XIXAX Film Forum

Creative Corner => Filmmakers' Workshop => Topic started by: Sleepless on January 25, 2013, 10:52:04 AM

Title: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Sleepless on January 25, 2013, 10:52:04 AM
Very, very mild potential spoiler for The Master, but I'm treading extra cautiously here

Matt posted something on Facebook the other day blasting the consensus that “there’s only one story – constantly retold” as bullshit. I couldn’t agree more. It got me thinking more and more about the idea of screenplay structure, and how the idea that for a script to be successful it must conform to the traditional Hollywood three-act structure. I’m sure most of us here have read at least some of the books by Syd Field, Blake Snyder, etc. so I’m curious to get a thoughtful discussion going on the art of screenwriting and the element of screenplay structure in particular.

Those who believe that the three-act structure is the be-all and end-all seem to adamantly insist that even though it might be heavily disguised, all films abide by this convention. I’m not convinced. I think that a lot of the time they’re trying to force it to fit their predetermined framework. What about The Master, for example? (A recent example which mostly everyone has seen). It’s not your normal sort of narrative feature, but it does have a story, and there is plot progression – so could it be argued that this does fit the three-act structure, or is it its own thing? What other films have a distinctly unconventional approach to structure. There are obvious examples such as Pulp Fiction and Memento, of course. What about a film like Another Year? Does that abide by three-act structure or not?

I guess the reason that I want to talk about this is because I’m struggling with a screenplay myself right now. I know the tone, the feel, and the themes that I want to touch on, and moments which will add to this, but I really don’t see it working within a conventional narrative structure. I’m actually thinking that it requires an unusual structure – taking 7 or 8 events (which will actually be lengthy scenes) and just stringing them together, cutting through time to tell this overall story. I’m sure other films have used this sort of structure in the past, but I’ve been unable to think of any within the past 24-48 hours while this has been on my mind.

I know that I can do whatever the fuck I want when writing my own screenplay, but just curious for others’ thoughts on this. Am I just being lazy because I’m not ruthlessly cutting and forcing this into the acceptable norm? Maybe you can inspire something in me, or point me in the direction of other stimuli. Hell, I could write this thing and step back from the finished product and discover that it neatly lines up to the conventional three-act structure anyway without even realizing it. But I don’t think that it will. I think it’s going to play more like a series of shorts containing the same characters in progression, which ultimately add up to a cohesive whole.

Anyway… Screenplay structure. Thoughts?
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on January 25, 2013, 11:30:32 AM
The Master actually fits a three-act structure really well. The inciting incident is Freddie accidentally poisoning the migrant worker, the first act turning point is him waking up on the boat and meeting Dodd, the mid-point, I would say is the two of them arguing in the jail cells, the second act turning point is Freddie riding away on the motorcycle, the climax is Freddie coming to see Dodd in England, and the denouement is Freddie hooking up with the pub girl.

The story may wander around loosely within each act, but it does adhere to a traditional structure. For what it's worth, I am something of a story structure loyalist. That doesn't mean a film needs to be as tightly controlled as Syd Field's books would suggest, but for the most part, any well-told story will have some form of beginning-middle-end structure to it. If you want to go totally avant-garde, that's fine, but it's a rarer thing than you'd think. The human brain is wired to interpret the world in story form.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on January 25, 2013, 11:36:05 AM
My teacher once said that I have to know all the rules of screenwriting and structure before I can break them - that is bullshit. I want to write in my own way and try to figure out how to make the story work without thinking about how it is supposed to be done.  The most important thing is that the story is interesting and works. And if you can make the story interesting, then you're fine. How you do it doesn't matter IMO.

To me, this is like saying "I don't need to learn grammar to be a writer. I'm just going to string words together my own way." The greatest free-form jazz musicians in the world have the same knowledge of music theory as the greatest classical musicians, they just choose to do their own thing with it. Without that knowledge, they're just making noise.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: matt35mm on January 25, 2013, 11:36:24 AM
Matt posted something on Facebook the other day blasting the consensus that “there’s only one story – constantly retold” as bullshit.

I'mma get into this more when I'm not at work, but that's not quite what I said or meant. I just made a joke that there's only one story: "When is this going to end?" I was really poking fun at teachers who say things like "There's really only one story: Who am I?" or "Every story is a love story," and stuff like that.

