Warning Spoilers Ahead!
Review: Three act structure? The most meaningful movies typically have a three act structure. Some great films have more acts. There is no rule that says you must use a three act structure but when writing a screen play, you may actually get stuck when writing really fast if you don’t have a clear track in which your story is supposed to be told. A movie with no clear direction of where the story is suppose to go can frustrate and bore the audience. Useless scenes can make the audience not want to see your next movie, muck like how Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman (2016) all most killed the DC movie franchise. Beginning, middle, and end. Set up, conflict, and resolution. So basically this is what the audience wants to see the, but if a screen writer and director does not try new things with a movie, we will not get new things. I don’t mind a director like Standley Kubrick’s 2001: A space Odyssey (1968). I really appreciate that fact that he created something new at the time and very artistic.
So lets talk about the conflict of a story and how act three wraps up the story, at least most of the time. What are the stakes? There must be stakes that are in place if not then what is the point? For Batman in the Dark Knight (2008) he must save the city from the Joker’s massive attacks. So as we can see there is a point and a reason for Batman’s actions and why we the audience enter into his life, his story. This is where the ‘theme’ or ’philosophical ideology’ of the film is shown. Some of the best films have this a while some of the most forgettable and lowest grossing films don’t have this. Here we have the greatest connection to the hero. This is where the vulnerability of the our main protagonist is at their greatest. At some point the protagonist is challenged to their breaking point. The protagonist must dig deep within he or her self and find the true grit to pick them selves up and overcome their obstacles. In the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) Harry is challenged by Lord Voldemort. Harry knows that he cannot beat Voldemort one on one yet Harry knows that he himself is not a coward. He stands up to someone who is so much more powerful than himself and begins the dual, knowing full and well that he is about to die. This is where the transformation and the change happens for the main protagonist. In Thor Ragnarok (2017) Thor changes from the ‘Son of Odin’ with his ‘Magic Hammer’, to Thor ‘Ruler of Asgard’ and the ‘God of Thunder’. The main protagonist has to shed who they used to be and make the necessary change that help makes their story meaningful.
All of the build up comes to a head in the final confrontation. This is where you should make it worth the audiences while. An example of a bad ending would be Morgana Pendragon vs. Merlin in the TV show by BBC. Instead of an awesome wizard battle like Voldemort vs. Dumbledore in the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). All of that five year build up to the final battle between Morgana and Merlin just so that to fight is over before you know it. Sad, just sad. At the very least, give the audience something worth their while. At the same time, the build up to the final confrontation needs potency. If you look at the film Robocop (1987), people are dying all over the place all throughout the whole movie. Not to say that RoboCop is a bad film, but the potency of seeing the final bad guy get defeated didn’t feel as great as it was supposed to. Too much violence in a film can make the movie not have the potency the final confrontation is supposed to. Taking a shot at your dreams. In the movie Black Swan (2010) Nina has one shot at her dream job and a perfect performance. So she does not let anything or anyone get in her way. Again, its so important for the audience to see all of the hard work our main protagonist has done to finally pay off, if not then what was to point of watching the two hour movie? Facing your fears. In the film Cyberbully (2015) Casey ( Maisie Williams ) has no other choice but to face the Blackhat that is threatening to release her nude photos on her compromised social media account. She makes the choice to ignore that Blackhat and allow him to do what ever he wants rather than allow herself to be blackmailed, yeah it’s a dark film.
Set up and Pay off:
Luke Skywalker believes that his father was betrayed and killed by Dark Vader Star Wars in A New Hope (1977). Caleb believes that Eva and himself will escape Nathan’s house and have a life together in the movie Ex Machina. Wesley believes that his father was killed by an assassin in the movie Wanted (2008). Having a character believe a lie only to reveal that they were believing a lie the whole time is a common way to get the main protagonist to push the plot forward. If this is not done in a very clever way, the audience may lose respect for the main protagonist, seeing that character as simple minded or just dumb.
The control of information:
Elliot Alderson in the TV show Mr. Robot learns about the world and the people around him in a very controlled manner. The movie Ex Machina (2014) does this with the character Caleb. Basically theses kind of media uses a certain point of view and through the characters perspective we learn about the rest of the story. Katniss Everdeen is on a journey about surviving and learning about the world of Panem in the Hunger Games movies. She learns from Haymitch, about the Hunger Games. Katniss learns the political game from Plutarch and the Boggs. Katniss then learns the truth from Snow about Alma Coin. So what did the TVshow Mr. Robot and the movie series The Hunger Games do right? The creators new to control the flow of information. The best part is that the flow of information was controlled in a ‘more so’ plausible way. When writing the screen play please try not to give your audience a ‘diatribe of exposition’ like the movie The Recruit (2003) where the CIA recruiter keeps saying ‘nothing is what it seems’ basically giving away the fact that he is the bad guy in the film and that the main protagonist is not supposed to know?
In the movie Cyberbully Casey finds out the identity of the computer hacker and chooses to not to do what he says. She stripes the Hacker of his power by choosing to walk away from the computer and shutting the door. King Arthur learns the true nature of his half sister Morgan in the TV show Camelot by STARZS. The main ‘reveal’ of the truth is used all through out story telling. The main protagonist is being played like a puppet on a string. The reveal causes the turning point for the main protagonist. This is where the protagonist either makes a choice like Neo in the Matrix Revolutions (2003) or the protagonists finds the strength to defeat their opponent base off of emotion like Selene in Underworld: Blood Wars.
In the movie called Before I Go to Sleep (2014) we have a character named Christine ( Nicole Kidman ) who is an amnesiac. In the first act of the film the main protagonist Christine wakes up everyday and has no idea who she is and where she is at. Colin Firth’s character ‘Ben’ comes to her and explains that she is his wife and that she has amnesia. In Act two Christine learns that Ben may be lying about who he is. She teams up with Dr. Nasch ( Mark Strong ) and they both devise a way for her to record her memories every day. In act three Christine learns that Ben is actually a stranger who kidnapped her and has been telling her a lie for years and was really using her as a wife. So at the end of act three, she escapes Ben, Christine learns that she has a son, and meets her ex husband and son. The problem here is the movie just abruptly ends when the film starts to get very interesting. This is when the screen writer mess up act three. This film desperately needs an act four. Yes this film just did not feel right ending so quickly when we see the main protagonist finally meeting her son. An extra ten minutes of story would have done the job. I see this way too much in movies today. The film just shoehorns in the ending with out making it feel organic. The movie plot is not properly wrapped up.
Conclusion: Remember always that there is no one way to write a screen play. These technique are for improving a piece of art work such as motion picture film. It would be a critical mistake to take film making techniques and string them together and think that will make your screen play ‘good’. Its an art and should be treated as such. I wish Zack Snyder realized this.
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