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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Structure - 3 act or otherwise

A new thought to kick around.

I received an essay written by MA student Liz Coward recently. It compared Eight with Joyride, both films being on the previously mentioned Cinema 16 DVD.

She found it slightly difficult to get the 3 act structure to fit when she examined Eight. This was mainly due to the fact that it is from the perspective of a young boy who is random in his thinking patterns. But also because we want a mystery in the story (for the audience) - where is his dad, what is the truth?

That got me thinking. Is there another structure? A new structure? A structure that is more in the style of the internet and TV2.0? What do I mean by that? I mean a story that throws out facts and opinions and challenges the audience to put together the story. In Eight this would be the random facts about Dad that build a picture of him.

This style of structure drags the audience into the story more. It makes them work. If we stick rigidly to the 3 act structure we are a "teacher in a lesson" for the audience. This new idea makes us more of "facilitator in a workshop" for the audience.

I think this idea has some merit in exploring. I have just finished the first draft of Circumference and this script is very much in this new style. I think other films will follow. I realise this isn't a completely new idea (heck I've already made a documentary version in Quartz Shorts but I'm going to give it a name anyway. What else could it be but structure 2.0


Andy Coughlan said...

Hi Tim,

Interesting stuff here. If I'm follow your train of thought, I like what you are saying.

One thought though: is this really about structure? Is it not more about rate and style of revelation?

It's something I've struggled with making my recent short. There is a lot going on in the background and I had to think long and hard about how much I wanted to give away. Again, like Eight, I wanted to keep an air of mystery.

Isn't it more down to who(m?) we are targeting our film at? If you're writing a Hollywood blockbuster you'll need to cater for the lowest common denominator, hence the need to shift into 'Teacher' mode.

If you want to cater for a slightly more sophisticated audience (as I think you are) - one that is web savvy and of a more inquisitive mindset, you are free to write something where you don't lay it on thick, bit rather hint and nudge at ideas and allow them to draw their own conclusions.

The underlying structure itself could be a bit of a red herring. Even though I've hidden much of the backstory of my short in a few hints and clues, the film itself still has a very firm three act structure (and not by design either).

I'm not sure that we will ever, or perhaps really want to, shift away from three acts. We can hide them and manipulate them, but ultimately three acts (especially with a 'two goals' sensibility) seem to provide the most satisfying stories (if it ain't broke, don't fix it?).

However, I think you are right that we need to be sensitive to our audience. We, as a film watching people, are getting more sophisticated and the Internet is shifting our expectations, so I think there is a lot of room for discussion on this subject.

Danny Stack said...

Eight was great because of its particular structure. It sucked you into the kid's world and made it interesting and intriguing about what was going on. The final revelation, instead of being trite or sentimental, has a resonant effect because we've bonded with the kid so much.

I think short films can play with structure more because of their duration while feature films that challenge structural convention can be very hit and miss. Memento, yes. Syriana, no.

My opinion is that as the writer, you're the storyteller, and so you decide on the structure, whether it be right or wrong - it's the way YOU want to tell it, and if people don't get it, then well, that's art. I didn't enjoy Syriana but I respect Stephen Gaghan's style and approach.

Tim Clague said...

Yes to everything you both say. But I might raise the point that does web savvy = sophisicated audience. At the moment maybe yes. But anybody who looks up anything these days does it in Google. This is a system that throws out links that you have to order yourself. You must piece together YOUR answer from perhaps the top 5 links.

Anyway who thinks that that sort of repeated behaviour won't have an affect on art forms must surely have to explore it further.