This was posted today on Shooting People:
“The so-called 3-act structure is the biggest, most destructive myth ever foisted on writers. I would like to call it obsolete. But that implies that it worked in the first place. It didn’t.”
The quote is attributed to John Truby. It then goes on to say:
“John Truby is a writer/director who has taught his 22-Step Great Screenwriting and Genre classes to over 20,000 students worldwide. He has also worked as a story consultant and script doctor for Disney Studios, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, and Cannell Studios. In Europe, Truby has consulted for the BBC, RAI, LUX, TV4 and MTV Sweden. His students include the writer/director/or producer for the following films:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Mask of Zorro
- Nightmare on Elm Street
- Sleepless in Seattle
- Back to School
- The Addams Family
- Kiss of the Spider Woman
- Valley Girl
- The Negotiator
- Star Wars”
That’s an impressive list of … hang on, all of those films have three acts. They may have 22 plot points (or beats, or story fundamentals or whatever you want to call them) but they still fit inside the classic three act structure.
On a similar theme, Gordon Robertson drew my attention to this site:
Nine acts? Nine! What?
Closer examination shows some of these acts are single scenes, the first one is a crane shot behind the opening credits. Can a single shot be described as an act?
I think what we’re dealing with here is a difference of opinion on what constitutes an act, not how to write a screenplay. From my, fairly ignorant, point of view the 22 steps and the 9 acts are pretty much the same, they just use different terminology.
I think of an act as the point at which you could have an intermission and people would still want to come back afterwards.
But then, that could apply to the end of every scene in a really good film.
So maybe a better definition is: the end of each act signifies a change in pace/tone of the story.
But then, that doesn’t seem to cut it either.
I don’t really know how best to define an act; but, from the look of it, neither does anyone else.
Or do they?
A more cynical opinion might be that people argue about the number of acts in a film purely because it generates more money. If you have ‘the one true formula’ for making a hit movie, then you can charge a shit load of cash for seminars and make a fortune from book sales.
But why are people so keen to kick over the three act structure? Why is it always perceived as wrong by creative types? I think they are a couple of reasons here:
1) Some creative people hate to think the universe runs on rules. Being creative makes them special and if you can spot the rules which underlie it, somehow people think that makes them less special.
2) People, especially in Britain, hate what they perceive as wisdom received from an established authority figure. The establishment is always wrong. Always. Doctors? What the fuck do they know? They are confined by established thinking. Whereas a homeopath (someone who sells water) is much more likely to know what’s going on.
(The irony here being doctors’ opinions on things constantly change as new procedures are tried and new knowledge is gained. Homeopaths rarely change their views because someone a couple of hundred years ago said it was true, so there.)
The three act structure is the establishment. You can’t railroad my creativity into such confined system. This guys offering 22 steps, he’s a rebel, he must know what he’s talking about.
Personally, I think each film has four acts. The mid-point seems to be the end of an act to me, but what the fuck do I know? I’m certainly not going to go around talking about the break into the fourth act.
Because no one else will know what I’m talking about. Rightly or wrongly, the three act structure has become a useful piece of language for describing what’s going on in your film. If a director thinks your third act is weak, it’s probably because the end of the movie is weak, not the moment when you first meet the hero.
I think people should use whatever system makes sense to them (and pay whichever barely-produced writer they like, exorbitant fees for the privilege) because they all seem to have nuggets of truth in them.
As for the people who are adamant that true creativity can’t be bound by any rules …
Great! Go for it guys, it’s all less competition for me.