The Beta Marriage

The Beta Marriage

LOGLINE: A contract lawyer and a professor team up to create the Beta-marriage, only to discover that it doesn’t work – they must sacrifice their personal gains and work together to resolve the problem, or see their families and friends suffer all whilst dealing with their own romantic history.  

Or: A professor and contract lawyer work together to draw up and sell a marriage contract that guarantees a happy ending.

screenplay by Alan Nafzger (128 pages)

The beta marriage was invented by contract lawyer RICK and research social scientist TINA. The former couple have lunch dates that cancel and they have lunch. A conversation about marriage develops. While not entirely invented out of necessity, there were financial incentives for RICK. And academic curiosity on TINA’s part.

They come up with a tech-inspired “Beta” union, in which marriages would be subject to a trial period, much like a new app or software product. In this scenario, newlyweds would test-run the union for six months, a year or two years in order to work out any kinks or bugs and then choose to proceed with the marriage or dissolve the partnership without any of the nasty consequences of a formal divorce.

TINA will write a book and appear on various TV programs and RICK will promote this new marriage as part of his law firm’s advertising.

Halt in midstream. RICK and TINA were recently “almost” married. It began with a “platform migration” (a cross-country move) and a “bandwidth challenge” (cohabitation in a 450-sq.-ft. New York apartment). There was a “false start” (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency “deglitching” (couples therapy). They tried to “take the product public” before we were ready (she wrote about their relationship in the Psychology Today magazine). And then, finally, they “abandoned launch”. There were simply “too many bugs”.

NOTE #1: The entire movie is an extended analogy, which compares marriage to software. It might be simply a RICK and TINA text each other or share the same software. They might both be experimenting with software and have been unable to find software that will meet their needs. It might be more pervasive than just that.

NOTE #2: Speaking of bugs, I like the idea of a software or app comparison. Why not have an actual tracking app which Tina and Rick invent together and use to score and track the efficacy of the beta-marriage. This app could be the target of social discord and reflect the degree to which we rely on technology and let it rule our lives instead of approaching them in a more natural manner.

RICK has handled one divorce in his legal history and it didn’t go well. It was ugly; there was a gun and police and no one was happy. RICK lost money in handling on the divorce, if you calculate the broken windows and destroyed office furniture. RICK vows never to handle a divorce again. Simple contract law is his only joy.

TINA’s Ph.D. advisors have always encouraged her to think outside the box and to revolutionize her approach to everything. There is a reasonable amount of pressure for her research to be bias in favor of a new marriage paradigm. TINA’s grandmother was a famous feminist and she feels this urge to make her mark as well.

RICK is getting wealthy writing all these contracts. TINA is becoming an academic celebrity. RICK and TINA how will all this effect them personally? Will they resume their romance. Will they ensue a beta marriage? Or will the make the big leap.

A professor and contract lawyer work together to draw up and sell a marriage contract that guarantees a happy ending. They promise the public a happy ending… if they part at the end of the time period… it is better than divorce and (by contract) a happy ending.  If they remain married at the end of the contract, then that is a happy ending. Now what REALLY makes this movie is… that by listening to all the debate and criticism, RICK and TINA are drawn into traditional marriage and THUS guaranteed a happy ending. In the end, RICK and TINA realize their idea is B.S. and this draws them together.


On a side note: Geraldo Riviera sounds like a sexist. Haha. Really, a woman’s value is primarily found in her youth? That’s ALL she brings to a relationship? Not warmth, love, comfort, etc.?

The story opens on Tina having coffee in one of the local shoppes on campus – it reminds her of a simpler time and was actually the place she first met Rick. Lo and behold, who walks in the door, but Rick himself. He’s there for a work appointment, and stopped in at the coffee place for old time’s sake. The fortuitous meeting soon turns serious as Rick asks Tina about work. They discuss their relationship experiences and whether they think marriage could really work. Rick tells her his fears and she agrees. They decide to meet up for a chat later. Tina spends the night preparing and completely nervous – she can’t believe she’s going on a date with Rick!

