Understanding filmic variations in script writing.
All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Statements such as these can be as ludicrous as they are profound. It reminds me of the Rugby League commentator noting that “It was a game of two halves.”Of course everything, unless eternal, has a beginning, middle, and end. One of the arts of writing is in choosing when, where, and how to begin and end. This in itself can make or break a movie. There are also options in switching the three around by use of flashback, backstory, or reminiscence, whereby the story is the telling of events leading to an ending af which the viewer is already aware. They can also be juggled by use of false endings that in fact lead to further story, or by keeping the viewer guessing, the cinematic version of that game where a shell is hidden under one of three cups.
Some stories are more like self contained chapters rather than an entire story, hence the potential for sequels and prequels. In that case the beginning is more like a jump off point, as in someone leaping from an airplane and pulling the ripcord on a parachute. That is the beginning of a story, as are the reasons for that person being on the plane in the first place, or the lives of the others onboard, or the origins and destination of the flight.
Open ended and genre based story is particularly appealing to Sci Fi and fantasy writers, who can create a whole new world of experience for the protagonists and antagonists. The classic example is ‘Star Wars’, that shameful and subversive attack on intelligent Sci Fi, from which we are only now seeing the beginnings of a recovery in the genre. And to think such whiz bang space gladiator nonsense followed in the footsteps of great conceptual writings in the scripts of ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Outer Limits’.(50’s and 60’s versions please).
The more we learn about the act structure of screenwriting, the less mystique it holds. This is great as a writer, but feels somewhat detrimental to viewing pleasure. Then again, I haven’t been to the cinema for many years or turned the TV on for many months, so no great loss there. I personally find the great bulk of movies way too formulatic, and this may in fact be due to movie makers tendency to stick to the tried and true structure formats. I find short film (three to ten minutes) to be a much more thought provoking genre, providing open endings and often offering more questions than answers. I prefer the idea of a new beginning rather than an ending. Of course all these attributes can also be attained in feature length films in the hands of expert writers.
I believe the three act structure, or nine act structure as presented by David Siegal, are valuable film format learning tools for a writer new to the genre. A sound structural base is the framework in which the story can be composed. Ultimately though, I would hope through experience to do away with conscious awareness of structure, and present a more individualized artistic expression. As Ray Bradbury writes in his book ‘Zen and the Art of Writing’ “It took me ten years of writing two hours a night, seven days a week, before the stories began to write themselves.”
Structure alone is not everything. We would not describe our own lives in such simple terms. Humans are much deeper and multi-dimensional than that, and this is where quality understory, or subplot, enriches the viewing experience. Structure has function, but is not complete, just as a house is not complete until it is fitted, furnished, and inhabited by living, breathing people (and maybe dogs, cats, mice, cockroaches, and dustmites).
In conclusion, I believe that structure is useful in the short term, for beginning writers, but may become restrictive if we become overly attached to the format; like becoming attached to the golden egg at the expense of the goose. Cutting edge means to be at the forefront; the cut being detachment from pre-existing structures, methodologies, and strategies. The edge is a precipice, a leap into the unknown. This is where genuine talent can be found, or where pretenders may topple into an abyss. A real artist will never strive hard only to become ordinary or average, even if the trade off is to become rich and famous like George Lucas.