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Structure: Juno

At the time of release, much of the attention surrounding JUNO went to the screenwriter rather than the script.
Now the dust around Diablo Cody has settled, some voices have questioned the quality of the script.


by Karel Segers

I still believe it is a wonderful independent film, well-structured and beautifully written. Usually I am not a fan of mannered dialogue but here, this stylistic trademark is delivered really well by Juno’s strong cast.

Update 1 May 2012: Following some good suggestions from readers, I have changed the Inciting Incident from Bleeker’s line “Do whatever you think is right” to what it is now. Thank you all for the comments and suggestions!

ACT ONE

Sequence A: One doodle that can’t be undid.

00.30 “AUTUM” Juno drinks juice. “It started with a chair.”
01.00 Flashback to the conception.
01.30 Opening Titles.
04.00 Third urine pregnancy test, Juno still won’t accept result.
05.00 There’s that pink “+” sign again.
05.30 Juno hangs a a candy noose off a tree, then eats it.
06.30 Juno calls best friend Leah to tell her. Disbelief. “Lunch baby?”
07.30 Juno with Leah, trying to figure out what to do.
08.30 FlashBack to how it started: Spanish Class
09.00 Bleeker getting ready to run.
09.30 Juno with Bleeker: Do whatever you think is right.
11.00 At school with Bleeker: they seem a pretty good match.
13.30 Juno calls for abortion info.
14.30 Juno VO about her past, mother and stepmum Bren.
16.00 Su-Chin: “All babies want to get borned”.

Sequence B: Crisis of conscience.

17.00 At WOMEN NOW: form to complete, free condom offered.
18.30 Juno waits, gets an anxiety attack and leaves.
19.00 With Leah: considering to adopt it out.
20.00 Reading adoption ads in the park: Mark & Vanessa sound good.
21.00 Bleeker at home, his mother doesn’t like Juno.
22.00 Juno tells her parents about the problem and her adoption plan.

25.00 Dad: Not ready to be a Pop-Pop. Mum: You know it wasn’t his idea.

ACT TWO

Sequence C: Mark and Vanessa Lohring.

26.00 Driving there with dad.
27.00 Meeting Mark, who is cool & Vanessa who is highly strung.
28.00 Decision for a closed adoption. Mark isn’t too excited.
31.00 Juno, on the way to the toilet, checks out the house.
32.00 Juno bumps into Mark, they bond over a Les Paul guitar & music.
33.30 Vanessa goes upstairs when she hears Mark singing: reprimands him.
34.30 Vanessa is insecure but Juno is 104% sure she will go ahead.

Sequence D: Will Vanessa be a good mum?

36.00 WINTER – Bleek is running & questioned about stuff by classmate.
36.30 Bleek offers Juno to skip his movie party and join for the ultrasound.
37.30 Ultrasound nurse insults Juno, Bren retorts fiercely.
40.00 Juno visits Mark to show scans, they bond.
43.00 J. & M. listen to Sonic Youth, watch horror, talk about baby’s name.
46.30 Vanessa shows lots of baby stuff, mentions a ‘cold feet’ experience.
48.00 Bren thinks Juno has crossed a boundary by dropping by at M. & V.’s.
49.30 Visiting Bleeker; he plans for the future, wants to get back together.
52.30 POV: Mark & Vanessa have different views about preparations.

54.00 At the mall: Juno & Leah see Vanessa, who seems a good future mum.
55.00 They meet Vanessa, who feels the baby kick.

Sequence E: Will Mark be a (good) father?

57.00 “SPRING” Bleeker is running, Bren is sewing stretch pants for Juno.
58.00 Calling Mark, they chat and bond over music and learning.
58.30 Leah tells about Bleeker & Katrina for prom. Juno doesn’t believe it.
60.00 Juno argues with Bleeker over Katrina.
63.00 Putting on lipstick, to Mark: he shows pregnant superhero cartoon.
63.30 Mark & Juno dance. M. says he’s leaving V. Juno is in shock.
67.00 Vanessa arrives, asks what’s wrong; Mark admits he has cold feet.

70.00 Juno drives off, pulls over, cries.
72.00 Bleekers plays the guitar // Juno writes a note.
72.30 Mark & Vanessa talk about divorce and lawyers.
73.30 Juno delivers her note to Mark & Vanessa.

74.30 Juno asks her dad about true love and happiness. He gives advice.

ACT THREE

Sequence F: I’m still in.

77.30 “Tic-tac-o-holic”. Mysterious delivery at night.
78.00 Bleeker finds tictacs. Juno visits him on the running track. Kisses him.
80.30 Water brakes.
81.00 Contractions, Juno begs for ‘spinal tap’.
81.30 Birth.
82.00 Bleeker running.
82.30 Juno with dad in hospital: You’ll be back – on your terms!
83.00 Bleeker visits, lies with Juno.
84.00 Vanessa visits to see the baby.
85.00 The note to Vanessa: “If you’re still in, I’m still in”.

Sequence G: Bleeker and Juno

85.30 SUMMER – Juno on bike, VO about Bleeker as a top boyfriend.
86.30 Playing the guitar together.

INCITING INCIDENT

Juno’s realisation of her pregnancy seems a very early Inciting Incident. Because of the repeated urine tests, it almost passes as a ‘normal life’ situation for this story. Why then IS it the Inciting Incident? Because Juno MUST act. Her life has changed irreversibly and she’s got to do something about it.

