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Old 02-17-2017, 11:43 AM   #1
SBdeb
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Default Kenneth Lonergan on structure

Interesting read/listen:

http://variety.com/2017/film/in-cont...ea-1201988795/


I was taught, and developed, more of an inside-out approach, trying to let the material dictate the structure, trying to find the right shape for the feeling of the piece. Any technique I have is geared toward turning the analytical part of my mind off and letting the material write itself.


I find the academic approach to playwriting and analyzing films and plays to be antithetical to writing them, Lonergan says. I think most techniques for breaking down dramatic writing are analytical and not utilitarian. It may be that every movie has a three-act structure, but I never for one minute worry about whether theres one act, two acts, three acts, 20 acts I dont even know what it means."
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Old 02-17-2017, 12:47 PM   #2
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

If, when all is said and done, you have a satisfactory result, it will be a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Anything else is a collection of anecdotes.
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Old 02-17-2017, 03:55 PM   #3
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

Very few writers do not have to make themselves conscious of pacing while they write. Their stories naturally turn and complicate over the course of the telling. They do not have to externally think of a scripts tentpole moments: inciting incident, establish MDQ, midpoint complication, hero's low point, final resolution. They hit those notes in their natural progression of telling the stories.

Most writers need to make themselves aware of pacing, if they don't their script will move extremely slow.
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Old 02-21-2017, 04:40 PM   #4
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
If, when all is said and done, you have a satisfactory result, it will be a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Anything else is a collection of anecdotes.
Hey CB,

I'm not a fan of the 3-Act system either for three main reasons:
1) Anything temporal and finite will, by definition, have a beginning and an end, and everything that isn't one of those two are the middle.
  • If, when all is said and done, you have a satisfactory result, it will be a song with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • If, when all is said and done, you have a satisfactory result, it will be a poem with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • If, when all is said and done, you have a satisfactory result, it will be a dance with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
I've never heard of a songwriter, poet, or choreographer discuss their art in acts (or beginnings, middles, and ends), probably because its not the organic nature of those mediums any more than act structure is the organic nature of dramatic story telling.

2) Directors and editors don't construct films in acts and audiences don't experience them in acts. Directors and editor work in sequences, scenes and shots. Some directors are aware of, and understand the nomenclature so they can talk to execs and writers, but they rarely if ever take that mindset to the set with them.

3) Most feature films, and I would argue that all popular feature films, contain two or more stories, which the 3-act system is woefully unable to handle. Nothing is more fun for me than watching a 3-act devotee try to analyze films like Pulp Fiction, Love Actually, Short Cuts, or Four Weddings and a Funeral. But these obviously multi-story films aren't the only films with multiple stories. I would argue that Liar Liar contains 3 distinct stories: The Curse, The Broken Family, and The Career/Case. I'm not talking about sub-plots here. Sub-plots to me are all about reveling/developing character.

I'm pretty sure I wrote an anti-3-Act diatribe here on DDP several years ago, but here are two posts I've written more recently on the subject:
Three Acts Are Three Too Many, and, In Defense of Character.

Just trying to keep the conversation lively...
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Old 02-22-2017, 05:21 AM   #5
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

Steve, I understand your points. You write well and argue cogently. However, I think that a story naturally has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I do not really agree that the concept of story arc or progression should be thrown out just because temporal and finite events by definition begin and end.

Still, it is not the kind of thing that I would be argumentative about, because I think that we are probably closer in viewpoint than you might realize. I do not favor any kind of rigid adherence to a Hollywood formula involving plot points. Sometimes a film or a literary work is arresting and entertaining because it has episodes or parts that touch our imaginations, memories, desires, and thoughts. Maybe these individual episodes themselves have a beginning, a middle, and an end that are tied together in a naturally unified way, even though the greater work itself wanders around a bit or a lot. Sometimes anecdotes are enjoyable.

Speaking as a poet, I do want to say, just to get it out there, that poems have or certainly often have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Think of the sonnet, which has three quatrains and a final summarizing couplet. A problem or situation is posed; it is discussed; and a conclusion is expressed. The last poem that I wrote was not a sonnet (English is not a rhyme-friendly language), but it was not much longer than a sonnet. It dealt with a complex metaphysical issue of fate and reality. It progressed from presentation of the problem (tied into some nice imagery involving a desert campfire), through consideration of the nature of reality, and culminated in an expression of desire that defied the adversity of fate.

