1. efgeesus
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    efgeesus Member

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    For those script writers out there..

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by efgeesus, Oct 15, 2011.

    I'm very interested in getting some information out of you (without using torture methods).

    Currently I have a dissertation proposal to make at uni and my research question is loosely based around this:

    'The limitations of the 3 Act structure in screenplays'

    Obviously that is a very basic platform to go from but I'm very interested in the stricture of scripts and what makes a good one versus the usual Hollywood dross that gets pumped out year after year.

    If you have any links or ideas I would be most grateful.

    F
     
  2. PullMyPoppy
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    PullMyPoppy New Member

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    Maybe you could show how great screenplays can be if they break the rules of the Three Act Structure - think Tarantino.

    Also I read this a while ago - it has some interesting comments on Three Act Structure:

    A lot of high-concept off-the-rack thrillers have hard act breaks. The turning points leap up and bite you in the butt. It's moreover true that in the majority of movies, the story is going full steam by no later than the first quarter; things get complicated in the middle half; and everything comes together for a climax in the last quarter.

    But only maybe half of all truly great movies have three distinct acts, and in some of those, you have to stretch to figure out where exactly the act breaks are. Where are the act breaks in Hard Day's Night? All that Jazz? How about Spartacus? Forrest Gump? Apollo 13? Annie Hall? Or the superbly written Wild Things, which has about five or six major twists?

    Or how about The Wizard of Oz? Does the third act begin when the Wizard sends Dorothy after the Wicked Witch of the East? Or when Dorothy gets home to Kansas? Or when the Wizard turns out to be a fraud? What difference does it make to the story? Who cares where the third act begins?

    In The Fugitive, does the second act begin when Dr. Richard Kimble escapes the prison bus, or when he escapes the following manhunt? When does the last act begin? When he discovers the one-armed man? When he confronts Dr. Charles Nichols at the doctor convention? When Marshal Samuel Gerard begins to realize that Dr. Kimble is innocent?

    Who cares?

    Suppose you could decide where the third act begins. How would that help you understand how the story works?

    Many thrillers set up the main character in a short first act, often no more than a precipitating incident. The hero is hounded through a huge second act that keeps picking up the pace. In Alien, there's a well defined first act that gets the alien on board the ship. Likewise, the first act of Predator gets the fireteam into the jungle. But from then on, it all goes downhill from there. A shrinking band of humans is fighting an alien creature. You can say the third act begins when the monster kills off the hero or heroine's last ally, or when the hero or heroine finally starts to turn the tables on his or her enemy, but then you are only finding a second turning point because you are looking for one.

    A story can fail in its beginning, its middle or its end, but knowing where you are will not necessarily help you fix the story. I believe that three act structure is overrated. The important thing is to tell a good story and deliver the goods on your hook.

    A story can certainly fail structurally. For example, in The Arrival, the hero discovers the truth about the aliens, and enters their big secret headquarters in the jungle, in the middle of the movie. Nothing after that is going to be as interesting, so in essence the movie's over before you get to the "third act." It would have been better if the story was rewritten so that the big discovery happened at the end of the movie, or if there was an even bigger discovery at the end.

    But this isn't a question of three act structure. It's a question of giving away too much in the middle and not holding enough back for the end. Worry about whether your story is taking too long to get off the ground, or if you're introducing new characters so fast we don't get to know them well enough. Worry about whether your middle drags, or gets too complicated, or if you are running out of complications and your hero is going to defeat his enemy too quickly and easily. Worry about whether your ending feels rushed, or if you've got more than one scene that feels like an ending.

    But don't worry about having three distinct acts. You may find that a five act structure works better for your screenplay. It worked for Shakespeare. You may have a true story that just naturally breaks down into four acts. Squeezing it into the Procrustean bed of Three Act Structure is just going to mangle it.

    Just tell a good story that keeps people interested.

    - Hope that helps!
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    much has been written about the limits and the beauty of the three act structure... i suggest you do your homework and google for info from those in the industry, as there are only a small handful of us here who write screenplays...
     
  4. efgeesus
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    efgeesus Member

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    cheers for the suggestions.

    I have read a fair bit on the pro's and con's of the 3-Act structure and come across various people who love it and hate it in equal measure.
    I just think the basis of the 3-Act structure is hugely limiting to any writer.

    But then maybe I'm thinking from too personal a point of view, I tend to like twists and slick dialogue and quotable moments and memorable characters in my films. Perhaps I haven't considered that 3-Acts are fine for certain genre's of film which don't require so much from the script.

    John Truby a real industry specialist when it comes to scripts proposes a 7-Act or 7-Step structure in any good film, book, even advert

    It makes sense to have more sequences than just 3 major plot turning points.

    But yeah, I guess I keep coming to the same conclusion about the 3-Act structure in that who cares if there's 20 acts or 3. I guess my main gripe is the fact that everyone getting into script writing has the 3-Act forced upon them from an early stage, and it's a very very basic building block.
     
  5. Summer
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    Summer Member

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    3-act only means beginning-middle-end. You can have as many plot turns or ups and downs as you'd like. There are a bunch of those "how to write screenplays" books that try to sell another style, but they are really all the same (I think there are 4-acts, 7-acts, etc. that books have been written about).

    The only real limitation I see in it is the fact that it is so pervasive that viewers expect certain things at certain points (if they don't get it they can get confused, disinterested, etc.). It doesn't allow for more "abstract" forms of storytelling. But I think this is a problem of western storytelling as we always want a beginning middle and end.

    Tarantino follows 3 act structure. I don't even have an example of someone who doesn't. Most the time when it looks like a writer isn't its more due to how it appears on screen, not necessarily how it is written--if you look at his scripts, it is there. He just gives it to the audience more creatively. He also writes it differently, but there is a beginning, middle and end.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    summer is right, ef!... i was about to say pretty much the same thing...
     
  7. efgeesus
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    efgeesus Member

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    Funny you mention Tarantino, I have Pulp Fiction as my desktop pic and it is of the movie timeline/sequence. Despite the chronology being chopped up if you place it all in order its loads of mini stories but still has a start a middle and end.

    I agree on the idea of pervasiveness - it's like the audience expects plot twist no.1 after 20 minutes, major obstacle to overcome plot point no.2 and then story is resolved in the climax. So formulaic.

    I'm now thinking of going down a comparison of how scripts have changed from Old Hollywood to New or compare Hollywood script to a Japanese one to see if there are any cultural differences.
     

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