Screenwriting : Educational Video about Three-Act Screenplays by Kyle Climans

Kyle Climans

Educational Video about Three-Act Screenplays

Here's an interesting video by Lindsay Ellis on the nature of the three-act screenplay. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0QO7YuKKdI

Owen Mowatt

Whoa! Is it Syd Field bashing time already? I've only just finished wiping the brains and blood and ink off my club from....last month? Three act structure basically means, beginning, middle and end, and is about as elementary as you can get. Cheers Syd! "Road Rage" was termed about 30 years ago for example, but was that the first incident? Nnnnope! It has probably been around since the first two cars met on the road. Just because its been given an official name, doesn't mean we have all been ignorant of it.

Cameron Currin

Funny, I was just watching Werner Herzog's masterclass, where he says you don't need to worry so much about three acts... And you just need to focus on telling a story the way you want to. Of course he is talking about writing and DIRECTING your own screenplay, so at that point it doesn't matter as much.

Jeff Lyons

Ugh... this is just crazy making. She basically says acts are pretty much whatever you want them to be and they can be all over the place. Here's another perspective you might find interesting...if unpopular. :) I should have a new blog post up here on S32 in a month or so on this issue. I'm sure it will get some ... shall we say ... reaction. :) http://www.jefflyonsbooks.com/attack-of-the-three-act-structure-run-for-...

Beth Fox Heisinger

Good grief... Did you guys even watch/listen to this video? Lol! Very interesting stuff. Perhaps pay attention to her use and meaning of "analytical theory" within this context. As she explains: "Theory is taking a guideline of thought based on a comparable president and applying it to an already existing body of work." So in a nutshell, when talking about structure/acts, she's saying there are various theories on how to use them because they serve as function and are not absolutes—Owen, I thought you'd be all over this, man! Lol! Her walking us through the sequence approach and showing visuals was very informative too. And, geez, take it easy... She merely mentions (and mocks) feminist theory as something that just exists—which it does and can be applied to pretty much everything. Lol! ;) Oh, and as an artist with a degree in studio arts and art history, I vehemently disagree: you absolutely CAN teach color. It's called "color theory." Impressionists analyzed color theory and explored how various colors when next to each other (not mixed together) create the visual effect or illusion of a different color overall—hence the technique, pointillism. Now, of course how one applies color is more about their artistic abilities rather than if they know color or not—that's a whole different thing. Lol! ...Anyhoo, thanks for sharing this video, Kyle. :)

Jeff Lyons

Beth--yeah.... I listened :) Honest. This is one of those lose-lose arguments ... like arguing about whether writer's block is real. People latch onto ideas, resonate with them (whether there is any there-there or not)... and find the rationale as needed. But, like I said ... lose-lose... :) We'll all have to just agree to disagree (how's that for a cliche)....

Louis Sihler

Out of Africa did not use the 3 Act structure. I think there were nine if my memory is correct.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Well... yeah, Jeff, personally, I don't see it that way... I don't see this as an argument, but rather a discussion, a never-ending exploration. Lol! I think she made some great points, great observations. Aren't all these different approaches to screenwriting/structure really different theories, different interpretations?—all these "how to" books? Some theories are more commonly practiced/studied/known—absolutely. To me talking about structure and/or acts as function, that they are used to form story, allows people to think more openly and creatively. That we as writers utilize these theories and tools with our own creative intent in mind, not just as something to follow or to be restricted by. Sure, it's throwing around different words about concepts and practices that have been around for centuries, but it does altar one's mindset. ;) Honestly, I think whatever works best for each individual writer, then that's what's best. To each their own! Anyway, I'll just leave it at that. ;)

Jeff Lyons

I dont' mean argument as an argument... I mean argument as an argument... if you know what I mean... :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Ah, yes. Yes, I do know what you mean. Lol! :) Well, in that case I thought she made a few good arguments. I love this stuff: different theories, narratives, observations, etc. I try to keep an open mind. ...You know, learn all that you can from different sources, take what resonates and works for you, discard what may not... if you know what I mean. ;)

Joseph Chastain

Three acts, nine acts, twelve acts. It all depends on the screenplay. Following a formula makes films predictable and inorganic. The "beginning middle and end" argument that three act structure proponents state is NOT true, because that is NOT what people like Snyder and Field have argued in their books. They have talked about having VERY specific plot points, which can work for some movies, but don't work for others. I know professional screenwriters and very few work that way, unless they have a producer that forces them to. And yes you CAN teach any art and you CAN put it under a microscope. People think you can't teach singing too, but guess what? I've seen where people can't sing on pitch to save their lives when they start and then have better voices than half the Grammy winners you hear six months after taking lessons. I've seen people who don't know their left foot from their right who are now professional dancers. I've seen people who can't put sentences together and you CAN teach them to write. Does that mean anyone can win the Oscar or write the next Inside Out or sing like Adele or paint a picture like DaVinci? No, but some great artists DO need to be taught in order to be great. Some are not that great without training. Some people are brilliant naturally and need the very basics and are ready to go. Others are late bloomers and take a long time to get it.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, color theory, color application, its psychological attributes, cultural/societal meanings, etc, are well known and well practiced. Color is often strategically utilized to communicate a certain mood, tone, emotion, or used to imply certain attributes and specific meanings. Consider how color is used in logo design, advertising, and of course, in film. Getting back to this specific video—I've watched it several times now—I wanted to point out that she does not support nor promote any one theory; she's talking about "the three acts" as a subject, as the most common structure practice often found in most major films. And because it is the most common, it therefore matters for one to be able to understand it and to recognize it—not necessarily adhere to it. To paraphrase, she states that "the three acts are arbitrary," that while these observations can be recognized or analyzed after the fact, they may not be helpful in the actual process of writing. That it may be best to forget about this stuff while creating. So after reading your blog, Jeff, it would seem she shares some of the same argument as you do. ;) Now as far as this Hulk person/thing, I couldn't agree more, CJ. Plus, what's with the all caps?! Based on that and the constant ranting/yelling, I assume s/he has anger management issues. Lol! Yes, ignore reductionists! Cultish nonsense indeed! :)