Twenty minutes of screen time pass between Juno’s realisation and the end of Act One. Why does this work? Possibly because of the sequential structure.

The first sequence is much less about the realisation of being pregnant than it is about the question ‘who is going to help me’? Until Bleeker says “Do whatever you think is right”, she is still trying to get the solution from others. After this, she knows she will have to come up with the answer.

What follows is still a 15mins long ‘think-think’ sequence. This works fabulously, because it leaves us all with the nagging moral question “what would I do?”. Because of the depth of the dilemma, it takes a certain amount of time for our heroine to properly consider these options.

Once she has decided, she puts her plan to her parents and with their blessing, Juno has an objective for Act Two.

MID POINT

While Juno’s Outer Objective is about responsibly carrying the baby, the strongest Inner Journeys are really Vanessa and Mark’s. Their behaviours display flaws that may impact on their parenthood: Vanessa acts highly strung and Mark appears strangely blasé about it all. Act IIa asks “is Vanessa a suitable mother?” and Act IIb gradually shows Mark to be unfit as a father.

Although Mark and Vanessa’s journeys are gradual and they evolve throughout Act Two, the shopping mall sequence / mid point is a powerful connection point for two reasons: 1) for Juno it answers the question whether Vanessa is really suitable to raise her child and 2) it will give Juno the strength to proceed once Mark bails out.

CRISIS/REWARD

The end of Act Two usually consists of two parts: the down part (Mark bailing out) and an up part (Dad offering hope). In this film it is executed in an extraordinary way as we will learn that Juno had made up her mind before getting her dad’s advice. While we are watching the film it seems as if she finds the strength from this conversation. When we finally get to see Juno’s note to Vanessa “If you’re still in, I’m still in”, we learn that the Act Two of her Inner Journey had completed before we saw it. This is consistent with the principle that the hero usually only gets ahead of the audience towards the second half of the movie.

About the Author

Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

Comments 6

  1. Hi.

    I strongly disagree with your view of the Inciting Incident. The discovery of the pregnancy is the catalyst of the story and many many films start with some sort of catalytic event in the first few pages.

    So the “setup”… “the ordinary world” of this film… is that a teenage girl is pregnant and does not know what to do.

    The “inciting incident” on page 15 is Juno when calls to procure a hasty abortion. She then “refuses the call” when she visits the clinic and has a panic attack.

    On page 24 Juno decides to adopt the baby out to Mark and Vanessa and she commits to the journey at the “first act turning point” or “break into two” by breaking the news to her family that she is indeed pregnant and intends to adopt the baby out on page 25.

    The “second act story” is about a girl preparing to adopt out her child and all the mess of that world.

    The “Midpoint” of that story is when Juno has a one on one visit with Mark and the seed of teenage lust is planted in his mind. That “midpoint” leads to the “all is lost moment or pinch two” where Mark busts a move and Juno and tells her he is going to leave Vanessa.

    The second act turning point happens after Mark and Vanessa have decided to split and Juno writes the note for Vanessa that reads, “If you’re still in, I’m still in”

    The analysis you have written can be criticized from one point and that is that you have ignored the actions of the protagonist as the turning points. The protagonist turns the story. Juno causes everything to happen from the inception “it wasn’t Bleeker’s idea” all the way through to the end when she gives Vanessa the baby even though she is now a broken family.

    A good way to break down the turning points of a script is to look for them on the right pages. page 12-15 inciting incident, page 25 first act turning point. Page 50 midpoint and so on. And remember… if the protagonist didn’t to it, it’s probably not the turning point you think it is.

  2. Post
    Author

    Brett, I really like your analysis and you hit the nail on the head when you say that I don’t look at the actions of the protagonist as the turning points.

    From experience, I like to focus on the combination of EVENT + ACTION as the two essential components of a plot point. First we have the trigger event that motivates the action, then we have the action itself.

    Therefore when we see the first action of the
    protagonist to achieve the story’s main objective, I will place this in Act Two. The logic behind this: any further action also belongs in that same act.

    It would be inconsistent in my view to place the FIRST action with a specific goal in Act One and the SECOND action with the same goal in Act Two.

    The DECISION moment lies in between. In most of my analyses, you’ll find that I place the act break right after the decision moment if we can locate it.

    I am aware that this viewpoint may be different from other people’s but I have found that it works very well in story development.

    Upon re-reading my breakdown above, I believe I need to amend it:

    PP2: 70.00 Juno drives off, pulls over, cries.

    When Juno writes the note, she has already made up her mind: she’s still in. This means she’s past the ‘lowest point’ of PP2 and effectively Act Three has started.

  3. Hey story Dude,
    Sorry it took so long to get back to you re: your feedback on my feedback of “Juno”. I still think the protagonist’s action is the turning point. Intention does not change the world. Action does. The decision to change something is not visible to an audience. Especially within a visual medium like film. The action is visible and the action creates the new circumstances from which the story can change. I believe the big turning points act one and two turning points ARE the act breaks for once someone takes that action the second act starts. The first act turning point sits neither in the first nor second act but in the space between them. Catalysts and Inciting Incidents often do not come from the protagonist’s actions but once the character decides to act they create the first act turning point and every turning point after than, like clockwork… at least in any good film.
    BS

  4. I think the inciting incident occurs when the protester talks to Juno about her unborn baby. After this, she goes in the clinic (debates internally), but leaves. She tells her best friend she’s keeping the baby. ACT II either starts when they look into parents wanting to adopt, tell her parents or actually go the Loring’s house.

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