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Every once in a while I post a topic I believe will be helpful to writers. Considering that I keep seeing the same problems over and over again I believe a lack of understanding of the 3-Act structure results in many of these problems.
The three Act structure is important. However, what most writers don’t understand is how to execute the three Act structure – with or without formulas (writer’s choice). They usually end up with a script that has one of the following problems:
-Short Third Act. This means there wasn’t enough conflict to sustain the story. -External conflict with no internal conflict. This results in a script that lacks depth and substance. -All internal conflict and no external conflict. This usually reads like a therapy session. -Failure to understand the antagonist is the most important character in the film, not the protagonist. The protagonist is the hero the audience will identify with, but without the antagonist’s plan there is no story. Yet so many ignore the power of the antagonist! -Three Acts are individual stories with their own beginning, middle and end. -Character with no arc. This happens because the writer doesn’t understand the purpose of a screenplay.
Understanding the purpose of a screenplay and how it applies to the three Acts will help writers avoid the problems listed above and many other problems. So, what is the purpose of a screenplay?
To create an external conflict that forces a character to deal with an internal conflict he has been avoiding then overcome it and become strong enough (emotionally) to defeat the external conflict.
I know, this sounds confusing, but here’s an example from an action film that appears to have no internal conflict, but does. From the blockbuster action film “Speed.”
Act I External Conflict = The bomber. Internal Conflict = Jack (Keanu Reeves) needs to learn to be a leader. (This is all setup in first 10 pages)
Plot Point I Bomber’s back!
Act II External conflict = The bomber and the speeding bus. Internal conflict = Jack being on the bus forces him to make leadership decisions. It FORCES him to become the leader = the external conflict forces him to overcome his internal fears. (This is what Act II is really all about). Yet too many writers use this Act to resolve the external conflict.
-The moment the protagonist has overcome their internal conflict they’re strong enough to defeat the external conflict, NOT UNTIL THEN! Many scripts gets this backwards by having the character overcome the external conflict then figure out their internal stuff… WRONG. This works in novels, not screenplays.
Plot Point II Jack’s partner dies.
Act III Internal Conflict = None. Jack has become the leader and he’s finally emotionally strong enough to defeat the external conflict = the bomber. External Conflict = Jack goes head-to-head with the bomber and wins!
Now, let’s take a look at how this resolves the problem areas I mentioned above:
-Short Third Act. If the main character resolves their internal conflict at the end of Act II there’s still plenty of external conflict to resolve = a script that’s just the right length.
-External conflict with no internal conflict. This results in a script that lacks depth and substance. If the writer creates an external conflict that challenges the protagonist’s internal conflict then this problem is resolved.
-All internal conflict and no external conflict. This usually reads like a therapy session. Same as above.
-Failure to understand the antagonist is the most important character in the film, not the protagonist. The protagonist is the hero the audience will identify with, but without the antagonist’s plan there is no story. Yet so many ignore the power of the antagonist! There’d be no story (“Speed”) if it weren’t for the bomber! The antagonist is the one who creates a conflict that forces your character to deal with his internal conflict! Don’t make him equal to your character, make him stronger. Make your character really struggle to overcome the antagonist!
-Three Acts are individual stories with their own beginning, middle and end. If you take apart the three Acts in “Speed” you’ll note they’re really three individual stories that stand alone: Act I = Jack/partner vs. bomber. Bomber gets away. Act II = Speeding bus. Jack saves the hostages. Act II = Jack vs. bomber in an L.A. subway.
-Character with no arc. This happens because the writer doesn’t understand the purpose of a screenplay. The character arc is built in when you develop a story with an external conflict that forces the character to resolve an internal conflict!
I read for several dozen production companies and this is the #1 problem with 99% of scripts that receive a pass! Formula isn’t important, but understanding the three Act structure is important!
Best Always and Keep Writing, Barb Doyon
I'm printing out a copy of your comments and putting it in my laptop computer case for reference when I next go back to writing the script.
Thank you, very much.
As a first time writer I sent my script to Barb for review recently. I was very happy with the quantity and quality of feedback I recieved. My script had a number of plot, structure and character flaws which she has pointed out to me.
I am in the process of a major re-write while still keeping my characters and plot intact. I can see the dramatic improvement in my script by following the correct writing guidelines.
This informative (and no doubt time consuming) post is another example of why this lady has such a great respect within this community.
Thanks Barb. Respect.
the best thing a writer can do for a script is ask for and get great advice from pro's like Barb Doyaon and Paula DiSante. It's like having a great teacher look over your shoulder and help you create a great piece of art.
I really appreciate Barb's e mail and freely admit that I struggle mightily with three act structure. I think now I am starting to recognize strong third acts, which seem to begin with moments that take the story up a major notch, such as the scene in Pieces of April when Patricia Clarkson goes to the bathroom and sees a mother treating a daughter badly. What had been a good, compelling story suddenly becomes an incredibly powerful one, and the rest of the movie just rushes along at breakneck speed.
Randy, thank you.
Barb, great post!
I've heard great things about you. The 3 act structure is talked about a lot, and it makes sense in terms of Hollywood movies like "Speed" (which I thought was terrible). I was wondering if you would mind talking a little bit about more complex structures, such as a 4 act or 5 act structure. I'm curious how you would explain the success of films such as Taxi Driver, Fight Club, and Mulholland Drive.
as soon as i finish my rewrite on my second draft of my new script i am going to use barb's services!
i've heard nothing but great things about her.
A 4 or 5 Act structure would work best for a novel format, not a film. The films you mentioned all follow the three act structure. It may not be as obvious due to how the plot’s executed, but they do. However, I’ve seen films with two acts – like “Hard Rain.” These films are usually high concept and lack something – us screenwriters know what they lack, it’s Act 3.
Screenplays don’t require additional Acts to handle a complex plot. I’ve read many complex thrillers and dramas that held steadfast to the 3-Act structure without giving up any of the good stuff. This doesn’t mean if your script doesn’t hit plot point I on page 30 that you’ve failed. Those types of rigid rules are silly. It simply means this structure works best for the visual medium and to deviate from it could easily make you look like an amateur. Once you become a pro you can get away with more – well, not too much more…
You also have to consider the reason a script gets made. Many times it’s because an A-List actor, director or studio executive becomes attached to the project. For example, “About Schmidt” never would have been made into a film if it weren’t for Nicholson becoming attached to the project. If you have a similar script it’d most likely have to go through the same channels to get it made – meaning, you’ll need to get an A-List actor attached. But isn’t this how all scripts are made? No. A high-concept script can travel up the studio development ladder at rapid speed with no big names attached. Others, like “About Schmidt” would be doomed if it weren’t for the A-List attachment. The reason for this is obvious. A film like “Speed” – whether you liked it or not – will make a substantial amount of money compared to a film like “About Schmidt.” Hollywood is a business!
