Is there a blueprint to telling a story made up of moving images and projected onto a screen? Do we need a plan when telling a story like that? The sequential nature of storytelling will need to be successfully transferred to the screen in a manner that tells a tale, the audience can relate to and understand. Keeping in mind that we, as the spectators to this tale, are privy only to the facts presented to us by the filmmakers. We may know more than the characters themselves, but we are nonetheless directed through the story by what we see and hear on screen. So, what is the script’s role in this process? In the words of Syd Field:” A screenplay is a story told with pictures, in dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure” (1994, p.8).
It is the secrets of the structure that I am particularly keen to understand. How can one successfully present a story in a cinematic medium, such as the movies? Is there a structure to how stories are told on screen? And, can I learn how to construct a script following a blueprint of this structure?
Field (1994) argues that it is not only the fact that structure means, you are constructing something, but that there is also a mechanism by which all these bits that make up a screenplay work together.
As a film is essentially a visual vehicle, the script, therefore, has to be structured to contain “visual writing” (Trottier, 2014, p.4). And arguably, as quoted by Goldman (1996), as cited by Trottier (2014, p.5), “screenplays are structures” that arranges all that “visual writing” (Trottier, 2014, p.4) in a format that can be taken on by the filmmakers.
“Structure is the skeleton on which you hang the meat of your story” (Trottier, 2014, p.5)
There is, therefore, a connection between the various bits that creates a story. The ‘dramatic structure’ (Field 1994, p. 9) is made up of three acts that provide a beginning, a middle and an end to a story (p. 9). So, Aristotle’s drama structure is as prevalent in scripts, as they are in stage plays. Field (1994) further details that each of these script segments represents a piece of “dramatic action” (p.10) that takes on a particular role within the structure, such as the “setup” (p.9), the “confrontation’ (p.9) and the “resolution” (p.9).
Bellamy and Taylor (1993) states that the “primary use of the three-act division is to… aid the writer in discovering the best places for major moments in the story to fall for maximum impact” (p.25). The first segment of the script introduces the audience to the character(s) and the world they inhabit; and it is here the “thematic premise” (Snyder, 2005, p. 73) of the story is made clear. It gives us an idea of what the film will be about. This appears to be a key rule from the books I have read about screenwriting. The “setup” (Field, 1994, p.9) of the protagonists in how they interact with each other and the dramatic scenery they are to navigate, should be achieved within the first 30 minutes of the movie (Field, 1994). In fact, the first 10 minutes of the film appears to pivotally be where the “thematic premise” (Snyder, 2005, p. 73) and the “situation” (Field, 1994, p.11) our hero will find herself in, are outlined.
FIELD, S. (2017) Paradigm [online]. Available from: http://sydfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/paradigm.pdf [Accessed 10 April 2017]
FIELD, S. (1994) Screenplay: the foundations of screenwriting. Expanded ed. ed. New York: Dell.
HOWARD, D. and MABLEY, E. (1993) The Tools of screenwriting: a writer’s guide to the craft and elements of a screenplay. 1st ed. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
SNYDER, B. (2005) Save the cat: the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions.
TROTTIER, D. (2014) Screenwriter’s bible: a complete guide to writing, formatting, and selling your script. 6th, expand & updated. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press.