In most movies, the lead character or characters undergo a life-changing experience that alters their persona significantly. In most tele-vision shows, the lead character or characters are presented in varying situations, their personalties usually well-established.
When approaching an event such as a wedding, anniversary party or family reunion, do you see a television show or a movie?
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…
Perhaps, particularly with a wedding, the experience is more akin to a movie. The lead characters–the bride and the groom–undergo a life-changing experience, exchanging vows in a public forum, then celebrat-ing their nuptials with family, friends, co-workers and associates.
As one of the most crucial contributors to the success of an event, an entertainer may benefit from a more nuanced understanding of the structure of movies when approaching their gigs
THE BEST PURPOSE
In the earliest-surviving work of dramatic theory, Poetics, Aristotle offered “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end” for plot structure. It was a three-part view of a plot structure (technically speaking, the protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe)that prevailed until later in antiquity when the Roman drama critic Horace advocated a five-act structure in his Ars Poetica. For centuries, the two represented the standards of how theatrical art worked.
In 1863, when playwrights like Henrik Ibsen were aban-doning the five-act structure and experimenting with three and four-act plays, the German playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag laid out a definitive study of the five-act dramatic structure in Die Technik des Dramas: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and revelation/catastrophe. As the 20th century dawned, the fledgling motion picture industry would adopt this basic structure.
But fast forward again, to 1982, and we find Syd Field (“the guru of all screenwriters,” according to CNN) composing what has become the definitive guide to screenwriting, Screenplay. According to Field, screen-plays follow a three-act structure, meaning the standard screenplay can be divided into three parts: Setup, Confrontation, and Resolution.
SETTING THE STAGE
In Act I, which comprises the first quarter of the screenplay, the focus is on exposition, the part of a story that introduces the characters, illumi-nates some of their relationships, and sets them within a time and place. Act I introduces three critical elements of the movie:
• The Main Character: the person in the story who has a need/objective to fulfill and whose actions drive the story
• The Dramatic Premise: what the story’s about
• The Dramatic Situation: the circumstances surrounding the action
In addition to these, according to Field, usually midway through the first act, an “inciting” incident occurs—an event that sets the plot in motion.
The transition from Act I to Act II, according to Field, is achieved via a Plot Point. Often called a “reversal,” a plot point is an event that thrusts the plot in a new direction, leading into a new act of the screenplay. Subsequent screenplay gurus have built on Field’s theory by indicating
that Plot Point #1, which leads into Act II, is the moment when the hero takes on the problem.
CONFRONTING THE SITUATION
Usually lasting until approximately the 3/4 point of the movie, three elements typically comprise Act II.
Obstacles: In the second act, the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle that prevent him/her from achieving his/her dramatic need.
First Culmination: At this point, just before the halfway point of the film, the main character seems close to achieving his/her goal/objective. Then, everything falls apart, leading to the midpoint.
Midpoint: Here, approximately halfway through the film, the main character reaches his/her lowest point and seems farthest from fulfilling the dramatic need or objective. Then another plot point, according to Field, propels the movie in a new direction, transitioning to Act III.
CHECK THE RESOLUTION
Finally, in Act III, a resolution is achieved through two elements.
Climax (Second Culmination): Here the plot reaches its maximum tension and the forces in opposition confront each other at a peak of physical or emotional action.
Denouement: This is the brief period of calm at the end of a film where a state of equilibrium returns.
While Field’s work did not necessarily tread new ground, Screenplay succinctly illustrated a sensible, successful structure, a guide for aspiring screenwriters to organize their
When you approach an event such as a wedding, anniversary celebra-tion, or corporate party, do you see parallels between the structure of a typical movie and the progression of your gig?
Who are the main characters? What is the dramatic premise? What is the dramatic situation?
Do the main characters face anyobstacles? Does a first culmination occur? Does your event
have a midpoint?
When does the climax occur? Are you respectful of the denouement?
In the unwritten script that guides your event, are you nailing all the critical points to produce a box office smash?
Filed Under: Business, Issue #148, Performing
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