They go out and have a fantastic time, but Rick proposes the idea of a beta-marriage instead of kissing her goodnight (awkwarddd!!) and asks if she’d be interested in a business relationship. She accepts – as a social scientist, she’s fascinated by the implications of the beta-marriage – and is excited by the prospect of doing her feminist grandmother proud. They sit down the next day and discuss the beta-marriage and how to set it up. Tina proposes a test study first, but Rick is eager to market it straight away. They do both at the same time, and Tina is shocked when her brother, George, comes to her about his relationship. She tells him about her revolutionary idea and she agrees to help him out – and he her, as he’s always been her rock. Tina gets volunteers involved and starts tracking their progress but finds it quite difficult without a reliable method of doing so. She decides to go discuss this with Rick.

It’s then that Tina walks in on Rick and Jessie chatting in his office. She recognizes her instantly from back in their University days as Rick’s other ex. She gets a bit jealous, and Jessie acts very awkward and leaves shortly after the interruption. Tina discusses the app issue with Rick and they sit down and plan what they’d need – then take it to George, who happens to be a software developer. They go on the radio a couple times to discuss their idea, but no one takes any real interest and both are frustrated by the lack of progress. George lets on that he’s unhappy in his relationship and Tina discusses it with Rick, who promptly suggests they try out the beta-marriage and lead others by example. Rick and Jessie discuss it as well and she completely disapproves, even though she’s supposed to be one of his closest friends – he realizes she still has feelings and starts pulling away for fear he will damage her marriage. George marries after the beta-test.

Tina calls her sister, Elise, to tell her about the project and how she wants to take a stand for feminism and Elise totally antagonistic towards her. Tina warns Elise about Liam – after having met him a few months before and him hitting on her – but Elise tells her to butt out and pay attention to her own life and issues. Meanwhile, Elise secretly downloads the released app to start a beta-marriage with Liam. The theory and app gain popularity after Rick and Tina go on a show as an actual couple and present it together. Suddenly, it’s all over the place. The phone rings off the hook and Rick really starts making money, whilst Tina hears from the Uni that’s she up for tenure because of her exploits. Everything is exciting and fresh. Except for the volunteers who aren’t happy – most of the women have discovered infidelity and don’t feel secure. Some of the six month ‘contracts’ have flopped because the men have used the women or vice versa. Tina confronts Rick with the facts, and he seduces her. They sleep together. She’s finally allowing herself to fall for him, and Jessie is angry as all hell.

Jessie goes to the press about the farce Rick and Tina are perpetrating and it blows wide open the morning after. They’re stalked by paparazzi and avoid each other at all costs. Meanwhile Liam and Elise get into a massive fight over their progress in the beta-marriage as tracked by the app. She cries on Tina’s shoulder but Tina can’t handle it, she’s too busy trying to do damage control and can’t get hold of Rick. She goes to his place and sees Jessie kissing him. She flees before he can see her standing there and refuses his calls. Both Rick and Tina sink into depressions. Rick loses all his money and retires from his practice because of the negative attention, and Tina doesn’t get tenure.

George discovers that his wife has cheated on him and has to get a divorce anyway. The beta-marriage failed for him too and it helps Tina realizes that she shouldn’t give up on something because of her fears. She goes after Rick and proposed to him. HE accepts and they elope together to get married away from the limelight. Elise leaves Liam after everything that’s happened with him, and the app is taken off the market. Rick and Tina become advocates of normal marriage and lead by example.


Rick: The contract lawyer and part-protagonist, he’s driven and has put off love because of his parent’s failed marriage. He’s in love with Tina but wants to protect himself because of his emotional drawbacks.

Tina: The social scientist and part-protagonist,she covers her fear of inadequacy with a constant need for approval in the professional arena to avoid facing the pain of her mother’s inattention.   

Elise:  Tina’s youngest sister, who refutes her belief in the theory and acts out against her. She’s a feminist and is very active in groups of the like. Her main motivation is equality, but secretly harbours feelings for a man who’s a known sexist.

Liam: Elise’s lover, who’s forcing her to beta-test their relationship, let alone their marriage. She wants to prove to him that it’s a false practice. He’s cheating on her.

Jessie:  Rick’s ex-girlfriend. She’s married with children but can’t let go of their relationship. She’s still friends with Rick and doesn’t know whether she should be with her husband or not.