I didn’t write this post to review specific films, but to help any screenwriters out there who have a pretty darn good script, but can’t figure out why it isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Sometimes it’s just “one little thing” that’s preventing the script from a sale. Hopefully, my post will help the screenwriter identify a problem area, fix it and make a sale.
As a writer myself, I can’t help but feel slightly insulted by your response. While your advice does make sense to a certain degree (in terms of deconstructing specific types of films) it clearly shows no concern for those of us who are trying to do something different. Added to which, you didn’t really answer my question. The films that I pointed out are clearly groundbreaking and, almost by their very nature, break the rules. They do have a 3 act structure in terms of containing a beginning, middle and end, but aside from that they do not hold up to your system. I challenge you to even point out who the antagonists are in these films. For that matter, who was the antagonist in Citizen Kane?
You wrote that: “It simply means this structure works best for the visual medium and to deviate from it could easily make you look like an amateur.”
The problem with this mentality is that it encourages writers to take the safe route. To keep writing the kind of drab, uninspired screenplays that “Hollywood” (in the stereo-typical sense) is known for churning out. What about the writers who have a unique vision, but then read something like this and no longer have the guts to follow through with it? What if David Lynch had taken this kind of advice when he was young? Or Fellini? Or Bunuel?
I do think that writers should have an understanding of structure before breaking the rules, but in my mind that’s a given. You act as if all the writers on this site are complete amateurs, attempting to write their first screenplay without giving it much thought. You should know that that’s not the case. Some of us have gone to film school, worked in the industry, read all the “how-to” books, written numerous scripts, and, after much thought, decided that the plot-driven, formulaic trend just isn’t for us.
You’re right in saying that films like “About Schmidt” wouldn’t get made without A-list talent attached, but the problem is that A-list talent often don’t have access to good scripts. The reason they don’t have access is because the readers, agents and studios are always pushing the formulaic stuff on them.
Finally, to say that ‘Speed’ is a better film than ‘About Schmidt’ (by any standard) crosses the line of subjectivity, it’s just downright silly. But I guess you summed it up when you wrote:
“A film like “Speed” – whether you liked it or not – will make a substantial amount of money compared to a film like “About Schmidt.” Hollywood is a business!”
It’s just unfortunate that so many script readers (and by default, script writers) see this as the end-all, be-all of success. I’ve been a professional script reader for over ten years, and in all that time, the stories that spoke to me were often ones that broke the established rules. The bad ones, regardless of their perfect structure, were still bad.
Personally, I’d like to see more films being made that actually take a risk. That break the rules. That stay true to the writer’s vision. And who knows- If the people buying movie tickets had more of a selection to choose from, they might even come to like them.
I suppose my comments will fall on deaf ears. It seems that more and more these days everyone is just interested in making a sale, and so we’re stuck with a vicious cycle of formulaic scripts being bought by money hungry studios. But if anyone out there can relate to what I am saying, please chime in (amateurs included.) I think it’s time for a healthy dialogue about the stale state of filmmaking, and what can be done to fix it.
I recently recommended a script to four different production companies that was probably one of the best scripts I’ve read in years. It’s a fantastic drama, but I received comments from the production companies – all are on the WB Lot – that they didn’t feel it was commercial enough, but they would look at future material from the writer.
Hollywood Readers do NOT shut the door on scripts that deviate from the formula, nor do we simply recommend something because it’s commercial. We recommend what stands out from the rest and if you really are a Hollywood Reader (sorry, I didn’t see your name listed in the Professional Story Analyst Guild) then you know what this means and you’d know that it doesn’t matter what the genres is, what the structure is, etc. because if the material stands out it gets recommended. The producers and studios make the “commercial” decisions about a script, not the Hollywood Reader. Their first question is usually, “Does this script have a wide enough audience that’ll make them a return on their investment?”
I’m not going to debate specific films with you. There will always be films that break the norm, but how they came to be films needs to be explored before making a comparison to that film’s writer and to someone who’s trying to break into the business.
The three-Act structure has been around since the days of the caveman. Let me make the point very clear, so you no longer feel so insulted (I’m not sure why you’re taking such offense since my suggestions open up a creative door as opposed to forcing a restrictive formula). When you’re starting out in this business the chances of selling something that deviates from the “norm” is almost impossible. The reasons are simple: 1) the writer doesn’t have a track record for Hollywood to take a chance on a “different” type of film 2) a script involves a tremendous financial investment and Hollywood folks get weird about putting their money on a writer without a track record. Can you blame them? Would you invest millions on an unknown writer or someone who has a successful film under their belt? Writers make creative decisions. Hollywood makes financial decisions.
I’m sorry if it’s hard to hear, but a commercially slanted film (regardless of genre) is far more likely to be a first sale for a screenwriter. I’m amazed that by pointing this out I’m suddenly being accused of treating others like amateurs. Apparently you’re not familiar with my reputation among aspiring screenwriters – I hold nothing but the utmost respect for anyone trying to break into this ruthless business. Perhaps a few of my clients would care to comment on whether I’ve treated them like amateurs or not.
However, once you’ve become an established writer those scripts you’ve written that deviate from the norm WILL get the attention you desire – NOT BEFORE! So relax, stop being so defensive. I’ve helped dozens of aspiring screenwriters make it in this biz and I’m only here to help. If you’re not interested in my perspective then why bother posting. I personally disagree with what many Hollywood “guru’s” have to say about how to get a script made, but I don’t take offense at their opinions. I read hundreds of screenplays a year. My opinion is valued at dozens of production companies in town. I have producers who won’t take a script to the studio – even a recommended one – until I’ve given it a “go.” I wish more people in my position would take the time to tell aspiring screenwriters the problem areas they see over and over again. This would help many avoid those pitfalls before entering the Hollywood arena. This is no way implies all screenwriters are making these errors, but it may help some recognize an area that might have been holding them back from a sale.
And Jeremy, I agree, I’d like to see more films break the mold too and I have recommended them, but as you can see from my first paragraph they don’t always make the Hollywood cut. But one thing I can guarantee – once the writer I mentioned above makes her first sale, her drama will probably get made as well.
Best Always and Keep Writing, Barb
>>“Does this script have a wide enough audience that’ll make them a return on their investment?”
That's the crux of it. As someone I know always said: "It's not called 'Show Art.' It's called 'Show Business.'"
