How I Wrote a Screenplay in 30 Days: Part 5
The Most Important Pages
Download a copy of the screenplay, “A Girl Named Trouble.”
The goal of page 1 is to make someone read page 2. Do that a hundred times and you have a screenplay. I’m paraphrasing something I heard a long time ago. But it’s true. With that in mind, I re-wrote the first few pages of the screenplay “A Girl Named Trouble” for about three days. I’m not kidding.
My goals were the following: teach the reader about this world, introduce the theme, introduce characters through action, start the motor and, most of all, BE ENTERTAINING. That’s a pretty heavy lift.
The first image is a gun, signaling danger. Roman’s first words are a lie. He’s an unreliable narrator, and it sets up the relationship with Dante. This is a ruthless world. I tried to underline that fact by using the word “creatures” rather than “people” in the middle of the page. This is not Dante’s world. It intimidates him. Dante is dependent on Roman. By the end of page 1, I set up a mystery that pulls us through to page 2: What happened in that town?
I introduced Roman’s voice-over. I consider it a different character than Roman. When you read, it has a slightly different voice. It’s Roman the storyteller versus Roman. Think of it as Roman-adjacent. I let the voice-over fall into a 1940 film noir or Elmore Leonard tone. And thus begins his story.
Starting with Sam and Bobo on page 2, I’d like the reader to believe the girl named Trouble is Sam. It’s why I hid the presence of Trouble in a corner of the room. I also did it so the first time we meet Trouble, it’s a bigger reveal. At this point in the story, Roman is simply there to stand around and look tough. After two people die, he doesn’t know what to do next. Trouble is a ruthless killer who doesn’t hesitate. She grabs the heroin and the cash and takes off.
By the end of page 3 we’ve been introduced to five characters, two of which are already dead. Since this is a two-hander, I thought it would be better to remain focused on the action between Roman and Trouble.
Roman and Trouble are lashed together by the bag of money – thus starting the motor that will drive the rest of the story. Roman expects to be paid. She’s a pro and understands he’s due fair compensation. The cops are on their way, so they leave together and continue the conversation. Over the next few pages the action heats up fast and Trouble tries to scare off Roman, but he’s not giving up easily.
Finally, I needed to introduce what they were up against. By the bottom of page 4, we meet Kong and Etano of The Samoan Army. Kong is strong, quiet and very respectful of the boss. Etano is inexperienced but loyal to Kong.
Everything Else We Need to Get Started
On page 7 we meet Calix Jace, the boss. His wardrobe and the fact that no one will look him in the eye define Calix as much as any character introduction I wrote. By page 8 we read about another character, named Cane, and understand the dynamic between Calix Jace and his nephew Bernie. We will learn a lot more about both of them later. But I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with a lot of characters early on. We know just enough to start the story. Roman and Trouble have stolen the money of Calix Jace, a drug dealer who controls the town and the cops and has an army of goons out looking for them.
Next week we’ll cover how to end the First Act.
Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike.