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  • Structure

    If you were stranded on a desert island and needed to build a screenplay to get off...what books or articles on screenplay structure would you want to have?

    Which of the above are found in bookstores and which can be found online?

    What screenplays would you recommend as good structural models?

    My question about structure is based on coverage I received on a drama...although the production company said, "consider this an open door for all future scripts", the script was savaged for having many fatal structural flaws.

    Aside from the basic, Beginning, Middle, and End approach, I've never spent much time studying structure. I've resolved to change that before writing another word.

  • #2
    If I were stuck on an island, I'd recommend having the script Cast Away. It should come in handy.

    As far as traditional structure goes, it wouldn't kill you to read Syd Field or McKee. Take from these books what you will (as a note: I've never read them but then again I had two years of film school drilled into me).


    • #3
      The thickest, scripts and hard cover books I could find, that way when I build a boat out of them, it wouldn't sink immediately.


      • #4

        although reading produced scripts is a good thing, doing so to learn structure is not. this is because if you don't already know good structure you won't recognize it when you read it. this stands up to logic because those people who don't know what makes structure good or bad do not recognize it as such when the see the movie so they wouldn't when reading the script the movie was made from

        if you had a script that was trashed in coverage, the best approach is to learn from ground up. i recommend 'story' by mckee. this is more than basic beginning, middle, end type shlock. this book delves deep into what makes 'story'. it's tough to study - and that's a clue as to its value

        good luck


        • #5
          I'd agree that Story is a good and thorough book on structure. You just have to get past the fact the McKee's rather enamored with himself. He can get a bit florid, a bit hamhanded, and a bit too convinced that he's preaching fact rather than theory. But it despite that, it does a good job, and he's right most of the time in his assesments of what works and what doesn't in movies. I've read a lot of screenwriting books, and his is the only one I've felt compelled to read a second time. Good luck.


          • #6
            and needed to build a screenplay to get off

            I don't know, porn gets me off better than scripts.

            bada BOOOOOMMM!!


            • #7
              Try Cowgill's "Secrets of Screenplay Structure." It's more descriptive than prescriptive, but still useful.

              Seger's "Making a Good Script Great" is good for structure and lots of other things.



              • #8
                I agree with Laurie.

                Linda Seger's book is the place to start. It's about a 201 class, but extremely useful. I think it will go down as a classic, like Lajos Egri's "The Art Of Dramatic Writing."


                • #9
                  Check out Kristin Thompson's "Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique." It's an excellent book on structure, although I don't see it often mentioned.


                  • #10
                    Books and junk

                    I suggest anything by David Mamet. His book, On Directing Film, is clear and concise. Getting away from all that new age round-about guruesque nonsense that just bloats page count in such books as Syd Field's and McKee's, Mamet's thin book doesn't humor the reader in her desire to tickle her fancy. With structure, you want to be precise and certain so that you're accountable for your actions and confident presenting them. You don't want to be Jackson Pollock late in his career when you're just starting to learn structure.

                    As a writer, you're building something and not wanting to waste time bogging your subconscious down by trying to channel some muse god just so you can feel that you created art (bling). You want to be a craftsman. A builder. Once you properly ingest the how then you can more credibly drizzle, and fling paint and not come off as willy nilly. There are several approaches to building three act structure but the technique you choose should be practical and logical (Aristotle's, Poetics). If you want a carreer in screenwriting, not just an option here or there, understand that it's a craft. Something you do as opposed to something you are.

                    I'd read anything Harold Clurman ever wrote. He makes Roger Ebert and all these other so called critics look like a two cheeseburger meal. Clurman is like beef jerky. It takes awhile to chew on and if you manage to swallow it, you still more work to do digesting it.

                    I'd read Joseph Campbell's, A hero with ten thousand faces. It's a bit thick but it covers a wide range of story and her types. Many cultures and yesterday's civilizations have provided much of it's content. Though written during the Freudian era, there is much that helps add to any writer's understanding and future approach to story.

                    I'd read Bruno Bettleheim's, Uses of Enchantment. Although Freud haunts these pages too, it's gravy on your mash potatoes. He illustrates the why children's stories work and are good as determined by children (an audience). Cyclops, Giants, and the Big Bad Wolf. Who hasn't heard of these characters. Why do they work? Why do we readers know of just one version of Red Riding Hood, and why is she little? Bruno Bettleheim is gravy, giblets and all.

                    I'd read acting books because the actor deals with structure when interpreting a screenplay. You know how they work, all the various techniques, and you not only present better opportunities for them, you capitolize on those opportunities. So read everything ever written by, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Meisner, Hagen, Itkin, Strasberg (forgive my spelling, I know not what I do), Chekov, on and on. Read plays. Most actors and directors have. Remember, it's a collabrative effort and if you're going to tell the Kings a story it's good to know what they've heard before, what they prefer. Never under estimate the role of the court jester.

                    Uh, don't watch so much t.v. and trendy (damn near most) movies. Watch movies that most directors are influenced by. Learn them so that when you do go to the movies to see the next big hot ear buzzing peice of trendy blockbuster, you can see all the glaring mistakes and feel better about yourself as a story teller. And don't just pool the U.S. films. Most of a production houses money is made overseas. Find out who the foreign masters are and study them so that when you present your film at Cannes and they hand you a gold leaf you'll know why. I prefer Akira Kurasowa, Majid Majidi, Zhang Yimou and all the new age oldies from France.

                    Study genre. Lots and lots of genre. And I wouldn't limit myself to modern genre. Look at how it developed over time. What it's based on. The gangster flick wasn't around when we were all jawboned, little fore-headed, wooly mammoth eaters, living in caves and trying describe where the water hole is. What the hell happened? How'd the genres evolve? Why is the western suffering the same fate as the dinosaur? And how is that Starbucks can have a store just outside the Taj Mahal entrance.

                    Ignore trends. @#%$'s like the weather. Always changes.

                    Oral is good for you too. And not just in the bedroom. In the street. In a car. In a bar. By the water cooler. Tell your story orally. Find a patient ear. Pay a hooker to sit and listen to your screenplay if you have to. You'll notice gaps as you tell. Notice when she leans back on the bed and snaps her gum or plays with her fishnets. Say to yourself, 'man o man. that's my favorite part. i thought it would keep her wide-eyed and motionless. shiiiit, guess it needs work.' If you're stranded on an island, you may have to paint a face on a coconut or wait to test it out on the pilots that come to your rescue. Cannibalistic pigmees might be a rough audience but it won't hurt to try.

                    Listen to music. It too has a beginning, a middle, an end. Check out art. It too has story and structure. Architecture. Anything. Anything that has to do with story. Everything. Read the bible. Ask the waitress how her day was and take notes.

                    After a month or three of this type of behaviour and you'll be in tip top shape. You won't feel like you're at the mercy of over paid studio execs, and ego maniacal actors, directors, etc. You can present the world at their feet and they can take all the credit. They'll keep coming back to you time and time again. Asking, please sir. May I have some more of that good good truth. It so makes the world love me. Er, okay, maybe not. But still. Your story will be mucho better.

                    If I were stranded on an island and had to write something using proper grammar and flawless spelling, I'd be soooo tan. (being my first post, I just noticed a Spell Check button on the bottom right. Ah well. I'll use it next time. Promise.) 8o


                    • #11
                      Re: Books and junk

                      Thanks everyone!

                      innacuratepaperboy...awesome post.