Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

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  • Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

    I'm writing a script about a seminary-expellee-turned-strip-club-owner who puts on a charade to ensure the lie he's been living (i.e. that he's a priest) becomes a reality when his mom finally flies cross-country to visit.

    Okay, the goal is obviously to fool her. I'm wondering, though, if the original goal/purpose for our protag must only be resolved at the very end of the film.

    My gut says no, particularly when analyzing movies in a similar vein as my own idea. In Tootsie Michael's antics were predictably revealed before the movie's end. The charade in The Birdcage also fell on its face before the conclusion. And there were scenes/resolution to be sought after the "outing."

    The question then becomes what is reasonable as a final goal... As it stands, I introduced a love interest (to up the stakes). In the Third Act, when our protag is outed, he gains the forgiveness of his mother, but he must fight to gain the forgiveness of this special lady.

    Any thoughts would be truly appreciated.

  • #2
    Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

    I would think if the main goal is fooling mom, that needs to be in question the longest.
    In other words, if he sets this up to fool mom then gets a girlfriend, the drive is still the mother's approval. The girlfriend sounds like B story and should remain such.
    As far as the reveal (to mom), if it's the last thing in the movie, her response should be priceless (hilarious). If the reveal happens earlier, you can spend some epilogue time cleaning up.

    Just my thoughts

    SL35
    SL35
    Potent dreamer. Newb disclaimer.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

      Originally posted by nyumich View Post
      The question then becomes what is reasonable as a final goal... As it stands, I introduced a love interest (to up the stakes). In the Third Act, when our protag is outed, he gains the forgiveness of his mother, but he must fight to gain the forgiveness of this special lady.
      The key is that the third act goal should come about BECAUSE of the way the second act ends. You're not making a new problem out of whole cloth.

      Been a while since I saw The Birdcage, but doesn't what happen is that the Gene Hackman character finds out, and BECAUSE he found out, now the wedding gets derailed, so now they have to bring him back onboard so the wedding can still happen?

      Earning forgiveness can be a dicey goal, because forgiveness can be an internal thing. But I would look back at the earlier part of your script. WHY did he have to put on this charade to begin with? What bad thing will happen if the lie gets out?

      So now the lie's out. That bad thing is happening, and he's got to fix it.

      If you don't have that other bad thing that might happen, then you could be suffering from a case of low stakes. (Emphasis on the word "could.") Ideally, fixing it resolves whatever the character's deeper issue has been, too. That is to say, in a classic structure for this kind of thing, the lie would come to light because he hasn't addressed his core issue, and now in order to avert the disaster the revelation of the lie has set in motion he's going to have to solve that deeper issue. That's not the only way to handle this sort of thing but it's a very common one.

      Don't, however, just grope around for new stakes for your third act. Connect it with the reason your hero was lying to begin with.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

        Good stuff so far, guys.

        Silverlynx, the B story interest is technically not a GF. He's a priest, so it's more hands-off, palpable tension (see Tootsie) without either being able to act on it. So his mother's approval doesn't come into play. I should've been clearer.

        Ronaldinho, answering some of your questions/suggestions...

        The stakes involve A) the fact this lie has been going on long distance for 5 years and B) his mother (a devout Catholic) has heart/stress issues and the protag, knowing this full well, mustn't upset her expectation or it's a trip to the hospital (or worse) for her.

        To his core issue, it comes back to the theme, which is that he's essentially lived his life in fear. He's afraid to tell his mom he got expelled, he's afraid to grow up (owning a strip club, living in chaos help demonstrate this), and he's afraid to commit. That was part of the reason I introduced the girl, who represents the most solid, worthwhile thing in his life to date. She gives him reason to overcome his fears and grow the hell up for once.

        As I have it in the outline (and I very well might change it), the "crisis" of his mother suffering a heart attack doesn't occur when she discovers the secret. In fact, in a reversal, she's kind of okay with it (again this is not set in stone). She then urges him to pursue the girl, whom she views as the only way for her broken son to grow up.

        I've been torn on this, though, a part of me believing (as you both have intimated) that the disaster absolutely should happen (maybe a quick cut to the ER after Michael says to Mom, "I have to tell you something...").

        Really helpful so far guys. Thanks.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

          Originally posted by nyumich View Post
          As I have it in the outline (and I very well might change it), the "crisis" of his mother suffering a heart attack doesn't occur when she discovers the secret. In fact, in a reversal, she's kind of okay with it (again this is not set in stone). She then urges him to pursue the girl, whom she views as the only way for her broken son to grow up.

