US History

Screenplay outline on the sinking of the Lusitania (State Standard 11.4)

 First read the explanation below about what a screenplay is.

Assignment: You will write the outline of a story, a screenplay that could be used to make a movie on the sinking of the Lusitania. Use GoogleDocs.

You will not be writing an entire screenplay, but only an outline, which you or someone else could develop at a later date.

In the outline you will describe (1) the drama leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania, (2) you will describe what happened on the ship between the characters and the sinking, and (3) you will describe what happened afterwards.

That is the structure of the screenplay of the film Titanic, but your will be more exciting since it will contain intrigue. Whose eyes will you describe the action through? Where will your scenes occur?

Write a list of characters first.

Each act must have at least 2 paragraphs (6 sentences each). Each Act has 2 sections or scenes; write at least a full paragraph for each section. Each scene must take place in different locations; Scenes 1 and 2 cannot be in the same place. Each paragraph must contain 2 historical facts. This assignment must be typed. Copy and paste the outline below.

Use at least 12 real historical facts and underline them.



Follow this outline. Copy and paste this section below into GoogleDocs.


List of Characters

  Act 1 (12 sentences total): Before the ship leaves

  Scene 1: Problem or catalyst (Something that happens to one or some of the characters that forces them to make a decision). 6 sentences containing at least 2 underlined facts.

  Scene 2: 1st major turning point or bombshell (Something secret that is being revealed only to the viewer of the film and not to the other characters). 6 sentences containing at least 2 underlined facts.


  Act 2: (12 sentences total); on the ship

  Scene 1: The Point of no return or midpoint (Something is discovered while passengers are on the ship). 6 sentences containing at least 2 underlined facts.

  Scene 2: Crisis (Something terrible will happen; reveal this here). 6 sentences containing at least 2 underlined facts.


  Act 3: (12 sentences total); The sinking of the ship and what happens afterwards

  Scene 1; Climax or final confrontation (How and why the ship sinks; who survives). 6 sentences containing at least 2 underlined facts.

  Scene 2: Resolution (After some passengers are saved; how the story comes to a conclusion. What happens to the main characters? What happens to the bad guys?). 6 sentences containing at least 2 underlined facts




The Lesson Explanation

 Student: read all of this:

So you want to write a screenplay?

A screenplay is the foundation around which a movie is made. It wasn't always that way. Moviemaking is a relatively new art form that includes all the traditional arts: painting, music, acting, and writing. Very quickly the industry had to improve its story telling devices and discovered the art of editing.  In the beginning there was no need for the screenplay. Moviemakers sometimes wrote an outline of what they wanted to do and then made up the rest as they filmed. Movies were five minutes long. Soon however, they realized they needed scripts that described the action and contained dialogue. The screenwriter was born. The screenplay became the most important part of moviemaking. No movie.

Screenwriters create the world in which the characters live. They put them in conflict with each other, they make us part of their battle and then bring it all to a satisfactory conclusion. The discussions on the next pages serve as a basic introduction to the screenplay.

The Heart of a Screenplay

The screenplay is a description and a blueprint for making a movie. The following is a brief guide to what is contained in a successful screenplay. The writer's job is to provide characters with behavior and dialogue that make them interesting, lovable or hateful. The leading characters (protagonist and antagonist - hero and villain) must be filled with needs and traits that are in conflict with each other. Each of them must have something so important at stake that they would be willing to take great risks to succeed. The audience must cheer for one of them to get what he wants or they will lose interest in the story.

The setting and the incidents that move the story along must serve the needs of the characters. "The Godfather," which we'll discuss later, is set in the family's compound and in the relatively small world of the Mafia. We learn enough about these characters to care about them when various incidents threaten to destroy their family.

A short course on writing a screen play
Most screenplays are built on a three act structure:



The Set Up

The audience meets the two major characters, the protagonist and the antagonist (hero and villain). They learn about who these characters are, what they want, and why they must get what they want.

In the setup of a movie, we see one of the leading characters reacting to a major incident that sets the movie in motion. For example, in "Jurassic Park", Jurassic Park's computer programmer, Dennis Nedry, who has been bribed by a corporate rival to steal dinosaur embryos, deactivates the park's security system to allow him access to the embryo storage room. Suddenly a series of events begin to occur which no human can control. In any movie, the decisions a protagonist or antagonist (villain) makes, under pressure, reveals who he is and what he's made of.