Production companies and studios want to know precisely that: Is there enough of an audience for a project to justify the dollars poured into it?
>>The three-Act structure has been around since the days of the caveman. ... When you’re starting out in this business the chances of selling something that deviates from the “norm” is almost impossible.
Exactly. As a screenwriter, you have to prove convincingly that you know three-act structure before you explode structure (and expect someone to buy it.)
Wow, Jeremy, remind me not to feed you without thick gloves on. Ouch! Your attitude is completely unwarranted. I hope you manage to develope thicker skin because you're certainly gonna need it in this business. Good luck blazing new trails but I don't expect to see much of your work on screen.
Barb has made a significient difference in my writing career and has NEVER treated my like an amateur. I honestly don't know what I'd do without her.
I totally respect Jeremy’s position. This is a very frustrating business. I want to mention that giving a script commercial edge doesn’t mean you have to give up anything artistic whatsoever. It also doesn’t mean you have to write a huge action piece for it to be considered commercial. It is possible to have the best of both worlds. Learning to integrate “art” with “commercialization” is one of the best things any screenwriter can do for their career.
Jeremy talks about scripts he’s read that struck him on some emotional level. This is truly important and can be accomplished in any screenplay, regardless of genre. If you take a look at the structure I’ve provided above it actually provides for a strong “emotional core” by encouraging the writer to create an external conflict that forces a character to deal with an internal conflict. It does encourage the 3-Act structure, but it doesn’t discourage an “emotional core” and touching a reader on an emotional level is the most important thing you can do as a screenwriter.
Let me take this a step further by saying commercial appeal doesn’t mean big explosions and car chases. Here’s what it means to Hollywood: It means a story told in a unique way that’ll draw a large enough audience for the studio to make a profit. The key word of course is “unique.”
I hate to mention an actual film without stirring up controversial posts, but here goes. We’ve all been to an amusement park (this is the a-typical story), but when is the last time a dinosaur chased you in one (unique slant). This is a general example, but this can be applied to any story regardless of genre. Go ahead and tell the story that touches you emotionally, just give it a unique slant and you’ll accomplish commercial edge without compromising anything!
I want to clarify one point made in my initial post about the antagonist. I should have made this clearer by indicating the antagonist is the most important character to the “plot development” because without his plan there is no story. True, many films don’t have a visible antagonist, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. An antagonist can be man vs. himself or man vs. nature, etc. but there’s still one in there… that’s where the conflict comes from. The hero is still the hero and will remain the most important character to the audience.
Unfortunately, I must recommend staying within the 3-Act structure at first. Once you make a sale … skies the limit!
I wasn’t trying to discredit you or your profession. Like I said, I am interested in a “healthy dialogue.” Of course Hollywood is a business. Of course people want to make money. And I’m sure that as a script analyst you do your part to help struggling screenwriters craft more commercial material. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I am not trying to isolate myself from the writing community, just the opposite. It seems we are talking about two different things. I’m talking about a much needed paradigm shift within the industry. So, yeah, if you want to make money and you’re not yet established, by all means play by the rules. But if you have a really great idea that doesn’t conform to the rules, I think you should go with it. Remember, you can always write another script that is more commercial down the road. Go with your gut. It shouldn’t matter if you’re an unknown or an established writer. Say what you have to say, put it down on paper, and THEN figure out if you can sell it.
As for my “attitude,” Eric- I’m not being defensive and I didn’t mean for this to be personal. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these things, and I’m just looking for others who can relate. If I come across as passionate, it’s because I am. Maybe it’s because I live in New York, I don’t know.
On a side note, I’ve been a freelance script reader for major studios in both NY and LA. You’re right, Barb, I’m not listed with any guild (most readers I know aren’t). But what it taught me was that a good script stands out, regardless of it’s commercial appeal. This has been the hardest part to come to terms with; the fact that the good ones probably won’t get made. It’s really sad. But I think we are in agreement on this, and yes, I’ve seen the same mistakes made again and again by different writers. There is something to be said for structure (which is why I said earlier that you have to know the rules before you can break them).
Of course, there have been a number of great Hollywood films made that stick to this 3 act structure. A good script will move in all the right places and keep the audience glued to their seats. But the point is, there’s also room out there for different kinds of stories.
Here’s an interesting article, written by David Mamet. I’d like to know what you all think:
SUCH SWEET FOLLY
The standard screenplay-vetting system works perfectly... if you want bad films, says David Mamet.
Here’s how things got that way. The entry-level position at motion picture studios is script-reader. Young folks fresh from the rigors of the academy are permitted to beg for a job summarizing screenplays. These summaries will be employed by their betters in deliberations.
These higher-ups rarely (some, indeed, breathe the word "never") read the actual screenplay; thus the summaries, called "coverage," become the coin-of-the-realm.
Now, as anyone newly enrolled in a totalitarian regime, these neophytes get the two options pretty quickly: conform or die. Conformity, in this case, involves figuring out what the studios would like (money) and giving them the illusion that the dedicated employee, through strict adherence to the mechanical weeding process, can provide it. The script-reader adopts the notion that inspiration, idiosyncrasy and depth are all very well in their place, but that their place has yet to be discovered, and that he would rather die than deviate from received wisdom. The young script-reader self-corrupts in the heartbeat it takes to assess the alternatives and vote with the pocketbook.
The mere act of envisioning "the public" (that is: "that undifferentiated mass dumber than I") consigns the script-reader to life on the industrial model. He or she is no longer an individual, but a field boss, a servant of "industry," and, as the industry in question deals with myth, an adjunct of oppression. Deprived of the joys of whimsy, contemplation and creation, they are left with prerogative. So script coverage is brutal, and dismissive.
Why would this canny employee vote for the extraordinary? The industrial model demands conformity, and the job of the script-reader is not to discover the financially and, perhaps, morally questionable "new," but to excel in what for want of a better word one must call hypocrisy.
Oh, boo hoo.
Opposed, we find the scriptwriter.
A statistician friend told me she had determined this: that the odds of one winning the lottery are so small, it does not significantly lower the odds not to have bought a ticket. "What?" you ask, as did I, and she responded: one might, with equal chance of success, hope to find the winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk, and save the dollar purchase price.
The lottery numbers grow. As they grow, they attract new players, further swelling the payoff. But the numbers of new players grow exponentially faster than the payoff, thus the chance of winning recedes as fast as the prize itself grows more attractive.
Similarly, as the gross of blockbuster movies swells, the quality falls. The viewers see this trash and, correctly, exclaim: "Well, hell, I could do that..." They then write a screenplay. These screenplays are, in effect, tickets to the lottery. Their perusal costs the studio nothing at all – they have been written for free, by the deluded.