As it happens, I am of the mind that there are only a limited amount of stories. I think the nature of stories is very, very limited. But that's not a problem. In fact, it can be exciting because storytelling involves being part of a tradition and also becomes about HOW you tell the story.

So I think you can break anything down to a handful of stories. HOWEVER, when it comes to structure, that's limitless. Moreover, there are no limits to the cinematic choices you can make. So that's exciting.

The 3-act structure works. It's not the only thing that works. It's not the right structure for everything. You can build new structures and ask yourself if they work.

I've tended recently to think more about musical structure, and it's sort of how I see THE MASTER's structure. Movements and sequences more than one thing leading to another and action/consequence. Those movements are based more in feeling than story. Scenes flow together to shape each sequence, then stops, then onto the next sequence with a different feeling, variations on the theme. The movie feels like a symphony to me.

ANOTHER YEAR has an episodic structure, and it has to be that way to align with the major theme of the movie. A traditional 3-act structure with all its gains/losses/lessons would not fit.

Anyway, I think you can invent structure or use established structure that you've seen work in other movies. It just comes down to: does this work? But stories themselves are just playing around with notions of conflict that already exist, I think, from the story as a whole to what drives individual scenes/moments. You could break all that down to a handful of stories.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Sleepless on January 25, 2013, 12:17:31 PM
Some great comments already, thank you. Matt, even though I misinterpreted what you meant while scanning through Facebook on my phone, you got me thinking, so thank you for that (you often do). I like what you think about The Master's structure working similar to musical structure - kind of what Polk is maybe getting at by referencing jazz musicians. That definitely seems to fit with what The Master does, adhering to the tentpoles of three-arc structure while drifting around between these points. It's interesting though, because when I saw The Master, one of the things which really struck me was that it didn't seem to adhere to this sense of structure, it seems like it's almost stream of consciousness. Which is of course intentional. And I realize the best Hollywood screenwriters are the ones who churn out excellently structured narratives where you don't see the structural elements.

I'm not trying to do anything avant guard with what I'm currently working on. I want it to be accessible. But it's just a matter of finding the right balance I guess. I do think the episodic structure is going to be what's going to work best.

Keep the comments coming though. This is good.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: DBeyond on April 17, 2013, 03:15:52 PM
Here's my take on it.

What are the 3 acts, a general idea:

1- Presentation of the world/characters/mood
2- Character development (contrast, changes, etc...), going deeper into the world you created.
3- Consequences, what it all meant. What the character did with all the little things that happened to him.

I didn't really study screenplay writing, I had a class about that and all I had in my mind is this (something I already had before btw).

Which film doesn't have this structure ? I mean, even INLAND EMPIRE, Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive or even Zerkalo(The Mirror) have this structure. We are talking about very abstract films here.

To me, it's always the way you tell things, but the way you organize the information is always the same. Even if you start with the ending, it's a mystery thing, something that grabs the audience (For sure) but come on, it's still a presentation of the mood and characters. Don't you agree ?

To me you don't have to think about them. Things will come along, you just need to feel it. To me there isn't much intellect in art, while creating, there's in the shaping of the creativity/assembly but the core must be felt and deeply personal.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Lottery on April 18, 2013, 07:24:08 PM
How many of you folks structure and plan the events of your screenplay before you write? Or do you just jump into it?
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Reelist on April 18, 2013, 08:34:50 PM
I think it's important to have certain plot points in mind that you find exciting, but getting to those places in the story should unfold naturally out of the character's quest, not your particular 'grand scheme' as a writer.

you don't have to listen to me, though. I'm a zero.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Lottery on April 18, 2013, 08:44:33 PM
I'm a zero too.

And I agree with what you said. I plan it out and then see what happens (it usually changes quite a bit by itself).
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on April 20, 2013, 04:53:01 PM
I think there's a common misconception that outlining is somehow divorced from actual writing, or that the goal of outlining is build a rigid plot skeleton that you then have to cram your story into no matter how much your characters and themes bulge grotesquely out the cracks.