For example: Hammond and the park's chief engineer Ray Arnold made the decision to reboot the entire park's system. The group shuts down the park's grid and retreats to an emergency bunker, while Arnold heads to a maintenance shed to complete the rebooting process. When he fails to return, Sattler and Muldoon decide to head to the shed as well. They discover the shutdown has deactivated the remaining fences and released the Velociraptors. The set up is complete as the decision is made and is the main turning point of the movie: the remaining humans, under the leadership of the protagonist Dr. Alan Grant, must try to survive without the aid of the security system.

In this way the screenwriter gives the movie its direction with both plot and character outline. The protagonist has a choice: give up and run from the new reality or jump in and fight. The action grows out of the behavior of our leading character (Dr. Grant).


The battle is joined and now both major characters are locked in combat for the remainder of the movie. The writer creates surprises that keep the conflict moving in an upward spiral. Then as it looks as though there will be resolution, there is another key surprise that turns the movie around yet again. Our characters are sent reeling, creating unbearable tension. This moment in the screenplay is called "the decision" or "crisis." It is where the protagonist chooses a specific action that forces the outcome of the movie.  

From here the screenwriter builds to the final confrontation. Breathlessly, the audience anticipates the end.


The concluding sequence(s) shows the protagonist and antagonist playing out the climactic action and resolving the problem that started it all.

Illustration of Structure

Most successful movies have five distinct story turning points and three acts. We will use "The Godfather," as our template to illustrate these points. "The Godfather" is unusually structured in that there are two protagonists.  The father, Vito Corleone, creates the initial problem by refusing to join the rest of the Mafia families in the drug business, and it is his son Michael who completes the journey by resolving the conflict.

Summary of the movie “The Godfather”:

Vito Corleone is the aging don (head) of the Corleone Mafia Family. His youngest son Michael has returned from WWII just in time to see the wedding of Connie Corleone (Michael's sister) to Carlo Rizzi. All of Michael's family is involved with the Mafia, but Michael just wants to live a normal life. Drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo is looking for Mafia families to offer him protection in exchange for a profit of the drug money. He approaches Don Corleone about it, but, much against the advice of the Don's lawyer Tom Hagen, the Don is morally against the use of drugs, and turns down the offer. This does not please Sollozzo, who has the Don shot down by some of his hit men. The Don barely survives, which leads his son Michael to begin a violent mob war against Sollozzo and tears the Corleone family apart.

Structure of the film:

Act 1: The Problem or Catalyst
The main character is presented with a dilemma (a problem that requires that he make a decision) that forces an action and is at the heart of the conflict.  Sollozzo offers Don Corleone a piece of his drug business in return for protection. The Don rejects the deal

First Major Turning Point or Bombshell.
This is when the entire movie is turned on its head. The unexpected happens: Don Corleone is shot.

Act 2: The Point of No Return or Mid-Point 
The character is locked into his journey and can never go back.  Michael avenges his father by shooting Sollozzo and McCluskey.

This is the moment where the main character takes action to resolve his problem. Michael consents to become godfather to his nephew and resolve his issues with the other five families.

Act 3: The Climax or Final Confrontation 
Our hero faces his enemies and the conflict is resolved.  Michael has his rivals murdered while he takes vows to become godfather to his nephew.

All loose ends are tied up. The audience is given a moment to absorb the impact of the climax and reflect on what they've just experienced. Michael becomes the Godfather.



The Rubric (staple this to your screenplay outline)

Screenplay outline on the sinking of the Lusitania; Rubric


1)      List of Characters

a)      Included

b)      Not included


2)      Length

a)      2 paragraphs each Act

b)      Less than 2 paragraphs


3)      Historical facts

a)      Included and underlined

b)      Included but not underlined

c)      Not included or obvious

d)      Less than 12 facts


4)      Act 1:

5)      Scene 1: Problem or catalyst

a)      Described clearly, completely and connected to the story

b)      Unclear or not obvious

c)      Not included

6)      Scene 2: 1st major turning point or bombshell

a)      Described clearly, completely and connected to the story

b)      Unclear or not obvious

c)      Not included


5)      Act 2:

6)      Scene 1: The Point of no return or mid point

a)      Described clearly, completely and connected to the story

b)      Unclear or not obvious

c)      Not included

7)      Scene 2: Crisis

a)      Described clearly, completely and connected to the story

b)      Unclear or not obvious

c)      Not included


8)      Act 3:

9)      Scene 1: Climax or final confrontation

a)      Described clearly, completely and connected to the story

b)      Unclear or not obvious

Not included

10)  Scene 2: Resolution

a)      Described clearly, completely and connected to the story

b)      Unclear or not obvious

c)      Not included