The late share price delusion, the "new Economy," has taken its place with the South Sea Bubble and the Dutch Tulip Mania. These short-lived and second-class frenzies are as nothing compared to the long-lived, indeed, unkillable fantasy that each and every person born can rise to prominence and wealth in showbusiness.
This sweet folly is a capitalist’s erotic dream. In general, the theoretical limit to which wages can be reduced is that at which starvation transforms worker competition to revolution. (In plain English, the boss usually has to pay the workers something.) In showbusiness, however, the bitten will not only work for nothing, they will fight for the chance to do so.
Back at the ranch, the corrupted youth, the script-readers, sit at what I will imagine as their high Victorian desks, and paw through the incoming screenplays, nuzzling the Earth for truffles for their masters. Yes, their muzzles are tied, but some day, some day, they, these readers, may be elevated to the rank of executive – indeed, to the very pinnacle of studio head, where they will have the power not only to discard, but to endorse. They will there be showered with perquisites, first and not least among them that they will never again have to read another screenplay.
What, however, of the professional screenwriter? This person, cursed with actual dramatic sense and credentials, is, similarly, self-caught in an evil net. He differs from the amateur in that he is actually getting paid for the work. This puts hummus on the table, but places him at a distinct disadvantage in the lottery of production.
There are two counts against him. First, the work – if it contains inspiration, glee, sorrow; if it is complex, actually provocative or disturbing – is not easily condensable to those three paragraphs allowed the script-reader. Second, the fact of his actually getting paid enrages those involved in the studio system. Is it not monstrous, they wonder, that one should actually pay for that which 90 percent of all human life would do for free? The two burdens of the actual writer, his inspiration and his bill, conjoin synergistically to end in tragedy.
Most writing assignments begin with the plea, "Fireman, fireman, save my child," and end, "Where is that half-eaten chicken I believe I left in the icebox yesterday?" For the studios, in fine irony, consider the writer a thief. My friend Art suggests that every studio executive should be forced to write, direct and produce a five-minute film and submit it to a jury of his peers. Others have wistfully opined that they be chained in a large ship and set adrift, forced to subsist on carbohydrates and tap water. Yes, these solutions are fanciful, but, in the great words of Theodore Herzl: "If you will it, it is no dream."
© David Mamet 2003.
I appreciate your adding Mamet's article, which I can agree with wholeheartedly. I also have to agree that your comments about Barb's response (being somewhat insulting) was either thin skinned on your part or just perhaps a little too knee jerk reactionary. It was somewhat a bit defensive.
I understand your job as a reader. It is one I'd never do, as a friend of mine began that part of his career several years ago. He has since become very jaded and cynical and no fun to talk to about the biz.
Barb's input here is very valuable, and your addition of Mamet's article shows that your input can be very valuable to the rest of us on the MB as well.
There will ALWAYS be the argument of Hollywood's following the yellow brick road with a tired old roadmap. As an Indie Filmmaker who writes his own scripts, I love to vary from the norm, and perhaps that's why 3 of my scripts adorn only my own shelf and not others. My goal is to get my stories on the big screen, not just win contests or be passed around Hollywood like "Secondhand Lions" was for ten years until Haley Joel Osment finally read it (when the first draft went out to Hollywood, Haley as only 3 years old) AND, Tim McCanlies was a very well respected writer within the system.
I write two different types of scripts (something I sort of learned by respecting John Sayles): One to sell to a big production company who can afford it, and a lower budget script I can afford to shoot with smaller investors with me in the helm. The second scripts will never end up on a readers desk, so I can bend or ignore the "rules" at my own peril. They can be successful, or not, but until I try, I'll never know. I'll still be using Paula and Barb's service and advice to make even the low budget scripts a better script.
I do have to say that this IS a great thread. But I also find a need to point out that "success" has more than one meaning to us Writers in Hollywood.
"I'm curious how you would explain the success of films such as Taxi Driver, Fight Club, and Mulholland Drive."
The latter two were NOT successful films as far as money. "Mulholland Drive" might have been because it probably didn't cost very much. But, unfortunately, we do have to realize that the "core" point of making films is to MAKE MONEY.
Bill Mechanic, thee most respected and honest "mover" in Hollywood, lost his post at 20th Century Fox because FIGHT CLUB cost more than it brought in at the box office. Because of talent, etc., it cost around $75 million and I believe an exec told me it brought in $45 mil at the box office. Almost every movie in that division of FOX brings in $45 mil. SOUL FOOD brought in $45 mil but it only cost $5 mil to make.
Unfortunately, in the studio system, they always feel compelled to find someone to blame and "can." Even though it takes a huge amount of people to bring a film together. Though, in my opinion, FIGHT CLUB was one of the best scripts I ever read (but I do recall MANY people not liking it--before the film was released--because it sort of changed genres near the end by going in a different direction).
To be honest, after reading FIGHT CLUB, I was astonished that they were making it into a film--due to the subject matter. Though I really liked the script, I felt it was a dangerous movie to make considering the times we live in.
“Thin skinned,” “reactionary,” “defensive,” wow. I’ve really been called a lot of names these past few days. Just to clarify- When I used the word “insulted,” it was only because I found Barb’s initial tone to be a bit condescending, whether she meant it to be or not. It had nothing to do with the information that she was imparting. But as you can see from the latter messages, I believe that she and I are actually in agreement on many things.
If I came across as defensive, maybe there is some truth in that. On a personal note, I’ve spent most of my life as an independent filmmaker being told what NOT to do. Every film I made, in film school and out, was a challenge. A constant battle to make the film that I wanted, while others told me not to, that they didn’t conform to the “rules.” So if anything, I’m defending the underdogs, the people that go on to make great films, regardless of what their peers tell them.
I think this raises an interesting point: the difference between independent films and Hollywood. I think that Randy is on a good track, and that was exactly the point that I was trying to make. Write the stories you want to write. If you can also write studio films, go for it. Beat the system, but stay true to your vision. I’ve found that the independent scene is drastically different that the studio system, but there is a point where they can merge. And maybe merging is the ultimate goal. I recently screened my work-in-progress feature at the New York IFP Market, which I would highly recommend to any other indie filmmakers out there. It’s a great place to meet people and get your work seen by the industry, particularly the smaller studios who are willing to take a chance on off-beat projects.
Terri also raises a good point. How do we define “success?” I’m not sure about the box-office gross for “Fight Club,” but I’ve heard that it more than made it’s money back on dvd sales. And “Mulholland Drive” was nominated for an Academy Award. Not bad. There are countless other examples: “Dogville,” “Lost In Translation,” “Pieces of April”….the list goes on. Whether or not they made tons of money, we still know these films, and we probably have more respect for them than the Hollywood blockbusters. Well, at least I do.