          I've been torn on this, though, a part of me believing (as you both have intimated) that the disaster absolutely should happen (maybe a quick cut to the ER after Michael says to Mom, "I have to tell you something...").
          I think you need to find a different disaster. If his mom has a heart attack because he was lying to her, that's huge, but it's also not something he can really repair.

          You want a disaster that spurs him into action. I think the twist of her being okay with it is fine, but this is the lower stakes problem. I suspect you need to get more balls in the air, so that he lie is required to keep various aspects of his life in order - and now they're falling apart.

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          • #6
            Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

            Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
            I suspect you need to get more balls in the air, so that he lie is required to keep various aspects of his life in order - and now they're falling apart.
            Yep, this is why I inserted the girl (he now has to keep the lie going to avoid losing her, as well) but unfortunately that doesn't answer the question of what the initial stakes should be, i.e. why he had to do this in the first place.

            Unless, of course, I keep the heart-attack concern, which may make things a little messy and unfixable, as you said. Oy.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

              Originally posted by nyumich View Post
              Yep, this is why I inserted the girl (he now has to keep the lie going to avoid losing her, as well) but unfortunately that doesn't answer the question of what the initial stakes should be, i.e. why he had to do this in the first place.
              A lot of times, the answer to this question is already in the script, just below the surface. Spend some time with it. Dig around. You're doing the right thing (looking at lots of similar films).

              You'll find it.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                Ok. Now you're talking "Mrs. Doubtfire". I think Ron nailed it with balls in the air. They don't all have to be directly tied to keeping the club secret. Could be the police are investigating something. Could be he has a business partner in the club who pays fast and loose.

                Doubtfire had the boss, the ex., the ex's new beau, the kids, work, social worker, bus driver
                Then it all comes together in the restaurant scene and Robin Williams learns his lesson...stop making movies like "R.V."

                Lost track of were I was going there at the end.

                SL35
                SL35
                Potent dreamer. Newb disclaimer.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                  Originally posted by Silverlynx35 View Post
                  Ok. Now you're talking "Mrs. Doubtfire". I think Ron nailed it with balls in the air. They don't all have to be directly tied to keeping the club secret. Could be the police are investigating something. Could be he has a business partner in the club who pays fast and loose.

                  Doubtfire had the boss, the ex., the ex's new beau, the kids, work, social worker, bus driver
                  Then it all comes together in the restaurant scene and Robin Williams learns his lesson...stop making movies like "R.V."

                  Lost track of were I was going there at the end.

                  SL35
                  Yea, the panoply of people to fool definitely adds some humor and conflict.

                  But that also worked better because the stakes were strong (and fixable) from the start. Pull off the charade, or else he'd lose the most important thing in his life: his kids. Once he's discovered, he fixes the problem by digging deep and discovering yes, he could've had the kids all along had he straightened his **** out and grown up. Which, of course, he did in the end...

                  And I guess I should add I have added people already. In addition to his mother, there's the girl and the antagonist (an older priest who scoffs at the notion this younger, "hip" priest is stealing his parishioners). Which leads me to believe even more strongly that my issue stems from the initial stakes.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                    There's a German film called "Goodbye, Lenin," that was a huge hit in Europe. Somewhat related plot. An East German woman falls into a coma right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she wakes, her health is very fragile. She was a devoted Communist, so her son goes to hilarious lengths to protect her from the news that they are now living in a capitalist state. Take a look at it for reference.

                    Late Night Writer

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                    • #11
                      Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                      Originally posted by LateNightWriter View Post
                      There's a German film called "Goodbye, Lenin," that was a huge hit in Europe. Somewhat related plot. An East German woman falls into a coma right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she wakes, her health is very fragile. She was a devoted Communist, so her son goes to hilarious lengths to protect her from the news that they are now living in a capitalist state. Take a look at it for reference.
                      I don't remember it super well, but I remember liking it.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                        Originally posted by nyumich View Post
                        I'm writing a script about a seminary-expellee-turned-strip-club-owner who puts on a charade to ensure the lie he's been living (i.e. that he's a priest) becomes a reality when his mom finally flies cross-country to visit.

                        Okay, the goal is obviously to fool her. I'm wondering, though, if the original goal/purpose for our protag must only be resolved at the very end of the film.

                        My gut says no, particularly when analyzing movies in a similar vein as my own idea. In Tootsie Michael's antics were predictably revealed before the movie's end. The charade in The Birdcage also fell on its face before the conclusion. And there were scenes/resolution to be sought after the "outing."