Fiona Faith Ross

I like Beth's observation that the 3 Acts "may not be helpful in the act of writing". However, when you are in the rewrite phase, by assessing where these turning points are can help with the pacing. This is what I find anyway. Having gone through a phase when I slavishly hung on every word written about this stuff, I now keep in mind "Beginning" "Middle" and "End" and write to those. To be fair, I do think audiences like to know where they are in a story. The set-up orients them, the second act is (should be) "sit back and enjoy it" and the third act is the "come-uppance" and tie up the loose ends. As a writer, I'm sick to death of the debates around this topic, TBH. And as for CJ's dead horse (good analogue), it's long since mincemeat and well overdue for a fast burial.

Bill Costantini

Kyle's first venture into the forums was very enlightening, at least for me. I now know what "blinkered" means. Thanks, CJ! Regarding "reductionism", color and painting....Kyle, if you ever are painting with acrylics...always, always, always use gesso on your non-primed canvas first, or you'll reduce a one-pint container of paint to nothing in no time. That's a guarantee! Welcome to the forums, Kyle, and GO CUBSSSSSSSS!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Thanks, Fiona... Only that observation wasn't all mine. Lol! I was talking about this video and paraphrasing Lindsay Ellis' analytical comments about the three acts. As always, I certainly appreciate your personal observations as well. All good stuff. :-)

Joseph Chastain

"I'm aware there's a such thing as a three act structure it just doesn't interest me' Charlie Kaufman Academy Award winning and multiple nominatined screenwriter.

Dan MaxXx

kaufman? Good luck at unemployment and $130K box office gross. Kaufman turned his back & career on Hollywood. the video is about mainstream movies and screenwriting; stuff that keeps Writers employed. I personally luv 3 & 5 structure, 7-8 sequences; scripts that follow structure read well and gets pushed upstairs by the 1st wave- the Readers.

Joseph Chastain

Kaufman wrote a film that grossed $72 million. His next film that he's writing is a mainstream action film directed by Doug Liman and starring Daisy Ridley. So not he's not about $130 K box office gross. Only when he directs his movies himself.

Joseph Chastain

Don't like that quote how about Corey Mandell, one of the writers on Blade Runner, who said he "doesn't know any professional writers that write that way" when discussing the three act structure.

Kyle Climans

Thank you for the well wishes, Bill! And I'm glad that people are finding things to discuss. I've followed Lindsay Ellis' film reviews for a long time, and I always thought her opinions to be articulate and worthy, even when I disagreed with her. In the case of the video, I gained a lot of insight into the three-act structure, as well as how character arcs are sometimes based on 'want vs need', so I shared the link here to contribute to the many topics being discussed in these forums and lounges. As to how accurate she is, or how much one must invest in the idea of a three act structure, it's certainly up for debate.

Dan MaxXx

Of course Kaufman is back writing mainstream, he needs money to pay for his Indie projects. Cmon folks, this is show business. Get in the game first.

Joseph Chastain

The fact that a professional screenwriter says he literally doesn't know anyone who writes three act structure is telling to me.

Dan MaxXx

I guess he never talked to Aaron Sorkin.

William Martell

Corey Mandell, one of the writers on Blade Runner You mean, BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Bill Wilder (srceenwriter who had a bunch of Oscars): "Act 1: You get your cat up a tree. Act 2: You throw rocks at him. Act 3: You get him down from the tree."

Joseph Chastain

Christopher Nolan doesn't believe in three act structure either and he's more bankable than every person mentioned on this thread. Combined.

Tony Cella

Structure never hurts. My first screenplay didn't have much conflict, but after reviewing the three act structure and tempering my goals for the piece it came out alright. The three acts should naturally be part of the story. It doesn't have to have the traditional markers or characters all but breaking the fourth wall to announce the conflict and their antagonist.

Louis Sihler

Simple 3 Act structure is fine, unless it is a complicated film. I don't think you could put a 900 hundred page book into a 3 Act structure very easily. You would have to cut so much out.

Allen Johnson

Doesn't matter if it's a 30 second commercial or a television series that runs for 20 years. FILM IS DESIGN. That means structure. You introduce characters, you put them in a situation, the situation is resolved. Doesn't matter how you break it up or whether you refer to them as Acts, Beats, Plot Points, whatever. It always boils down to form because that's how human beings have told stories since the beginning of recorded history.

Sam Vanivray

I think more indie filmmakers should try using structured screenplays before breaking the rules. The rules can be broken but you have to be good at it. There has to something keeping my eyes glued to the screen for every shot. New filmmakers are often not the avante garde experts they think they are--yet--despite what their family tells them.

Tony Cella

That's a good point Sam. Structure is a starting point. There are also other methods of organizing stories. The mythic format and Jo-ha-kyū come to mind. I prefer the Japanese method because the three acts are never the same size. Jo-ha-kyu focuses more on the concept of structure as opposed to a rigid set of rules. At a certain point storytelling becomes natural and the acts take shape within stories unconsciously. Experience and practice are the best means.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In