Thanks for hearing me out.
While this thread seems to contain some reasonable information, I am somewhat taken aback by one statement made by Barb Doyon, in which she challenges Jeremy's mention that he is a reader --
"sorry, I didn’t see your name listed in the Professional Story Analyst Guild)"
Whatever else she knows, Barb apparently understands only a little about how the job of reader/story analyst actually exists in Hollywood.
Here's the concise version -- if you take the HCD guides at face value, there are thousands of production companies, agencies and managerial firms operating in Hollywood. Many of these places have readers, some full time, many part time. Several thousand people work as film and television industry readers at any given time. The overwhelming majority of these readers do piece work, that is, they are paid per script; they have no benefits, no vacation days, no paid holidays, no medical.
Currently, 155 people are members of the story analyst sub-group of the Editors Guild. At any given time approximately 100-120 of these folks are working as readers. When working as union story analysts, these readers earn a weekly salary, have a limitation on the number of pieces of material they read in a week (after, they are paid overtime), and enjoy full benefits. These approximately 100-120 folks currently employed work only for a select group of major studios and networks. They do not work for production and managerial companies and agencies; at least not in the capacity of a guild story analyst.
When someone calls herself a "union reader" or "union story analyst," then that person should be found among the list of 155, which can be accessed at the Editors Guild Local 700. When they are working, most of these 155 might also be called "studio readers."
Some confusion (especially in consultant advertising) with that last phrase, as many people have read at studios or read for production companies with deals with studios (and often with offices on studio lots) while not being one of the 155 guild members. Often, these other readers will also refer to themselves as studio readers or offer to provide "studio notes."
In any case, several thousand people are working today in the film and tv industries as readers. Only about 100 or so of these readers are also guild members.
Thank you so much for enlightening us on that fascinating detailed informerical about the thousands of underpaid and underinsured "readers" or "note takers" that is such a monumental topic for us to comprehend. Man, guess I was so in the dark about such a critical subject matter.
Guess you had way too much time on your hands to let such an important detail go undocumented.
Why, now I feel led to go out to the Target store and put up a homemade sign saying "give to the underpaid non-union readers who won't have enough money for holiday presents!!" Wait. Target is a no-no this holiday season.
Sorry, Greg. Guess they'll just have to tough it out this year. Maybe next year too. Maybe we could "draft"... no. They said that wouldn't work either. Guess they're screwed.
I think it's vital to know the 3-act structure, but, of course, there are hit movies without them. Let's see -- Hitchcock's "Psycho" sorta sidestepped the norm by killing off what's her face in the shower scene very early in the movie.
And wasn't it "Casino" that began with the car bombing scene in the first few minutes of the film? And then we backtracked.
IMHO, and remember, I KNOW NOTHING---every writer must find his own way, his own method. Hollywood readers do expect a great beginning, a great ending, and some great stuff in between that keeps them reading.
So, just do these 3 and heaven and earth will open up, a great voice will holler down thru the halls, or clouds, and say, "Hallalujah! You're a genius! Where have you been, Sweetie? Are you a natural blonde?"
PS "Mulholland Drive" ---wasn't that a porn movie? I was flipping thru the channels, saw a brief scene of this and 'bout fell off my chair. Whoah!
PPS Interesting info, Greg. And, Barb, I applaud your efforts. Also, thanks for some of your other posts.
I'm recent screen play is going into four acts, but act 4 is very short. And possibly could be part of Act 3.
I belong to a lot of unions but, as a Reader--NO. When I first came to Hollywood, my very first job was as a Script Reader for an Independent Producer. I know, at the time, the one studio you could work for without being union was Tri-Star. But I also knew that I didn't come to Hollywood to be a Reader. It wasn't the career path I chose.
I think I would rather not think about it! I start getting a brain squeeze when I think about theory and start picking things apart--although I have sat down with a movie and marked out when such and such happened, etc. so I could understand what made it so good. I bought Dramatica Pro, and it gave me such a headache, all the talk about inner conflict and outer conflict , the theories, etc etc--oh my god, it was almost traumatic. I finally sold it on ebay for way less than I paid. I was just glad to get rid of it. I should have taken my money back from the seller, but I had lost the sales slip.
I do understand the importance of the 3 acts and am in no way putting that down, or anything else the other writers have talked about. It's just me. I started a new script, and I think my brain just thinks in 3 acts, because when I began to sort of dissect it, I found that my beginning came out to around 25 pages. I already know the ending, and I'm sure that's about another 15 or so.
I've had no training except in high school was in Drama and had to read oodles of plays and was in many of them also. What's really fun is getting a bunch of friends together, breaking out some wine and having everyone take a character.
Sorry to have bored you, Randy. I'll try not to let it happen again.
Sorry, too, that you apparently missed the reason for my post.
Don't be sorry that I missed your reason for the post. It was intentional on my part.
I think if you manage to read enough books and scripts that are both bad and great the three-part structure becomes embedded in your head. Of course there are exceptions to every rule like Miss Miller(sorry if its Mrs.)was so kindly to point out.
Gee…looks like I missed the party. First, there are different types of readers. I know production companies who have everyone from the secretary to girlfriends to the guy passing by on the street read for them. I’m not exaggerating. Yes, there is a Guild for readers and apparently I need to sue them for lack of pay because according to Greg, Professional Story Analyst receive a salary…really? Actually, the ones who work exclusively for a studio do. Others can contract with any affiliates of the Guild which includes all the major studios and many production companies – this is what I do. It’s piece work, but we are paid a substantially higher amount than regular readers and there’s a lot more of us than 155... either that or a whole lot of uninvited people crashed our Holiday Luncheon the other day.
The requirements to get into the Guild are rigid and I wish these requirements for being a reader applied to all production companies and the readers they hire. Perhaps then you’d see a more diverse lot of quality films being made…or perhaps not. After all, the final power lies in the hands of the studios, producers, etc. and I’ve never met one whose main consideration isn’t money. This is a business. By the way, the Writer’s Guild has the power to impose these requirements on production companies, but does not due to financial considerations…so, if you’re looking for someone to blame….
I realize many writers think of their screenplays as art, but it’s NOT ART. It is an acquired talent where you deliver a product. If it were an art any # of writers wouldn’t be hired to re-write you. If you want to be an artist write novels. I don’t recall anyone ever rewriting a novelist.