On the contrary, I see outlining as simply the process of thinking your story through before committing it to its final format. Unless you have Jon Peters standing over your shoulder telling you Superman has to fight a giant spider in the third act, the point isn't to retrofit your story to hit predetermined points, but to be able to go through and examine from all angles how your story and your characters progress. Who are your characters? What is their situation? What happens that alters that situation? How do they react to it? What does that reaction drive them to do? How has that choice changed them, and what is the new situation they're faced with as the result? You could stop at the first question and start scripting, but what happens 60 pages in when you realize you took a wrong turn back on page 20 and your whole story is suffering from what seemed like the right choice at the time? If you're incredibly disciplined, maybe you go back and fix what needs to be fixed and redo 40 pages from scratch, but if you're anything like me, odds are you just get frustrated and put the whole thing to the side, hoping to return to it but never actually doing so.

To me (and this is the result of a major evolution over years of writing), outlining is just as much a part of the process as scripting and revising are. And the lovely thing of it is, the more you focus on the outlining, which can actually be fun and creative and gratifying, the less you typically have to worry about the revising, which tends to be mind-numbing and soul-crushing.

The process I go through now, which has made my writing so much better and so much more rewarding, is: start with a very basic description of your story, essentially your logline. If nothing else, you want a sense of what kicks off the story and the general direction that takes it. From there, figure out who your characters are. Beyond general description, you need to figure out what their internal struggle is. How is each person in your story affected by the events of the story? You absolutely positively HAVE TO know who your characters are before you start plotting, because everything that happens will derive from the actions they choose at each step of the way, and if those choices are not beholden to some logical consistency built into those characters, your story sucks and I don't want to see your movie.

From there, I write a fairly brief prose outline, maybe 2 to 4 pages, just working out the broad strokes of the story. This is where you really want to put the last step to use, because every time you ask yourself, "What happens next," the answer is always going to be found in your knowledge of the characters. And the deeper that knowledge goes, the easier those answers become clear. It's at this stage that the major themes of your story will likely start revealing themselves to you as well, and that's a fun process to be a part of.

That done, if you want to start writing the script from there, I would fully support your decision. For me, though, I would move on to the scene-by-scene outline, which is exactly what it sounds like. Using my previous outline as a loose guide, I start working out the setup and payoff of every single scene in the movie. Where are they, who's in the scene, what happens. There are two huge benefits to this: it will cut the time it takes to you finish the full script immeasurably, and it will help you find major problems and fix them before you've committed too much to paper.

I guarantee you, if you take the time to work through these steps, writing the actual script will be easier, faster, and you'll be so much happier with your first draft than you would be if you just started scripting with nothing more than an idea and a title (side note: starting with a title is fine, but 99% of the time the script itself will suggest a much better title once it's done). I find that when you've put this much thought into it beforehand, issues will become apparent immediately as you're writing, and solutions come much more easily. It's a wonderful feeling to hammer out a solution to a problem in your story and realize that same change solves a problem elsewhere in your story. I'm not saying that's impossible to achieve when you're writing by the seat of your pants, but it seems to happen more easily and more often the more thought and effort you've put into the story and the characters prior to the actual writing.

Aaaaand that concludes today's edition of Pretentious Thoughts on Screenwriting with Polkablues. Tune in next week for "'As I'm Sure You Know...': How to Better Hide Exposition in Dialogue."
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Lottery on April 20, 2013, 06:13:36 PM
Good post. I have a little excel file for scene-by-scene outlines, but they're closer to brief descriptors with occasional notes than anything.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on April 20, 2013, 06:26:45 PM
I'm a huge fan of corkboards and index cards.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Jeremy Blackman on April 20, 2013, 06:53:45 PM
I've always wondered if there's good software for outlining. The closest thing I can think of is OmniGraffle (http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnigraffle/features/).
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on April 21, 2013, 04:02:14 PM
I feel like a program like that would be overkill. All you really need is something that lets you lay your scenes out in order and move them around if you need to. If I'm doing it on the computer, I'm more likely just to use a standard word processor. If you're primarily a visual thinker, I can see how some sort of diagramming/mind-mapping program might be useful, though.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: socketlevel on April 22, 2013, 12:35:46 PM
i've noticed as i've written more and more throughout my life, screenplays end up stronger if you don't outline. like have an outline in your head, start writing and if it deviates let it go where it's gonna go. the more and more you force it into what you think it is before characters start talking, the more heavy handed and guided it comes across. its a to each his/her own kinda thing, but i'd give it a shot.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Pubrick on April 22, 2013, 01:43:03 PM
the real question is why the hell are we all writing screenplays that will never get made or even seen by anyone else?

