Sequencing - help



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  • Sequencing - help

    In my quest for rewriting advice I revisited concepts I'd heard of a long time ago and one of them was sequencing and although the basic idea is simple enough - each sequence is a complete mini-story - I'm a bit vague on the specifics.

    What is a sequence? At first I thought it referred to the key 'action'' scenes but even the most high-octane blockbusters have moments of calm and dialogue that must be included in a sequence and so I thought it means to any scene but there's going to be way, way more than 15 in a feature length film.

    How many sequences? I've seen reference from 8 to 15 sequences across a script and that seems a huge disparity.

    What constitutes a sequence? As a film jumps from one character to another, each with their own goals (eg: Kyle looking for Sarah to save her, the Terminator looking for Sarah to kill her) is that still one sequence or one for each character and running at the same time?

    When do some sequences end? Did one sequence ended when the terminator was foiled in the night club and Kyle and Sarah got away or did it continue as it got back up almost immediately and resumed its mission.

    Do any DD'ers swear by sequencing?

  • #2
    A sequence can have different characters and locations. Best example I can think of is the baptism and murders in The Godfather. One sequence. Many scenes.

    I think pace and style determine how many sequences. Pulp Fiction has seven sequences. A lot of movies have more.


    • #3
      This was one of the things we were taught in USC film school back in the day. There are different write ups about it out there, but here is one brief one I will quote:

      A sequence is a self-contained portion of the entire story usually about ten to fifteen minutes in length. It has its own tension and it has its own beginning, middle and end.

      It "belongs" to one character -- though not necessarily the main character.

      Usually there are Two Sequences in the First Act.

      Four Sequences in the Second Act.

      And Two Sequences in the Third Act.

      Each sequence can really be defined as a question: Will our hero realize his friend is a traitor? Will she decided to take the job and move to another country? Will he see that his boss has been lying to him?

      Sequence One
      Established the central character, his/her life and status quo, the world of the story and perhaps the point of attack. (POA meaning the first premonition of the impending trouble, dilemma or circumstances that will create the main tension of the story

      Sequence Two
      Sets up the predicament that will be central to the story, with first intimations of possible obstacles.

      Sequence Three
      First and lowest obstacle to the central character is faced, beginning of the elimination of the alternatives.

      Sequence Four
      A higher obstacle, the principle of rising action, is brought in which builds to the first culmination (generally the mid point of the second act).

      Sequence Five
      Second act sag can set in. This is where a strong subplot or subplots take over to keep the story moving. This is often where the love story takes hold or another subplot, for example.

      Sequence Six
      The build up to the culmination. Back to the main storyline. The culmination is the end of the Second Act and brings the main tension to a close while simultaneously helping to create a new tension.

      Sequence Seven
      Establishment of the third act tension. Simple. Faster. Shorter scenes. The “twist” can end the seventh sequence.

      Sequence Eight
      Head toward the resolution. Each decision/choice is important to the outcome. Keep it clear as to how these choices will affect the ending. Will he get the girl? Find the bomb?
      I don't swear by it, but also don't swear at it. If the method above can work for a writer, then they should absolutely use it,if they like. We used the method some in school for things we wrote particularly in terms of a "outline" to get started -- but not always. I don't use it today.
      Done Deal Pro
      Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 05-12-2022, 08:41 AM.
      Done Deal Pro


      • #4
        This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’ve never thought of films in terms of sequences. Maybe that’s why none of my scripts have ever succeeded and my name is a total unknown, but I’m much more simplistic not just in my own writing but in my enjoyment of watching movies. It basically boils down to: does it keep me entertained? However you achieve that objective is up to you and if planning sequences is your thing then cool, but I don’t find it a requirement for my enjoyment of a movie. Now, there are certain plot points that I think are necessary. I was reading a draft of Scorn which eventually became John Wick and the movie completely lacked a “crisis” point for John Wick at the end of the second act. It had no emotional point where your heart stops and thinks “maybe he won’t get his revenge”. I found it very unappealing. Now, I loved the movie John Wick eventually became and I can’t remember it well enough to recollect if they ever added a crisis point but that early draft really didn’t work for me on the page. I know I went off on a bit of a tangent but I guess my point is that you don’t have to live and die by rules. Some people believe every movie should contain a midpoint, others don’t care. Just write what you think is entertaining and I think you’ll be fine. The question should be, “is this entertaining?” and not “did I make sure to follow this formula?” Just my two cents.


        • #5
          In keeping with Will's take -- this breaks down some movies into their 8 sequences, if you want examples. Keep scrolling down -- there's a lot to choose from.

          Sequence Breakdowns Archives - The Script Lab


          • #6
            Director think in sequences, they are a type of "chapter" if you will. Think of it this way. In a movie, the hero starts at point a and must end up at point Z. Every thing in between are plot points starting with the smallest measure, a beat. Beats build to scenes. Scenes build to sequences.

