So we've talked about composing your shots
. We've talked about "the line"
. We've talk about how your camera works
. We're doing a pretty good job of flying through the basics of film making. It's important to note that Im giving you the Cliffs Notes
version. You could spend (and probably should) a lot more time on all of this stuff, but if you follow these teachings you'll be a better film maker.
So our last lesson regarding fundamentals is about story structure. After this we can get into some more exciting things.
On to story. Every Story has three parts. EVERY STORY. You can try to refute this and you will fail. If you believe you have an exception to this feel free to post it below. In simple terms the three parts, or acts, are: the beginning, the middle and the end.
Within these three acts there are specific events that happen. These events are: the inciting incident, plot point one, the midpoint, plot point two, the climax, and the resolution.
The average feature length film is between 90 and 120 minutes. To explain these concepts let's apply them to a 2 hour movie (120 minutes).
Here's how this would break down...
Our 120 minute movie begins. Somewhere in the first 15 minutes we have the inciting incident. The inciting incident is what sets our story in motion. Our main character, Luke Skywalker, lives with his aunt and uncle in a the middle of a desert. Hey buys some droids and while cleaning one of them, R2D2, he discovers a secret message from Princess Leia. She is in trouble and needs help. That is the inciting incident... Why? Because it sets the story in motion. Without discovering the message Luke would have gone about his life. So, bottom line, the inciting incident is what sets the story into motion.
So Luke finds the message from Leia and decides to look for Ben Kenobi. Luke finds Ben. Ben encourages Luke to join him in rescuing Leia. Luke refuses and heads back to his aunt and uncle's place only to find they've been killed by the empire. This is plot point one. It happens at about 30 minutes into the film (or at 1/4 of the total length). So what is a plot point? Plot point one is a point of no return for your character. Once plot point one happens the main character cannot return to the way his life was.
Luke decides to join Ben. They gain passage to the Death Star to rescue Leia. At about an hour into the film (the midpoint), Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and Han Solo are trapped in the Death Star garbage press. They're about to be crushed to death. To make matters worse there's a monster in the trash compactor with them. This is the midpoint. The midpoint is the point at which your character is at their lowest low. They are on the brink of death. Every great story has a midpoint and in many great stories the main character is at their lowest low at the midpoint.
Luke and team escape death and the Death Star, but just as they are about to leave Luke witnesses the death of Ben at the hands of Darth Vader. This is plot point two. Why? Because once again, we cannot go back. Ben is dead. Luke most move on.
The climax comes when Luke and the rebels plan an execute the destruction of the Death Star. The climax always comes after plot point two and always represents the height of the main character's struggle. The main character has chosen to fight and this MUST be a big fight. If your climax is not the highest point of action in your story then you've messed up. If you aren't shooting an action or horror film, if there is not a monster or evil villain you still need a climax. In the case of a romantic comedy this is usually where the leading man barges into the wedding to declare his love to the bride just before she says I do.
Finally we have the resolution. Luke and team return from a successful mission to be awarded medals by Princess Leia. The Death Star is destroyed and the Rebels have their victory... For now.
To recap, here's how it breaks down....
If you have any questions about structure I'd love to hear them. There is plenty more to learn about screenwriting, but this is the back bone to any good screenplay.