Acting OutComplications Ensue
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Q. Should there be visible act outs in a feature script?
No. Only TV scripts have actual act outs. TV has real acts, broken up by commercials. Features only have nominal acts -- they're something for writers and development executives to talk about, but where the act ends is often arguable. Moreover "three act" screenplays often really have four acts, some screenplays seem to have seven or more, and many perfectly good movies don't really have meaningful acts.

Often when people talk about three act screenplays, they are talking about a 120 page beast where the first quarter is act one, the last quarter is act three, and the middle is about 60 pages. But of course there is some sort of turning point or flex point in the middle of act two. So arguably that is four act structure, except that messes up the nice correlation of act one with "beginning," act two with "middle" and act three with "end."

Meanwhile a movie like THE INCREDIBLES really breaks down much more neatly into seven acts than three. And you could probably find stories that really work in five acts. I don't think it's meaningful to talk about THE DARK KNIGHT in terms of three acts; there are clearly more than four identifiable sections.

And what about HARD DAYS NIGHT? And FORREST GUMP? What is even the point of talking about these movies in terms of three acts? Sure, you can make claims for the acts starting at various points, but how does that help you understand them?

How many acts does MEMENTO have? Isn't each progressive flashback essentially an act?

This is why I don't really hold with three act structure. I think it's more important to tell your story out loud and get rid of any parts that are boring. While TV really does need to have a certain number of acts -- ask your broadcaster how many -- movies don't.


Great post! Thanks Alex.

By OpenID scriptwrecked, at 4:59 PM  

I now structure each new script in 7 acts and find it makes the process way easier and the scripts way tighter. But I'm always prepared to talk about the story in 3 act terms so as not to scare producers and directors. They don't want to hear that you're doing something 'different'.

By Blogger Patrick, at 12:25 PM  

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