Let’s get back to the purpose of this post. It’s here for anyone who’s interested in discovering a potential hole in their screenplay that could be holding them back from making a sale. If the structure I’ve presented doesn’t work for you then DON’T USE IT! If, however, it can help even one person break through a gray area it was worth all the controversy.
Let’s talk shop. Here’s a simple example of how to develop a structure that’ll help you avoid many pitfalls in your screenplay. Most writers start out with an idea or with a character that interests them. Let’s take a look at both.
First, the idea. Let’s say you work at a school in your day job (assuming you’re not in the biz). You’ve seen the news reports about the Russian terrorist take over at a school and thought, “gee, what if that happened here.” This is the core of your idea = a terrorist take over at a school.
Obviously, this is an external conflict. Let’s say you want your main character to be a counter terrorism expert for the FBI. Okay, this is where most screenwriters stop and this is where 99% of script problems occur because you have story with no substance.
Now, take it to the next level by asking, “What is the FBI agent’s internal conflict?” Don’t just make something up, like fear of heights. His internal conflict needs to tie-in with the external conflict. This way the external conflict will force him to come to terms with his internal conflict.
The external conflict is the hostage drama at a school. What if he’s a divorced father of 3 who hasn’t seen his own kids in five years ‘cause he “internally” lacks father-like skills or believes he does? Do you see where I’m going with this? All you have to do is get him into a scenario where he has to use father-type skills to rescue the kids (in addition to his FBI skills) and this forces him to come to terms with his internal conflict. Now you have a film that has commercial potential yet allows you to explore the depths of a character without compromising anything meaningful in the work.
This can be applied to any film regardless of genre, budget, etc. The failure to tie the external and internal conflicts tightly together to force a character to change - - instead a story is just presented - - is the #1 reason for most passes. Yes, there area many other areas to be considered, like quality of dialogue, etc. – but this is the #1 failure of most scripts (in my opinion). Tackle this area first and I believe you’ll find the other areas will fall right into place.
Okay, onto the character… I think I’ll let you give me an example of how this would be developed. Or, if you’d prefer, present an idea and we’ll discuss how to develop it to its fullest potential.
If you don’t agree with what I’ve presented above, I respect your opinion… but I must ask that you leave the board open for discussion for those who may benefit from it.
I'll jump in. I'm writing a new western script where the protagonist is the Texas Ranger trailing a very violent gang of 5 bad guys while they do their bad deeds across Texas. The Texas Ranger works alone ("one riot, one Ranger") and sees where this gang has killed a local rancher leaving behind a widow and a 10 year old son and has also devastated a small town by killing the bank President, the Sheriff and Deputy in cold blood.
He follows them to far west TX where the gang has acquired a map for a lost gold mine, which is guarded by a band of Mescalero Apaches (lots of research on this legend) and the Ranger must join with the Apaches to overtake the gang. Perhaps the internal conflict is the Ranger's past, and he is a widower from an Indian attack on his ranch while he was gone out "Rangerin'". Now must he join forces or be killed? Maybe he saves the life of an Apache he knows was on the raid that killed his wife? Hmmm.
Wow, what a timely post! I have been thinking a lot about the internal goal of my main character. The script is a woman in jeopardy story ala Sleeping with the Enemy. I recently rented S.W.T.E. and broke down all the plot points, analyzed the story, etc. I had difficulty defining the internal goal of the character played by Julia Roberts. Her internal and external goals seemed almost intertwined.
"At My Own Risk" - not the title
Randy - try this:
The Ranger is part Mescalero - he uses his Indian heritage and skills learned from his Mescalero grandfather (who was killed by poaching miners) to track the gang. He wants revenge on the bad guys (maybe some tie in to other deaths) and he wants to prevent the descecration of sacred Indian lands from exploitation by white murderers/gangsters. A little revenge would be a nice dessert to this altruistic Tx Ranger. Stake em out on some anthill. Add a dab of Dark Karo (politically correct color) syrup and relax and watch 'em squirm.
Oops small problemlo: The gang is led by a Mescalero Indian and boyhood blood brother of Tex. He wants revenge too - on the Tribe who refused to allow desecration of Tribal lands and thus condemning the Tribe to abject poverty and the death of his family one by one. It's his turn to turn the tables.
Just a thought.
Good Luck Randy.
BTW - Great Thread
Man, you are good! Great ideas!!!!!!!
Thanks. It gets the juices flowing.
Right now I'm working on what looks like a contemporary version of julius ceasar. It's a counselor who goes to work at a boys home and ends up helping a lot of the kids with their problems. If they are withdrawn he helps them re-connect, things like this. Anyone familiar with the Julius Caesar story knows how this turns out. I've been writing it as a short story but I think I can develop it as a full-length script.
The main character's main flaw is his trusting and caring nature, which ends up leading to his downfall. Can this be an internal conflict?
Sounds like you have a solid external conflict, but the internal is wavering a little. I wouldn’t revolve the internal conflict around the Apache because they’re not the ones generating the external conflict, the gang is. However, you can use this to your advantage. What do I mean? His internal conflict sounds like revenge and revenge is usually an issue because someone hasn’t moved on with their life yet.
Let the Ranger believe the Apache killed his wife and force him to work with them then hit us with an emotional twist when we discover it was really the gang who killed his wife and left false clues to throw him off their trail. Do you see how this forces the Ranger to comes to terms with all the hate he’s had all along for the Apache? Do you see how it forces him to change? Once he makes amends with the Apache (character arc) then he’s ready “emotionally” to take on the gang and defeat them. The revenge issue was holding him back before, but no longer! Add a final twist in Act III where he’s killed off the main culprits responsible for his wife’s murder, but there’s one gang member (maybe a semi-likable one) that he has to chose between life/death… have him save the gang member. This shows us he’s 100% a new man.
I liked Peter’s suggestions too. Lots of possibilities! Just keep both a strong internal/external flow going and you can nail this down!
Your post is right on the money. When a script goes beyond a good script to a great script it’s usually because the external/internal conflicts are so intertwined they become difficult to define. They almost seem to be non-existent, but take a closer look because they are there. The reason they seem difficult to define is because they’re closely related to one another…interwoven.
Remember, the best way to determine your internal conflict is by the external conflict. Ask and answer the following questions: What is the external conflict? What types of internal conflicts could the external conflict force a character to change?