I do not think that multiple plots are incompatible with a three-act structure. Shakespeare frequently used subplots, and I think that most of his plays are structured around a beginning, a middle, and an end. The subplots, if they enrich the play, function as parallels or commentaries on the greater plot of the play.

Shakespeare's plays were later divided into five acts, but that was just the fashion. In fact, the first act of the five is usually very short and is close to what we might consider pages that lead to an inciting incident or a setup. Shakespeare's second act finishes out a traditional first act. His third and fourth acts correspond roughly to a modern second act. And his fifth act is the modern third act. Of course, these are just rough equivalencies. I am not an advocate for a rigid three-act structure. Chekhov, by the way, argued that a play has four acts.

Nice conversation, Steve. I always enjoy your posts and have for years.
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Old 02-22-2017, 03:28 PM   #6
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

I'm an advocate of doing whatever works. If Syd Field, et al works for you, great! 3-Acts never worked for me, and I always thought it was crazy that writers and development folks were the only ones in the process that use a closed and rigid system when the other filmmakers work in the more open and flexible world of sequences and scenes.

And just to be clear, when I discuss multiple stories I mean different stories that are woven together and affect each other. Sub-plots to me are different and specific mini-stories, but they exist solely to introduce, expose, or develop a main character, like the young Bulgarian couple in Casablanca, or the Jumper in Lethal Weapon, or the beginning sequences in many, but not all, Bond films.

In many cases I'm outside the mainstream on this, but it's surprising how many professional writers publicly or in many cases privately admit that they don't use the 3-Act system.
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Old 02-22-2017, 03:51 PM   #7
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

In any creative field, you'll find that people tend to run along a line from being "inside-out" people to "outside-in" people (or my far less preferred term, technical vs "artistic"). I remember this being a common subject of discussion when I was in my acting BFA: were you the kind of person who needed to connect to the heart of your character in order to externalize anything, or did you need to find the character's physicality before you could get at their emotions? Did you have to mark up your script and plot out all your objectives and tactics, or did that throw you off and put you too into your head?

The same thing happens with writing. Some people have to approach it systematically and work from the structure backward, while others are more about zeroing in on the characters and letting things flow.

The real challenge when you're starting out - and again, you see this in every creative field, in my experience - is that newbies are absolutely terrified of doing it wrong. So it's hard to accept that you're going to learn a lot of different techniques, and you're going to try them out, and they're not all going to work for you, and that won't mean that you're failing. There isn't this magical "right" way that will guarantee you a good script.

Anyway, it's good to hear from people who have a more organic process, because I think it's talked about less. Probably because it's so much harder to teach. But it helps to remind people that there are lots of ways up the mountain, as the saying goes.
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Old 02-22-2017, 06:45 PM   #8
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

Quote:
Originally Posted by omjs View Post
...The real challenge when you're starting out - and again, you see this in every creative field, in my experience - is that newbies are absolutely terrified of doing it wrong. So it's hard to accept that you're going to learn a lot of different techniques, and you're going to try them out, and they're not all going to work for you, and that won't mean that you're failing. There isn't this magical "right" way that will guarantee you a good script.

Excellent points.

As a newbie, I'm not especially fearful or concerned about doing it wrong because I'm not so sure that there even is always a "right" and a "wrong" but I do get frustrated by those who insist that, to be good, screenwriters must adhere to every convention known, and/ or who suggest that my script must be lousy because I don't prescribe to some classic structure. (Not to suggest that it can't be lousy for a million other reasons.)


I was appreciative to learn that Lonergan--a talented, successful screenwriter by anyone's standards--doesn't appear to be held captive by following any playbook, technique, or approach other than to try to tell a good story. I found it freeing that he suggested that he even turns "the analytical part of my mind off" and lets the material write itself. Before someone says it, I recognize that he may not represent the typical writer and his instincts may guide him to said structure without him even trying or intending to.

But still.
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Old 02-22-2017, 06:56 PM   #9
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

I forgot to post this in one of my previous posts. Here's Lonergan on 3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast.
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Old 02-23-2017, 06:40 PM   #10
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Default Re: Kenneth Lonergan on structure

He is a master, I hope this marks a prolific return for him.

Re his process, it sounds pretty torturous. 2 years to write 'Manchester by the Sea'. The first draft of 'Margaret' was over 300 pages, and editing the film took so long it went into litigation.

The amazing results in both cases speak for themselves though. Somehow I don't think he'd appreciate a copy of 'Save the Cat'.
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