I'm always embarrassed to say,  when asked  by random people what I do with my spare time, "I write stories that are incredible and screenplays for films that would sweep Cannes if they ever got made. And possibly change the world as we know it."

to which they invariably say "pfft anyone can write a screenplay, my MUM can write a screenplay."

and then I go, "yeah well your mum's Elaine May."

and they reply, "I've seen Mike Nichols' nutsack."
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: socketlevel on April 22, 2013, 02:26:51 PM
keep the dream alive!
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Cloudy on April 22, 2013, 03:16:50 PM
I find it impossible to write a screenplay for a film I wouldn't have the resources to produce.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on April 22, 2013, 05:39:41 PM
I'm so hypercritical of the stuff I write, if I ever end up genuinely liking something, it'll be a sign that either it's the greatest movie of all time, or my brain has finally snapped like a twig and I actually just wrote "SRIRACHA BONER" over and over again for 110 pages.

"Sriracha" is probably trademarked, too. Production issues.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: DBeyond on April 22, 2013, 08:04:26 PM
Whatever I do, I just do it because it has to be done. It's what I do, what I need to do. For me it's what really matters.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Reelist on April 22, 2013, 11:09:25 PM
Everytime I read your posts I get a contact high
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Reelist on April 22, 2013, 11:37:14 PM
I'm so stoned.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: socketlevel on May 21, 2013, 11:40:42 AM
I find it impossible to write a screenplay for a film I wouldn't have the resources to produce.

then just sell it, get your name out there, let someone else get the resources to fuck it up or make it genius.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Reelist on May 21, 2013, 01:15:33 PM
I find it impossible to write a screenplay for a film I wouldn't have the resources to produce.

I feel like I'm having this dilemma where although I enjoy writing my first feature script, the times I actually work on it are so few and far between, and it's definitely down the road a ways before I'd be able to finance it. So, I'm really itching to do something within my means, that I can see the results of and get feedback on immediately. I'm not abandoning my script, but I want to experiment with different storytelling techniques that will maybe give me a fresh take on what I've written when I come back to it. I just hate the idea of starting something else when I'm not even halfway through this one, like somewhere along the line my enthusiasm to finish it will get lost in the process. Tinkering away alone on this project seems to have lost it's creative spark, though. I think that collaborating with people and getting something made will be the sort of push I need to get inspired to see a final product and want to do more things. What's your guys' experience been like with taking breaks from your 'passion projects' to do other stuff, were you able to bounce back?
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: wilder on May 21, 2013, 02:07:40 PM
Think about writing a contained, more easily executable short not directly related to but still set in the world of your story. Look at the relationship between the short film Mary Last Seen > Martha Marcy May Marlene (which is on the blu-ray, not sure if it's available anywhere online)
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Cloudy on May 21, 2013, 09:34:51 PM
Think about writing a contained, more easily executable short not directly related to but still set in the world of your story.
I'm doing the same ^ except the other way around. Wrote the short first (as the beginning of the film), and now digging into it and finding all sorts of shit that's turning into a feature.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Reelist on May 22, 2013, 09:12:35 AM
Good tip, Wilder. I've had this idea for awhile that I could do with my friend, but every time I start writing it I notice a lot of similar themes to my script, so I decide I should just concentrate on making it one story. However, I feel a lot more comfortable inhabiting the characters in the short because they're so familiar to me. Also, since I would most likely play the lead in that film, it forces me to be realistic about the acting and dialogue I'd feasibly be able to deliver, as well as the tools and locations available to me...So if I could just get a tight 20 minute film out of this, I think it be a good launching pad in helping me understand how to execute the larger idea, and also create a story that's grounded in the characters, with HUMOR! Because as it stands now, my scrip ain't funny  :yabbse-undecided:
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: jenkins on March 12, 2014, 04:48:26 PM
[omitted story about how i found this on my computer in a folder with writing of mine]
[opinion about there not being a 'proper' way to write a script]
[opinion about there being 'bad' ways to write a script]
[opinion about this being a good read: http://badassdigest.com/2012/01/12/screenwriting-101-1-of-2/]
quotes from a text doc i have, what i guess are my favorite parts from the above article, andoh i just realized i no doubt made the text doc because this was written by the hulk critic and fuck those upper-case letters man:
(my bolds of course)

