prison


Apotheosis can refer to a supernatural vision. Bruce sees a vision of a dead man, his former mentor Ra’s Al Ghul and learns from the vision that Bane is Ra’s heir, that he will continue the work of the league of shadows, that Gotham isn’t worth saving and must be allowed to die.

Atonement with the Father

He learns from the blind prisoner that he must regain his fear of death in order to be able to escape the prison, he must do the climb without the rope. Batman Begins was all about fear and the Batman put fear into the criminals of Gotham. Now, Bruce must reclaim his fear of death in order to live again.

Watch here

Ultimate Boon

The Batman has returned to Gotham. He has freed the police and is ready to face Bane.

Watch here

The Magic flight

It is two parts. The final fight of hand to hand combat VS Bane and then the chase through the city going after the Talia Al Ghul and the bomb.

Watch here

and here

Rescue from without

Bane is about to kill the Batman when Catwoman arrives on the Batpod and shoots Bane.

The crossing of the return Threshold

The final job of the hero is to save Gotham from being blown up. However, to do so means he must sacrifice himself. He flies the bomb out to sea where it explodes. This completes the job of Batman for the trilogy, he can now return to being Bruce Wayne.

Master of two worlds

Batman uses his resources to help the orphans of Gotham by donating his mansion to them. Batman has become immortalized in a statute as a symbol of justice and sacrifice. The people know who saved them – The Batman.

Freedom to live

Alfred sees Bruce and Selina at restaurant. They nod to each other but they don’t have to say anything to each other.  Bruce is free from the Batman, free to live.




Wall-e – The Hero’s Journey breakdown

Ordinary world

Wall-e is a clean up robot left on Earth after all of the humans have left because the pollution is so high that the plants have all died. Wall-e lives alone but longs for someone to hold his hand.

Call to Adventure

Eve arrives on Earth to look for life on the planet and Wall-e falls in love with her.

Refusal of the call

Eve doesn’t want anything to do with Wall-e but he is persistent in his attempts to get her attention and makes a connection with her

Supernatural Aid

Wall-e doesn’t have a mentor in this story, however the Captian has Auto, the ship’s automated pilot giving advice and guidance to him.

Crossing the First Threshold

The ship arrives to take Eve back and Wall-e smuggles himself on the ship by attaching himself tot onboard and takes off with her.

Belly of the whale

Eve discovers Wall-e has followed her into the Bridge and tries to hide him. They can’t find the plant so she is deemed defective and he is sent for cleaning.

The Road of the trials

He’s on the loose on the Axiom, making friends and trying to help Eve, recover the plant and at the same time help the morbidly obese humans get their lives back.

Meeting with the Goddess

Eve is Wall-e’s Goddess, she inspires him to be a hero, even if slightly unwittingly at times

Woman as Temptress

The temptation was from the automated lifestyle the morbidly obese humans have been living. They’d gone down the wrong path and it was easier to stay that course but it is also wrong. The captain and the human’s that Wall-e touched are the ones who lead the humans out.

Death of the mentor

This occurs to the Captain when Auto  commits mutiny and attempts to imprison him.

Atonement with the Father

Eve tries to send Wall-e home on a pod, however they notice GO-4 trying to jettison the plant into space and destroy it. However Wall-e saves the plant and flies around the hip using the fire extinguisher in a dance of love in space with Eve. Now they are on the same page, united in the goal of protecting the plant and exposing the cover up by Auto


Eve sees into the past and learns that Wall-e cared for her when she was in hibernation waiting for the mother ship to collect her. This knowledge cements her love for Wall-e

Ultimate Boon

The Captain learns all about Earth and discovers what a great place it is and wants to go back.

The Magic flight

Auto shoots Wall-e and Eve out into space.

Rescue from without

While Wall-e has jammed the machine open, McCrea manages to turn off Auto.

The crossing of the return Threshold

The Axiom space ship returns to Earth

Master of two worlds

Eve tries to repair Wall-e but he doesn’t recognize her and returns to compacting garbage. It’s only when Eve holds his hand that his system reboots and he recognizes her

Freedom to live

They return to Earth to bring life back to it and also the people.