As previously stated, the first acting step is for you to set the stage.
Your characters, your world, and your central conflict are all necessary for your audience to comprehend what they are watching.
Even without the opening crawl, think of Star Wars’ opening sequence. You’re fighting spaceships, lasers, rebels, imperials, and a big, scary guy dressed in black from head to toe. Because it uses images to establish the world, you understand what Star Wars is about from the first frame.
It works and is clear.
Within the first few minutes, the main conflict of the movie—the Rebels stealing the plans for the Death Star and their attempt to destroy it—is also established.
The story’s “inciting incident” is when the Empire boarded the Rebel spaceship to retrieve the plans. This event is the cause of everything that happens in the story. Luke Skywalker, our protagonist, becomes involved in the galactic civil war as a result of a space battle that took place above his home planet and two droids that ended up on his farm with plans for an Imperial battle station.
His character story is his rise from farm boy to Jedi Knight. He only wants to leave Tatooine and get away from his uncle’s farm. He would not be able to save the day in the third act if his character story wasn’t set up in the first act. Don’t ignore this. The most crucial aspect of your first act is establishing your protagonist and their primary need.
The most crucial aspect of your first act is establishing your protagonist and their primary need.
A turning point, also known as the “call to action,” will occur at the conclusion of the first act. It is frequently referred to as a problem in television. partially due to the fact that the stakes in a random Friends episode are significantly lower than in Star Wars. Your protagonist’s affirmative decision to pursue his or her goals and see the story through is the story beat at the conclusion of the first act.
This occurs when Luke returns home to discover that the Empire has killed his aunt and uncle in Star Wars. To call this a complication would be an understatement. Therefore, he decides to go with Obi-Wan Kenobi and learn how to help the Rebel Alliance while acting like a Jedi Knight. The rest of the movie doesn’t happen and the Empire wins if the protagonist doesn’t make that affirmative choice to pursue his goals at the end of the first act.
Your pilot script may not have these beats as prominent, but they are still there. We should return to Haunted Bakery. Let’s say the pilot starts with a cold opening (the scene before the credits).
We can take advantage of this opportunity to tell the audience everything they need to know about the show, including who the main character is, where it takes place, the show’s tone, and whether or not we are in a ghostly world.
This scene would take place in the bakery if I were to write this pilot (which I am not). When our protagonist is getting everything ready for the grand opening and making sure everything is just right, a ghost sneaks up on her and scares the crap out of her, punching her in the funny end.
Even though there isn’t much to it, this opening scene reveals everything the audience needs to know. Our protagonist is getting ready to open a bakery. She is interested in the bakery. This bakery is probably where the show will take place. It’s a comedy show. Haunted is the bakery. You have given the audience enough information to know what they are watching and decide whether or not they want to continue in probably a scene that lasts two minutes.
It goes without saying that your cold opening—or opening scene, if you decide not to include one—does not have to be as obvious. But something similar would be done even in comedies that aren’t very broad, like Haunted Bakery. The protagonist having sex when the condom breaks in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, a prestige half-hour comedy if ever there was one. He and the woman conduct a Google search to determine whether or not it is possible to become pregnant using cum, after which they call an Uber to order a Plan B pill. Even though there aren’t any bakeries or ghosts, this first scene pretty much explains what the show will be about: dealing with modern dating and relationships.
Cheers has an effective cold opening as well. Sam gets the bar ready for opening day. As he passes, he tenderly runs his hand along the molding. Sam turns down the kid’s fake ID after they have a funny exchange. The kid comes in and orders a beer. Thus, we are aware that Sam owns a bar. He enjoys the bar. He is concerned about his clients. He is the kind of person who acts in the right way. It’s a comedy show. From now on, we pretty much know what Cheers is. We learn that Sam is the show’s heart, despite the fact that this episode tells the story of Diane’s character.
The remainder of your first act will further introduce the audience to your world, characters, the central conflict of the show (episode- and series-wise), the goal of your protagonist, your antagonist and their goal (if you have one), and all the other information they need to enjoy your show.