At one point he links to a great Parker/Stone video:

You cannot simply say "i want to write about this textured, interesting person." and it will magically produce a textured, interesting story. So often, a lot of recent movies have had trouble when they assume texture and character detail somehow is the same thing as motive. The whole hatred for "indie movies" has nothing to do with them being quirky, or maudlin, or saccharine. It's because they're often so empty. It's not that their characteristics don't "feel real" it's that so often these characteristics try to hide a lack of narrative or thematic purpose. It is character-detail apropos of nothing. You have to go further than that. With real life stories sometimes the "facts" get in the way of good stories. Hulk will get balls deep into why that is later, but hulk just have to make sure we understand that the construction of narrative is something more specific to narrative itself.

Ultimately, a good narrative is born by combining these macro and micro approaches into one singular, coherent idea. Your characters and the story they inhabit should be in complete alignment with the intention of your themes. Which means your narrative is essentially "what you are saying." so when you have a germ of an idea that compels you, whether it's a detail, a person, a concept, or a theme, you must then zero in and figure out how that germ then becomes a story.

Again, reinforcing the theme of confronting mortality in every possible way.

Sadly, there are a lot of people in the filmmaking industry who confuse "empathy" with "likability." the mistake is understandable, but please understand that the two are not the same thing in the slightest. Empathy is about relation and understanding. They think likability amounts to "not having your characters do anything bad." this assumption is counter-productive because without having a character do "the wrong / fallible thing" you will end up creating some real shit drama if you ask hulk. In fact, this grave misunderstanding about empathy / likability is responsible for the legions of doormat main characters that movie audiences are treated to time and time again.

Ask yourself bold questions: what is it that makes this character good? What is it that makes them troubled?

(and all main characters push their boundaries)
the story needs to give them wholly valid reasons to do so.

That is because, as the creator, it is often hard to separate oneself from the power and control over what you are writing. "of course the character would do that! That's what i'm making them do!" but to the audience, who only gets to learn about the character through the very different lens of experience, it doesn't work like that. They don't know what is inside your head. They only see what comes out from the story. As such, they are actually much better at reading "who the characters are" as well as their capacities for good and bad.

What are the other base wants?
what do they need?
A character's heart is likely the key to the ending catharsis.
what is their intelligence? How does it manifest itself? How do they problem solve?
piece together an actual psychology
3d characterization

Take the inspirations and events and filter them into real storytelling models and beats that make sense (we'll explore this later in the structure section).  Don't just be lazy and assume the reader knows the event is equally "true."

fiction is built for what feels true.

Don't write the story of your life with the lines you wish you said...

characters that push through discovering the narrative itself
The event becomes the character.

The specific details give the air of veracity. And sometimes great truths are arrived at when you work backward from that veracity.

start people in the midst of a world already in conflict

One enters a world that already feels lived-in and with history.

Urgency is born from clarity
Mystery makes an audience member go "oooh, what the heck is going on here?"and brings people into their minds to ponder.
(^jenkins note: interesting he talks about clarity, then mystery. makes me realize the mystery needs clarity)

urgency, with all its dull simplicity, allows the audience to "skip" the use of their brain and just experience the film in the most primal and exciting way

It wasn't that we wanted "answers" it was that we wanted clear stakes and something that mattered. Mystery truly has a short-term lifespan. If you try to sustain it for too long, you're sunk.

Ultimately, there's clear reasons to use both mystery and urgency, but hulk just want you to be aware of, you know, how to use it and why. Ask yourself, what would make this scene work better? Not understanding the urgency and engaging the audience on cerebral level? Or totally understanding it and engaging the audience viscerally?