            So, let's take a film you've probably already seen; Silence of the Lambs. Clarice meets with Jack Crawford and is given a task... get Dr. Lector to take an evaluation.

            Sequences have functions, they get characters from Point A to Point B. Everything in between is a sequence. And the sequence builds, having a structure of its own...

            Point A
            -- Jack Crawford gives Clarice a task...

            Point B
            -- getting Lecter to take the psychological evaluation...

            Everything between those two points is a sequence...
            -- Crawford warns her not to tell Lecter anything personal
            -- she travels to the psychological prison/institution
            -- she meets with Dr. Chilton, who doesn't want to give her what she wants without something in return (conflict)
            -- they travel from his office into the bowels of the institution
            -- Chilton leaves her with Barney who gives her the rundown on safety measures.
            -- Clarice walks the hallway past Miggs and other inmates
            -- she meets with Lecter, he tests her, negotiates with her quid pro quo, she must do what she was warned not to do, give something personal to Lecter
            -- she gives him something and he takes the "blunt tool" and sends her on her way -- tension is the highest
            -- she walks down the corridor, defeated, until Miggs throws his cum at her, hitting her in the face (dark night of the soul)
            -- when suddenly Lector calls her back and gives her what she REALLY wants, a tip on how to find who is Buffalo Bill

            That is a sequence. From Point A to Point B. Each sequence, as with each scene-- has a function in the story. The sequence advances the story in some way. Either the hero achieves the mini goal or he has to find another path. And then a new sequence begins.

            If you want to think of it as two sequences per act that works most times... Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, Act 3

            Hope that helps. You can break down a lot of movies this way. And they can, and do, vary.
            Last edited by finalact4; 05-08-2022, 04:42 PM.
            "Reserving rights to comment and make changes."
            Hollywood producer


            • #7
              Sequences capture the success and failures of the mini goals the hero chases in order to attain the overall goal.

              I think most times in scripts these mini goals are left out of the story telling or they are just sooo easy and there isn't much conflict in getting them done. If a man wanted to rescue his wife from a deserted island. He'd first have to source building materials to build a boat - and then there would have to be conflict to that. That would be the first sequence. Then he'd have to build the boat - and there would be conflict to that - that's another sequence. Then he'd set sail and be on the water - and there would be conflict to that and that's another sequence.

              The building blocks go Beats - Scenes - Sequences - Acts - Complete Screenplay. The turns involved in each block escalate as you move up the chain.


              • #8
                Becoming aware of sequences is helpful because you're going to write them whether or not you do so intentionally. Sequences are a natural part of storytelling. So when you're aware you can write them more effectively.

                Rules about how many sequences you "should" have is more of the same silly rule stuff I choose to ignore.

                Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-


                • #9
                  FA4 took the words out of my mouth that their essentially structural chapters in a story. Each one is a sequence of events that make up a self-contained portion of the story that lead an advancement of said story. They're usually about 10 to 15 pages long each.

                  The sequences in my current script would be incredibly easy to decipher because most of them culminate with the death of a character or a dramatic change in the nature of the story.


                  • #10
                    I thought of set pieces but I never thought of my movie in sequences. If I was writing a Marvel or Fast and Furious movie, I think I might.

                    However, I recall I think it was Mark Duplass saying think of your indie film as 10 little short films so it doesn't seem as daunting. So I can totally see how that might help some people go from 10 pages to 100 pages feature.


                    • #11
                      Thanks, all. I'm still none the wiser so I'll leave sequencing be.


                      • #12
                        You know when someone draws one of those plot hills and makes it squiggly little ups and down along the way? I imagine sequences being those little hills. That's my approach. I guess if act breaks are the big changes, I see the sequences as smaller changes that push the story forward.

                        Maybe looking at a movie that is deliberately "serialized" might show my version of sequences better.

                        1. Indy is introduced. We meet the antagonist.
                        2. Some guys in suits explain the problem and Indy explains the Ark.
                        3. Indy goes to get the Medallion, but ends up with a "Godd*mn partner!"

                        It probably really depends on the story as to how and where sequences happen.


                        • #13
                          Like everything, it's something that 95% of working writers do without thinking about it, and someone who wanted to teach screenwriting describes it as being a method. Does your story have plot twists? Every time it twists, you start a new sequence.

                          They really are like chapters in a book. But what author sits down and says "I'm going to come up with 20 individual chapters and then I'll have a novel." I'd wager none of them. They come up with a story, and then when they're writing, it's pretty obvious where the chapter breaks go.


                          • #14
                            I’m at BN and looking through a book I haven’t seen before. Screenwriting Is Rewriting y Jack Epps Jr co-writer of Top Gun and other movies you know. The book seems to me maybe to be a good resource for OP and others looking for more practical advice on how to rewrite and what is a sequence.

                            He teaches at USC so it’s laid out to me like a college course.

                            Check it out.