Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books called the first half of a screenplays second act the “Fun & Games section.” This is where the action shifts to an “upside down world” of some kind, where the main character will try to confront their overall story problem/goal.
It’s also where I’ve noticed that a lot of screenplays tend to stumble.
What I often see is a “Fun & Games section” where things are going pretty well for the main character, and they are essentially “having fun,” even.
The problem is that nothing that will bore an audience more quickly than happy/successful characters. As I’ve written before, we audience members are almost like sadists, who love watching the main character of any story struggle and be punished in various ways, while failing to get what they want.
But I get the impulse to make this section “fun.” I mean, it’s right there in the name! But I think what Blake meant, if I could be so bold, is that this section is a lot of fun for the audience — an audience that loves to see the main character not succeed, and not be happy.
It’s true that in “Fun & Games,” things generally aren’t as messed up as they will be after the Midpoint, in “Act 2B” (a/k/a the “Bad Guys Close In” section). The story problems generally escalate throughout Act Two, which ends with an “All is Lost” crisis. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all “Fun & Games” for the main character in Act 2A. Far from it.
This issue comes up so often that I have a standard example I always use: Legally Blonde (a Blake Snyder favorite). Elle Woods’ “Fun & Games section” consists of her first days at Harvard Law, where she learns that Warner is engaged to a smart and nasty brunette, who shows off an enormous ring, and gets Elle kicked out of class — helping to make Elle laughing stock of all her new classmates. While it’s true that she also meets allies Emmett and Paulette in this section, the basic thrust of it is: “This is going to be hard, even harder than I thought.” And her first attempts to get what she want end in miserable failure.
That’s the essence of the Fun & Games section. The main character enters the arena where Act Two will take place, and is overmatched, often a fish out of water, trying to get their bearings, and face their obstacles. And it’s not going well.
Blake Snyder also said this section delivers on the “promise of the premise.” And the “premise” of any movie is really its central problem, and how impossible it will be to solve. Ditzy L.A. sorority girl making it at Harvard Law and winning back Warner? Good luck! What makes it a strong premise is its seeming impossibility. And the Fun & Games section is where we first see that impossibility on display, being explored.
Yes, there can be some lighter moments, and some partial victories. But most of the time, what the main character tries to do in this section should fail in some way, complicate their situation, and “change the game” of what they are fighting over — thus moving the story forward.
This is also not a short section of a movie. In fact, according to Blake’s beat sheet, it’s the lengthiest beat, at 25 pages. (It’s tied with “Finale” — but I often see successful movies with shorter Finales.) This means there’s room for a lot of story here — a lot of action on the main character’s part toward what they want to achieve, and a lot of twists and turns that build the story. Some scripts have a tendency to stall out at this point — to keep things “light,” and save the real problems for “Act 2B” or even the third act.
This is one of the most typical issues with scripts that cause professional readers to pass — stories whose problems start too late, or aren’t big enough. An infographic from an anonymous studio reader made this point a few years ago, analyzing the most common recurring problems in scripts they read. Number one was “The story begins too late in the script.” Now it’s possible they could be talking about late “Catalysts,” which don’t come until the “Break into Two” point (which I also often see, and will blog separately about). But I think it also refers to the real problems of the story not taking off until its second half, after “Fun & Games” is over.
Here are a few other examples of the main thrust of the Fun & Games section of some successful movies. As always, I appreciate your comments!
- The Hangover — Initial, hilariously difficult attempts to recreate events of the night before, leading to various complications.
- Die Hard — John McClane first begins fighting the bad guys in earnest, with no real backup from the police.
- Get Out — Chris starts to see all the freaky/weird things about his girlfriend’s family, where he feels more and more trapped and threatened.
- Saving Private Ryan — Various military skirmishes where members of their team get killed, plus a lot of infighting within the team.
- The 40-Year-Old Virgin — Andy’s new friends try to get him laid, with horrific results.
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