Let’s look at an example that starts with a character (since yesterday we discussed developing an idea). What if you have a male character who’s been burned in a relationship and has developed a mistrust for women - - you want to write his story. His internal conflict is obvious = he has a trust issue. What kinds of external conflicts will force him to deal with this issue? An obvious one would be for a new love interest to enter the picture. Make it someone he’s forced to trust. For example, what if the new love interest is the personnel director at his job who’s put him on probation – he could lose his job unless he puts his trust in her to show him how to save it. Do you see how the “trust” issue suddenly becomes intertwined in the external/internal conflict? It seems like one thing when it’s actually two separate story elements the screenwriter has deliberately manipulated to create the best possible emotional experience for the audience.
Ask these questions, see what answers you come up with, brainstorm and I believe you’ll find the strong external/internal conflict for your story.
Being too trusting and caring isn’t a character flaw. Do you mean he trust/cares so much that he allows other to walk all over him? Maybe he’s not assertive enough or lacks confidence? Is this what you mean? If so, great! Let’s say he lacks assertiveness. Okay, you have in internal conflict.
Now, what’s the external conflict? I don’t see one yet. He helps the boys because it’s his job to help them. You indicated he goes to work at a boys home. What if his job transferred him to the boys home? What if they’re giving him one last chance or he’s out? Now he’d be forced to deal with his confidence issue. I like the Julius Cesar twist, but you still have to have a strong internal conflict the character is forced to overcome. The JC twist just gives us a bitter-sweet ending and that’s perfectly okay.
Yesterday, we reviewed how to start with an idea and make it work on all levels. Today, we reviewed how to start with a character and make his/her story work on all levels. I briefly touched upon making sure your story is also “unique” and I’d like to tell you exactly how to do this. It’s really very simple. #1 – I guarantee your story (or elements of it) have been done before because everything has been done. This means you need to make sure you’re presenting the material in the freshest light possible.
How? Once you have your story down in an outline, treatment, etc. then watch EVERY single film that’s even remotely similar. Knowing what’s already been done will help you avoid plots and even individual scenes that are too much like something else. Here’s an example from the film “Shallow Hal.” Tons of romantic comedies have been done where the guy races after the girl in the end, confesses his love and convinces her to stay (she’s leaving for good). But, take a look at “Shallow Hal.” In the film, he does indeed race to be with her, he confesses his love, but he doesn’t try to stop her from leaving because HE’S GOING WITH HER! Bam! The writer gave this cliché ending a fresh twist.
This requires that you know everything that’s been done, so you too can give your scenes and plot those fresh twists!
There’s a script currently in production at WB called “The Line Up.” It’s a script I recommended over a year ago. It’s basically “The Fugitive” with a twist. But “The Fugitive” has been done, why would I recommend it? Here’s the plot: An introvert/hermit guy loses his wallet in NY. Police find it. He goes to the station to pick it up. He’s asked to stand in a line-up because the police need another guy. He agrees. He gets picked in a homicide case by a dozen witnesses. He escapes BEFORE the trial. Here comes the twist. He knows nothing about the case! He has to make all these discoveries and prove he’s innocent while he’s on the run. Do you see how that little twist to a story that’s already been done proved a success for this writer (a well written script helped too).
Also, note the internal/external conflicts. By this character being forced to deal with this situation he’s being forced to become an extrovert… he’s forced to change because of the external conflict!
let's say he is wealthy and is able to afford to work at the boys home for virually no money. Deciding to use his money and energy to help others. Yet, soon the kids begin to want a piece of the pie. They see the home as belonging to them more since they were there first. Soon it becomes a territorial battle. All the planning is done behind the counselor's back. By the time he sees what is going on, its too late.
Of course you'll have that one boy who will have to be forced to go along with the plan. What do you think?
P.S. Nice advice.
Good stuff. Thank you!!
Great stuff! I have copied and printed the suggestions are they are now in my notes file for the new script.
I love this stuff! Learning new approaches and developing internal conflicts is great.
God, I love this work.
Lots of external conflict here, but not letting the main character in on the conflict until “it’s too late” doesn’t translate well as a film. You want your protagonist in the thick of things because this forces him to change. The audience experiences conflict through the protagonist. If he doesn’t even know he’s in conflict the audience won’t have the opportunity to experience the story on an emotional level.
Here’s my question to you. What’s this wealthy man’s underlying motive for helping others? Beyond giving back to society. Why’d he pick a group of kids instead of an old folks home? Was he shy as a kid and had no friends? Maybe he’s still shy? Did he do something to a kid once - - maybe he was unusually mean to a brother or sister - - and he’s trying to redeem himself? What’s his internal motive?
Once you establish why he’s “really” there then go with the external conflict you’ve presented above = boys want to take him for his money. Ask how the external conflict will force him to change. Create the plot, scenes and even dialogue around this “forced change” – combined with a unique concept – and you’ll have a script Hollywood can’t ignore.
Presenting just an external conflict or just an internal conflict is the failure of most scripts and prevents many first sales. In the example you’ve given above you’ve only presented an external conflict. Develop an internal one for the main character and you’ll bring the story full-circle. By interweaving the two your script stands the best chance at getting you in the Hollywood door.
Yes, it is great work!
Hey Barb! Thanks for all of your suggestions. I got to this thread late ... enjoyed all the comments. Barb is really good and I just want to let everybody know that I think she is the best.
"If you want to be an artist write novels. I don’t recall anyone ever rewriting a novelist."
I'm afraid you'll have to wake up and smell the cappuccino. It happens all the time. You just don't see the names of the people--other than the novelist--who worked on the novel. The saddest part is, some novelists (mostly in the Romance genre) have people on staff who write the novels for them. I used to wonder how those best-selling "Romance Novelists" churned out soooooooo many novels in such a short time--until I found out the truth!
Speaking of "truth," did anyone see the "scandal" article about many reality shows that are scripted and not reality, i.e., THE SIMPLE LIFE? What's the point of watching a reality show that's not reality, eh? When will Hollywood finally admit that they need us Writers?!!!!
Thanks! I see what you mean. If I keep working on it I know I can get it there.
>"The requirements to get into the Guild are rigid and I wish these requirements for being a reader applied to all production companies and the readers they hire."
Just out of curiosity, Barb, what are these requirments? Do you have to pay dues? Do you you have to know somebody to get in?
And some rules have to be broken, such as in my Effing Zippy script.
I do have acts, but there is not set guidelines about the 10 page thing or even 20. Act 1 is an interview with the grim reaper, and act 2 is about 2 people sitting in a truck talking to each other, it's not till act 3 when things actually get going, but act's 1 and 2 still lead to act 3 somehow.
Thanks for the heads up…wow, even novelist are being re-written. That’s pretty scary!
The requirements to get into the Professional Story Analyst Guild change periodically, but these were the requirements when I got in:
-Have to be recommended by 2 or more producers with studio deals.