George: Tina’s older brother who was withdrawn during their childhood, but is now her rock. He’s a great guy and treats others with respect, but is being played by the woman he loves. He uses the beta-test, but it fails anyway.         


INTERNAL CONFLICT: Tina is the middle child in a family of three, with a feminist grandmother. She was never given the time of day and puts her personal life on hold, burying the pain of never receiving attention from an absent mother, focussing solely on her ambition and academic career.

INTERNAL STAKES: If Tina doesn’t reconcile her need for attention and approval from others, and focus on internal needs, she will never be happy.

INTERACTIONAL CONFLICT: Tina has real feelings for Rick that she buried after a messy break up when they were in college together.

INTERACTIONAL STAKES: If Tina doesn’t accept her feelings and go for Rick, then she will miss out on a real relationship which could work.

WORLD CONFLICT: Tina and Rick decide to try the Beta Marriage and make a career out of it, until they realize it isn’t working and is ruining the lives of those around them.

WORLD STAKES: If Tina and Rick don’t compromise their personal ambitions and work together, they will see their loved ones unhappy and subject the world to a system that simply doesn’t work.


  • Rick was an only child and is a little bit more selfish as a result. However, he wants to help others because his parent’s relationship was shattered when he was a child. This was his main motive for becoming a divorce lawyer and why his viewpoint of marriage is jaded.
  • I thought you could approach a few perspectives here – the man who wants to make it work but can’t, the woman who gives up on her beliefs for love and sees it fail. There are multiple themes you can take advantage of here.
  • In the end, all the individuals involved learn from the Beta-marriage, though it’s not about their respective relationships – it’s about themselves.
  • I thought it would be quite fun if you used the Beta-marriage as a farce for Rick and Tina, but that’s very cliché – that kind of fake relationship has been done over and over again. So, it’s a real one, but in the beta version and it has plenty of bugs.
  • Remember to keep tension high between the main couple and in the novel in general. Tension is the driving force behind a good story – that and goal-driven scenes. Don’t be afraid to throw obstacles in the character’s way and see how he/she reacts.
  • As always keep those POVs tight! I say this in every single order I deliver because it’s so important, and filter words are one of the first things editors and publishers look for in a manuscript.


  • Inciting event: Rick and Tina meet up. Rick and Tina decide to create the beta-marriage after Rick tells her about his fears and she wants to take a stand for feminism. They create the beta-marriage together and start marketing it to his clients. She writes papers on it and asks for volunteer test subjects. George becomes a volunteer.
  • Act one climax – Tina is still career-driven, but slowly starts giving into her emotions with Rick. Jessie enters the picture and befriends Rick again. Tina hides her jealousy. They develop an app together to encourage the popularity of the beta-marriage, but it doesn’t take off. Even the shows they do don’t seem all that interested. They come up with another plan: to be in a beta-marriage themselves. Jessie disapproves. George is unhappy with his relationship but keeps trying. Elise secretly downloads the app and starts up with Liam, who cheats on her relentlessly. Tina tries to warn Elise, but she’s having none of it and calls her sister a sell out for doing the beta-marriage. Calls her an anti-feminist. Tina and Rick’s beta-marriage theory and app gains popularity after a T.V. Show showcasing it. People all over the world go gaga for it and start using it. Rick starts getting rich from all the contracts. Tina gets worldwide acclaim from her studies on it. But the volunteers are unhappy and mostly dissolve their beta-marriages before the end of the period because it brings no level of certainty. Infidelity is rife. Tina and Rick grow very close and sleep together. Jessie forces herself on Rick, Tina sees.
  • Mid-point reversal – World finds out about Beta-marriage farce. Worldwide outrage as the media blows it out of proportion. Elise and Liam fight and she’s broken and goes crying to Tina who doesn’t know how to help after the trouble the beta-marriage has introduced.
  • Act two climax – Rick and Tina break up and the world goes mad. Tina loses academic claim and doesn’t get tenure. Rick loses cash and retires. Tina believes she’s nothing and has hurt everyone around her. She doesn’t know how to handle it without Rick – she loves him. George finds his woman cheating on him and gets a divorce.
  • Climax – Elise leaves Liam. Tina goes after Rick and they reconcile. They get married and reveal it to the public. The app is taken off the market, and they become advocates of normal marriage. George stays single.



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