And even if you just want your movie to be fun and not overwhelm your audience with "messages" there is a way to do that too.  You can post-modernly thumb your nose at the idea of "saying something," avoid what you think is trite or didactic, and implore that very thematic message into your film. Hulk mean, if that's what you actually think, isn't the script just an opportunity to make that clear? (jenkins note: this is basically what xixax frequently reminds me to do)

The film's ending is powerful, resonant, and re-shapes the entire film you saw just before it.

Endings always matter

writers today don't know how to combine characterization with plotting

In every kind of story, even the most casual charter pieces, even films with a leisurely editing pace, you still want the character's evolution to be propulsive. Even with the most intimate, human stories, you always want to enter each scene with a new sense of purpose and interest.

An act is any time a character makes a decision from which they can no longer go back.
As such, a film can have any number of acts.

With shakespeare, there is act 1 - the introduction, which establishes pre-existing conflicts and the needs and wants of the main characters. Act 2 - the instigation, which introduces how the main conflict of the story comes to be, which is often something that complicates the pre-existing conflict to boot. Then there is act 3 - the turn, in which there is some grave turning point that flips the conflict on its head and has grave consequences for all (these are often shakespeare's best acts. They are full of large, bold action that are normally reserved for "climaxes" of most 3 act films. By moving these grand gesture to earlier in the story, they thus have the power to both shock the audience and shape the story further. It's brilliant storytelling). Then there is act 4 - the spiral, in which the results of the turn gain steam and propel toward the ending (what is interesting is how most act 4s look like the entire act 2s of 3 act structure. Which means there a lot of back and forth and set up for finale, but it works much better in shakespeare because the acts are so short, and hectic and feels like time is running out. Meanwhile, it doesn't work in 3 act structure because they try to do this for 40 pages in the middle of the movie and it just completely lacks importance). Finally there is act 5 - the climax, which brings the narrative to a resolution and hammers home the final thematic messages of the entire piece (the ending is the conceit!).

Simply put: "therefore's" and "buts" create the sense of propulsion.

The "and thens" stop the narrative cold.

"what are the scenarios in which my core idea would best manifest itself?"

At this juncture, you may have realized that whole point of these structures is to have as many different ways of attacking different kinds of story problems. This is perfect because writing is largely about problem solving. You write. Everything seems great. You hit a snag. You try and figure it out.

They would not simply be "elements" of a larger story, but their own complete stories, independent of anything else.

5 main characters. 5 different sets of relationships. They all have motives to relate to each other. They all have reasons to dislike each other and provide conflict. But best of all they are all "interested parties" in the main plot

We need stakes and different wants all centering around the central setting and narrative. We need to find our unifying concept of a "dragon scroll" even though it probably won't be a tangible object and instead some concept that is far more ethereal.

It is the merging of conflicting arcs. And it is how one writes one singular story.

30. "page 17"
The term "page 17" is a strange phenomenon revealed to hulk by an old mentor.
He said that if you look through most good screenplays, for some reason the movie's main plot or action kicks into place on exactly page 17... He spent a career looking into it... Hulk checked into it too... He's actually right.

It's almost bizarre, but if your read a ton of scripts, "page 17" of these 90-120+ page screenplays seem to be this naturally occurring point in the main plot where the story really gets going. Even something as non traditional as the first chapter of inglorious basterds is 17 pages (sorry, hulk just checked, it's 17.5). It's like the "screenwriting pi" or something, this naturally occurring page number were it "feels right" to really start embarking down the main narrative path.

You should always try to look for opportunities to make all the characters have as much relevancy to the story as possible.

Sure, the coen brothers defy expectations of storytelling constantly, but they do so only to engage deep questions behind life.
They don't sit around and go "wouldn't it be cool if?"

So do what makes sense for the kind of story you want to tell.