-Have to show sample coverage provided to production companies (usually 5 -10). They actually look at the scripts as well and tell you whether they agree with your assessments.
-Have to be what they term “un-genre biased.” This simply means you love film – all types of films. You aren’t likely to give something a PASS just because your personal preference is character-driven films and you just read a big action flick.
-Have to understand the “genre rules.” For example, we’ve been talking about the importance of internal/external conflict in making that first sale. However, there are certain types of scripts where it isn’t even necessary, like slasher films and popcorn movies. These, however, are difficult first sales and the focus of this post is making that first sale. Many readers fail to get in the guild on this point alone because they think the “rules” apply to every script and that simply isn’t true.
-They give you several scripts and you do sample coverage for them, but there’s a hitch. Two of the four I received were from famous films where the character'snames/title had been changed – one was “Casablanca” – being a movie buff I immediately recognized it, but you’d be amazed how many readers trying to get into the Guild have given it (and other famous films) a PASS.
-Have to pass several tests. One where you indicate what certain things mean like MOS, INT. (V.O.), INTERCUT, etc. Another where you’re given specific scenes and you have to critique them. I believe this is done to reveal whether or not you understand how the visual medium works.
-Have to show you’ve recommended scripts that have been made into films or are in development on a REGULAR BASIS (I have 2 currently in development at WB alone). They literally review your potential as a reader every 2 years or so. This factor alone could help eliminate many poor readers who don’t have a clue what they’re doing.
-Yes, you pay dues once you’re in which is usually 6months to a year after you apply.
-There’s a sit-down interview and if you’re a screenwriter they really drill you and recommend if given a script that’s similar to one of your own to pass it along to another reader.
-I think most would agree these requirements would make a world of difference if they applied to all Hollywood Readers. I’ve actually been at production companies where I’ve had to explain to readers what MOS and other script elements meant – pretty scary.
Sounds interesting, but it sounds like your Act III should really be Act II. Think of it this way. Would you spend $11 to see a 30-minute movie? If things don’t get going until Act III you’ve only given the audience 30-minutes of real conflict which is the real story. I’d suggest editing down the truck talking Act and get us into the good stuff earlier.
Barb, my act one is fine. Act two might be the hard one to hold an audience because of the long dialogue. There are a couple of scenes where the Grim Reaper appears in a comedic sense, plus a very long monologue is set up with other visual scenes. This is my biggest worry for sure because of the one-on-one. But hearsay says a film called 'My Dinner with Andre' wasn't that a film about two people talking at a table. Never did see though.
Act 3 cannot become act 2. I already moved act 2 to act 1 and dropped act 1 into act 2. Hope I ain't confusing anyone here. :)
I'll probably looking for some help with act to, to give it some continuity, I might ask a writer on here to see if they can help me out. But as I think now I can also have my vehicle moving which can add a couple more comedic ideas to the film, and that should take away from the long conversation.
I might have to ask Steve, my canadian online buddy on this one because I want to start shooting it next year in January, February, and March. Hopefully this will enough sufficient time to have a winter project completed. I hope that Global warming doesn't come into affect too soon here in the prairies of Alberta, Canada.
Just thought I'd throw my two cents in here. The three act system...sure it's valid and that's how most people in the biz discuss/write scripts. It's what most analysts, story editors, et al gear themselves around. It sells a hell of a lot of books and packs a hell of a lot of people into seminars. But I don't necessarily believe in it.
What I generally do is play along. A script is 90-120 pages and nowhere in any script is there a demarkation such as "Act One" ends here or "Act Two" starts here. Maybe in a sitcom script but not in a feature film.
My writing partner and I have just gained the interest of a stalwart, veteran producer with good credits and major awards who will be taking our script to buyers after the new year. At no time did we write with the three act system in mind. And never, in our discussions with him, did he mention act two or plot point one, etc. Our script is 120pgs and it is a good story. I'm sure this is the exception to the rule, but I think writers should feel less beholden to three acts than some would like them to feel.
If someone insists on discussing scripts with me in terms of the three act system, yes, I go along, but I write my scripts to write the best possible story. That's foremost on my mind, not how many acts. 3,4,5, it's all good.
I'm curious as to how three act supporters explain any Shakeperean play that's made into a successful film. Did the Cagney version of "A Midnight Summer's Dream" suddenly shrink from the orignial five act play to a three act movie? Of course not. Maybe the writers constructed a three act film, but the story is a classic five act play and buttering it up as a three act movie is nonsense as far as I'm concerned. That goes for any stage play that becomes a film, in general.
I'd also love to know what some of our greatest authors who wrote in Hollywood at one time or another thought of the three act system: did the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, John O'Hara, et al. bow down to the three act structure? It would be interesting to know.
I'm not knocking the three act system, though it may seem I am. I'm suggesting that alternatives (as has Randy Roberts-- and quite ably) might also work. If three acts works, it works. But I don't think one should necessarily conform to its dictates. If it helps you grease the wheels and assuage people's egoes by speaking their language then go along with it. But don't let it rule your life: just write a great script and that boils down to character and understanding the characters' journey. Character dictates structure not the other way around. The Aristotelian notion of story makes for good rhetoric, but I think the older adage of "if you're given a ledger, erase the lines" applies better.
Happy Holidays to all. A very interesting discussion.
I like the three act structure for all the above reasons and more.
It really helps me write the script much quicker and *tells* me when I've done enough background on my characters and when I need to go in another direction (act 2)
Plus, midpoint in act 2, I always try to put in a bit of a twist, similar to another act, but still part of act 2, so that it doesn't drag.
I know somewhere around page 75 or so, I have to speed it up and work towards a climax, a quick resolution and fade out.
I never forget that *hook* in the first ten pages. They tell us all how important it is not to *lose* the reader and I have to agree.
When I set up my outline this way, it is much easier for me to write the script and it really flies. Of course, I have to have a concept that is going to work and I usually know my ending in advance and pretty much know my skeleton.
Then, the actual writing of the script fleshes it out. Very early on, I worked without the three act structure and the script took twice as long if not more and many times I was all over the place.
It isn't an exact science, but it does give some form to your work and let's you concentrate on keeping the script moving.
Since, I work this way, I've watched countless good movies, glanced at the clock about thirty minutes into the film and seen *something* happen, *after* I've met the characters long enough.
I like it and will keep using it in all genres, comedies, thrillers, character driven dramas. It's worked for me. Yeah, I have two optioned scripts, done a paid work for hire and have a WGA agent.
Just my two cents. It could be worth more or maybe only one cent, but I'll add on a Happy Holiday to all. That should show I'm just trying to share.:)
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