                        The question then becomes what is reasonable as a final goal... As it stands, I introduced a love interest (to up the stakes). In the Third Act, when our protag is outed, he gains the forgiveness of his mother, but he must fight to gain the forgiveness of this special lady.

                        Any thoughts would be truly appreciated.
                        I believe you are confusing goal with the methods used to achieve a goal. "Fooling Mom" is not really a suitable Story Goal. A Story Goal must be a clear, specific accomplishment that the protagonist believes, once accomplished will bring a desirable end. Perpetrating a ruse must be merely part of the PROCESS to reach that specific end. WHY must the protagonist fool Mom? What is specifically to be earned by pulling this off? What does the protagonist really want? What does he really need? How will fooling Mom accomplish this? You mention Tootsie. But Michael's goal in Tootsie is not just to fool people. The ruse is part of his process to get what he really wants. He is having trouble with his acting career. So, he puts on this charade to earn some amount of success so he can stop playing the lame roles he hates and do what he really wants to do, which is produce and star in his roommate's play. But of course, the ruse causes complications which give his struggle its drama.
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                        • #13
                          Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                          Originally posted by SCRIPTMONK!!! View Post
                          I believe you are confusing goal with the methods used to achieve a goal. "Fooling Mom" is not really a suitable Story Goal. A Story Goal must be a clear, specific accomplishment that the protagonist believes, once accomplished will bring a desirable end. Perpetrating a ruse must be merely part of the PROCESS to reach that specific end. WHY must the protagonist fool Mom? What is specifically to be earned by pulling this off? What does the protagonist really want? What does he really need? How will fooling Mom accomplish this? You mention Tootsie. But Michael's goal in Tootsie is not just to fool people. The ruse is part of his process to get what he really wants. He is having trouble with his acting career. So, he puts on this charade to earn some amount of success so he can stop playing the lame roles he hates and do what he really wants to do, which is produce and star in his roommate's play. But of course, the ruse causes complications which give his struggle its drama.
                          I agree with everything here. And to answer your questions, the "goal" has been to pull off the ruse in order keep him his mother alive upon her visit (she has a severe heart condition). I failed to mention the stakes in the logline, giving rise to the obvious confusion.

                          But thanks to some good feedback here, I've decided to ditch those stakes (while it worked in the film LateNightWriter mentioned -- Good bye, Lenin! -- that movie is far darker than what I'm going for).

                          Thanks for your thoughts.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                            Originally posted by nyumich View Post
                            IIn Tootsie Michael's antics were predictably revealed before the movie's end. The charade in The Birdcage also fell on its face before the conclusion. And there were scenes/resolution to be sought after the "outing."
                            But those antics were revealed at the end of the movie.

                            In Tootsie, all that's left is to reconcile with Julie and Pop.

                            In Birdcage, all that's left is to get out of the nightclub.
                            Story Structure 1
                            Story Structure 2
                            Story Structure 3

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                            • #15
                              Re: Third Act Question about a Comedy I'm Writing

                              Originally posted by nyumich View Post
                              I agree with everything here. And to answer your questions, the "goal" has been to pull off the ruse in order keep him his mother alive upon her visit (she has a severe heart condition). I failed to mention the stakes in the logline, giving rise to the obvious confusion.

                              But thanks to some good feedback here, I've decided to ditch those stakes (while it worked in the film LateNightWriter mentioned -- Good bye, Lenin! -- that movie is far darker than what I'm going for).

                              Thanks for your thoughts.
                              There's a whole tradition of stories along these lines -- children fooling parents, parents fooling children, somebody fooling somebody about who and what they are and the situation inevitably spiraling more and more out of control as the attempt at deception grows ever more desperate.

                              And while the specifics and the details and the tone of these stories obviously differ enormously, the underlying theme remains the same.

                              It is the *internal* conflict between being true to yourself and who you are and trying to live up to someone else's expectation of who they think you ought to be.

                              Living for (being true to) yourself as opposed to living for someone else.

                              And the underlying message of these stories is the same. When you deny yourself in order to make yourself over for another person, you're living a lie.

                              You need to be true to yourself. And in order to do that, you have to be true to others, especially to whoever it is that you really care about.

                              So Mom's heart condition notwithstanding, in the end your MC has to find a way to come clean.

                              That's not just the end of your movie, it's the end of every movie of which yours is simply one of long standing tradition.

                              To end it any other way is to say, in effect, that's it better to lie than to tell the truth.

                              NMS

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