Always try to always say something. Even try to say multiple things at once.
Every detail in your script can matter if you really want it to. Don't waste opportunities to say something!
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: wilder on March 12, 2014, 05:12:15 PM

characters that push through discovering the narrative itself
The event becomes the character.

writers today don't know how to combine characterization with plotting

I was resistant to the idea of plot for the longest time, until someone put it to me this way: Plot is a series of opportunities to present choices to your characters that allow them to reveal themselves. It's a simple distinction, and maybe obvious to many, but for whatever reason I was blind to this way of thinking before. Thinking of plot as being in service of characterization, as augmenting character as opposed to the other way around completely changed my stance. Before I'd interpreted it as separated, as imposing contrivance for the sake of a more easily classifiable story, as stifling, etc. But I was wrong. It's so much easier to understand why the story mechanics of great movies like Chinatown and Silence of the Lambs work so well when viewing plot as functioning this way. Chinatown is a mystery that functions to reveal Gittes, SotL is a crime film that functions to reveal Clarice Starling, etc.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Cloudy on March 12, 2014, 05:59:12 PM
It's all about CHOICES. So simple. So fucking simple. Chinatown is a great example, I'd also say TWBB because to most people it just seems like a meandering film flooded in character with no plot whatsoever. But the CHOICES made by Plainview are so deeply engrained, that the film builds in a very cosmic way through these choices. Each choice he makes feels more important than any human can consciously realize, as if they're apart of dimensions that we don't comprehend. Which goes along with PTA's mantra of "you may be through with the past, but the past isn't through with you".
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: polkablues on March 12, 2014, 08:17:41 PM
Plot is a series of opportunities to present choices to your characters that allow them to reveal themselves.

That's fantastic. A much more succinct way of saying what I was trying to say in this other thread:

You can't look at plot as a dirty word, though; boiled down to its broth, all "plot" means is cause-and-effect.  It's the series of actions and reactions that drives your characters through the story.  You can't really say don't be concerned about plot, just write the story -- the plot IS the story.  Without it you just have a series of unrelated events in which characters do things that don't matter.  I've read (hell, written) enough aimless scripts that start nowhere and go nowhere to respect the importance of plot to story.  And I've used the same excuse that every writer who writes an aimless script uses: "It's about the characters."  Which is fine, but cinematically, the way you reveal character and develop character is through plot.  Characters start out in stasis, then events happen which move them out of that stasis, and how the characters respond to their new situation is the only way we know who they are as characters.  That's all plot is.  It's how we get the characters from point A to point B.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: Reelist on March 12, 2014, 09:00:19 PM
Interesting you'd bring this up, I've been stuck for a while on a specific plot point that was the germ of my idea when it first came to me in my teens. Yet after all this time ruminating about it and writing 60+ pages on everything surrounding the event, I still haven't gotten to the meat of that scene in script format, just outlines and notes. Most of my efforts have been placed on sort of justifying what would get the character into that situation, and writing it out has taken me on some interesting detours that have made it a richer and more personal story for me, but then there's this crucial scene hanging over it all like a dark cloud, "Hey, make sure you fit me in there, too!"  So, I haven't worked on it in months now, and I think the key to getting back on track is to write the scene as it seems to continuously play out in my head and really figure out how the consequences affect his decisions after that, and does it make for something exciting to watch? I never thought about the outcome of this film, certain images just flashed through my mind and never left, so I feel like I have to honor them and see them through to their conclusion to find out if they WORK, even if they end up not being used or the movie isn't made at all.
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: wilder on April 11, 2014, 06:56:10 PM
Several 30-minute BAFTA video lectures by working screenwriters:

Tony Gilroy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv3DcXIUaRw) (Michael Clayton, The Bourne series)

Richard Curtis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMcXrAPmchk) (War Horse, Pirate Radio)

Hossein Amini (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og9Y-u3cGzs) (The Two Faces of January, Drive)

Susannah Grant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9Kk4hXCazI) (Erin Brockovich)

David S. Goyer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_a-qhIOZcSw) (Batman Begins)
Title: Re: Screenplay Structure
Post by: wilder on May 04, 2014, 03:57:11 PM
This is kind of funny:

Quote from: Sean Hood
I would argue that ANY movie can be interpreted as following Blake Snyder's famous beat sheet - even epic failures like Gigli, Pluto Nash, or (in my opinion anyway) Star Wars: Episode One.  What most people don't consider is that universal templates for stories apply universally to both good and bad.

In this April Fools Day blog article, I argued that the "Save The Cat" principles apply to Plan Nine From Outer Space.

Genre Hacks - "Save The Cat" Beat Sheet: Plan Nine From Outer Space (http://genrehacks.blogspot.com/2014/04/save-cat-beat-sheet-plan-nine-from.html?m=1)