The Dirty Secret of Story Structure

Build Dramatic Structure Within Your Story
Hosted by Brian Smith

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Brian Smith

Webinar hosted by: Brian Smith

Industry Reader & Educator for DreamWorks at (works with Disney, Universal, Sony, DreamWorks Animation)

An entertainment industry veteran, Brian has been working in the industry since 1999, and he has credits on 23 films and television series for major studios like Disney, Universal, Sony, and DreamWorks Animation. Brian has worked with some of the top story tellers in the animation industry, and has been studying the art and development of storytelling from within for nearly 20 years. While at DreamWorks Animation his work fell under the umbrella of the DreamWorks Education department and Brian taught classes to artists and other staff on story telling, Film Noir, and screenwriting. Brian has been a professional screenplay reader since 2006, and has written coverage for over 1,000 scripts and books for companies such as Walden Media and Scott Free Films. Scripts and books that Brian has read and covered include Twilight, Touristas, Nim’s Island, Hotel for Dogs, and Inkheart. Brian is a life-long fan of good stories and he’s spent years studying the techniques and principles of good storytelling. He believes that great cinema and great storytelling are inseparable. He studied animation and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, receiving an MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 1999. With that knowledge and his appreciation of good stories, Brian gets real satisfaction in helping writers get the most out of their stories through their screenplays. Brian was born and raised on Cape Cod and currently lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife, three daughters, and two dogs. Full Bio »

Webinar Summary

After reading well over 1,000 screenplays over the course of my career, from both professionals and amateurs, I can tell you that I have a solid idea of what makes a good story. Also, as someone who has been a professional reader, I can show you through a reader’s eyes where a story becomes flawed, and how those stories can be improved to prevent you and your script from getting the dreaded PASS on coverage notes.

The Dirty Secret of Story Structure will take a meticulous look at the art of building dramatic structure within your story by learning how to do it in individual scenes.

Each and every scene in your script should serve as an opportunity to move the story forward. If it is not doing that, it’s not serving its correct purpose within the world of your story. Just as your overall screenplay has a beginning, a middle and an end, so too should each scene. Within each scene should be a character who wants something, and another character or entity that is trying to stop her.

Developing a structure within each scene to determine how those events transpire is just as important to telling your story as making sure the Act I to Act II transition happens somewhere between pages 25 and 30. However, the notion of dramatic structure has been misinterpreted for years.

Dramatic structure is not necessarily what you think it is, and when it is re-examined, the thought of fitting a story within the confines of dramatic structure becomes less daunting. This webinar will provide detailed examples on how to build solid dramatic structure within your scenes, as well as within your overall screenplay.

What You'll Learn

The secret: Most films are told in four acts, not three.

  • A break in the act should be marked by a change in direction in the story.
  • We’ll discuss how stories change direction 3 times in 4 acts.
  • Use the Hero’s Journey to help decipher where the act breaks should be.
  • Show slides from Raiders of the Lost Ark, A Clockwork Orange and Casablanca as examples.

Break 3-act structure (and the Hero’s Journey) down to a scene-by scene level.

  • The exception that proves the rule
  • Show scene from Children of Men.
  • Breakdown moment by moment of the changing acts within the scene
  • Breakdown moment by moment of the changing stages of the Hero’s Journey within the scene.

Break 3-act structure (and the Hero’s Journey) down to a scene-by scene level.

  • Show sequence from Jaws.
  • Breakdown moment by moment of the changing acts within the scene
  • Breakdown moment by moment of the changing stages of the Hero’s Journey within the scene.
  • We'll discuss tools on a more macro level with stories at large and learn how you can look at your own scenes in this way.

Applying technique - We'll go over how thinking of a screenplay in 4 acts rather than 3 can help you by:

  • reducing the number of pages to get through before a shift in direction.
  • helping with pacing, as well as the levels of drama and humor
  • creating balance in the screenplay

Questions

About Your Instructor

An entertainment industry veteran, Brian has been working in the industry since 1999, and he has credits on 23 films and television series for major studios like Disney, Universal, Sony, and DreamWorks Animation. Brian has worked with some of the top story tellers in the animation industry, and has been studying the art and development of storytelling from within for nearly 20 years. While at DreamWorks Animation his work fell under the umbrella of the DreamWorks Education department and Brian taught classes to artists and other staff on story telling, Film Noir, and screenwriting.

Brian has been a professional screenplay reader since 2006, and has written coverage for over 1,000 scripts and books for companies such as Walden Media and Scott Free Films. Scripts and books that Brian has read and covered include Twilight, Touristas, Nim’s Island, Hotel for Dogs, and Inkheart.

Brian is a life-long fan of good stories and he’s spent years studying the techniques and principles of good storytelling. He believes that great cinema and great storytelling are inseparable. He studied animation and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, receiving an MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 1999. With that knowledge and his appreciation of good stories, Brian gets real satisfaction in helping writers get the most out of their stories through their screenplays.

Brian was born and raised on Cape Cod and currently lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife, three daughters, and two dogs.

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