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angus
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Re: Questions for Daniel

Hi Daniel,

Sorry I'm late for class. I was being tormented in the hallway by the school bully...

Anyway, I am wondering if the use of montage is passe. It seems so 1980s, but I think it might be useful at one point in my script to convey passage of time. Or is there something more "modern" that has replaced the montage?

Also, does a short script have to follow the three act structure, or can it be more free form?

Thanks!
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crAZRick
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Re: Questions for Daniel

dude, anyone who has seen Team America: World Police knows:

You gotta have a montage (Montage!)
You need a montage! (Montage!)
Always fade out in a montage!
When you fade out,
it makes it seem like even more time passes
in a montage!


so, in my opinion (as well as Trey Parker and Matt Stone's opinions, as fantabulous movie-makers themselves)... A MONTAGE! HECK YA! QUICK-CUTS SHOW THE PASSAGE OF TIME! A MONTAGE! HECK YA!

:smileyvery-happy:

sorry, Daniel... please, continue...
I no longer regret that I have no quote, quip or anecdote to share with my countrymen... how about all y'all?
Ian
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Ian
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Re: Questions for Daniel

[ Edited ]
Angus,

I know that Daniel will have a wonderful answer for you come Monday, but I hope you won't mind me jumping in on this one.

The montage is still used - I wish I could give an example of a montage from a film other than the one Rick mentioned, but I can't think of one right now. Anyone else think of examples?

I've been reading scripts over at Triggerstreet.com and in the eight I've read, three have used a montage. Plus, in the script that I posted, I used a montage but not to show the passage of time - more to show progression of learning for three characters. Montages are one way to show the passing of time, but ask yourself if it is right for your story?

So, what other devices can show the passing of time? In 'Castaway' we fade to black and then fade in on a much thinner, scruffier Tom Hanks. Marks on a cave wall give us an indication he's been there a long time.

In 'Mysery' we see changing seasons and the main character is recovering from his wounds.

I think that in 'A Beautiful Mind' they use dates supered on screen. Could be wrong on this one, but even so, that is a viable way to show the passage of time.

Anyone else have examples from recent films of how they've indicated time passing?

So, think about what is best for your screenplay and use that. I caution you about exposition - using information in the story that is for the reader's benefit so they may have a better understanding of the story and move forward with it. Watch out for this, it can trip you up.

As for the short script and three act structure... I get so worried about writers seeing everything as 'rules' they 'must' follow. You can do whatever you want with your structure. The three act structure applies to shorts as well, but only if you want to use it. I would definitely use it since I'm a structure nut - I need it, but that's me. For my money, it is definitely a personal choice of what structure (freeform, three acts, five acts...) to use.

Hurry back Daniel, we need you...

Cheers,
Ian

Message Edited by Ian on 03-30-200710:57 AM

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danielnoah
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Re: Questions for Daniel

Hi, Ian. Phone calls and intercut are of a piece. There's no steadfast rule about how to format either. I usually just throw in an INTERCUT: EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY (or whatever the second location is) at the moment the call connects, and that's it. I let the reader make the "cuts" in his mind, and I don't even bother indicating that anyone's speaking into or over a phone. However, I recommend you download some screenplays to films that depict phone calls and see how other writers do it (besides me). Make your own format and stick to it with confidence. But as a general rule, when it comes to formatting, less is usually more. The idea is that you want the read to be smooth and easy.

When it comes to outlining, I always begin with the most bare bones outline imaginable. It looks like this:

Lead-in: Meet Sam and Katie
Inciting Incident: Katie is abducted by aliens.
Plot Point 1: Sam realizes government's in on it.
Midpoint: Sam journeys to Roswell
Plot Point 2: Katie's leaving for Pluto on the next ship.
Climax: Sam faces off with aliens
Resolution: Sam saves Katie.

Only later do I begin to fill in the details. First, I need to know I got the big stuff right. (Not to sound like a broken record, but again, this is all covered in great deal in my chapter of the book.)

Regardng B.B. - if I were you I would get B.B.'s people on board. It's rarely wise to spend time on a project where there are unresolved rights issues. He who controls the rights has power.
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danielnoah
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Montage

Hi, Angus. Welcome aboard. If you have any more problems with that bully, please let me know right away. We don't tolerate that kind of thing around here!

The montage is sometimes used in films as a sort of shorthand to communicate a series of events which add up to a single narrative development. The montage is used when there’s something the audience needs to know, but doesn’t necessarily need to experience first hand, like fixing up an apartment, or applying for jobs, or falling in love. What makes a montage a montage is that is flows rapidly through many scenes (either because of jumps in time, location, or both), but presents them as one, fluid action, usually without dialogue, and often under music. For example, the sequence in which Edward takes Vivian shopping in Pretty Woman is a montage. Or when Dorothy Michaels becomes a star in Tootsie. And for a classic send-up of the love montage, check out Naked Gun.

In a screenplay, the montage is usually labeled as such, then briefly described. It’s also the one time in a screenplay where it’s appropriate to write specifically about “shots.” Like this:

DRIVING MONTAGE

A series shots of Samantha on the road, top down on the convertible. She waves to a truck driver. Stops for gas. Drives into the sunset. Soon she is half way across Arizona.


As you can see from the example, the montage is the only time you would dispense with the usually format of slug lines to represent scene changes. But keep in mind that unlike other elements of a screenplay, there really isn’t a fixed format for the way a montage is written on the page, so you can use the format presented here, or you can reinvent it as you see fit.

Montages aren't out of fashion, per se, though I'm sure you've noticed that we tend to see them less and less. A creative screenwriter can cook up other ways of showing a series of developments if he desires. Whether or not you want to use montage depends on your own sensibility. Personally, I rarely use them. But I do once in a while.
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danielnoah
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Three Acts v. Freeform


Also, does a short script have to follow the three act structure, or can it be more free form?

Thanks!




Man, talk about a loaded question. I'm going to be a teacher for a second and put the question back to you (and to the class at large). Can you think of any modern, American movies that do not employ the three act structure?
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crAZRick
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Re: Three Acts v. Freeform

[ Edited ]
I really can't think of a complete and enjoyable movie that doesn't have the 3-Act structure; it must be a good rule! then again, I'm not that bright about such things, maybe there are thousands of fine contemporary myths that don't hold up under scrutiny of the dread 3-Act structure?

it seems unlikely though.

here's how I have it all laid out in my head, as far as any good story being told:

Beginning, Middle, End

Birth, Life, Death

Act I, Act II, Act III

I think no matter how much thought or effort you put into it, if you're finished product is any good at all, it will be able to be broken down by expert analysts into the basic 3-Acts, even if you set out to specifically muck-up that premise and just write crap in whatever chaotic way you like. Note, I said the finished product has to be 'any good at all' so just writing complete crap (like I often do!) won't cut it.

At the same time, I don't really get into all that literary analysis stuff except as a means to open my mind to the possibilities; all of this stuff, the books, this club, any other sort of structured schooling on the craft, it all just draws a road map for us noobs to follow; 'you have to know the rules before you can bend or break them' type stuff

I think, in order to make your stuff make any sense to anyone besides yourself, it will eventually have to be 'dumbed-down' into the 3-Act structure, Introduction of the Principals (say Hi! to the Good Guys and Bad Guys), Ramp/Amp-Up the Conflict (Good Guys meet Bad Guys), and Conclusion (however it works out...)

even Tarantino's stuff has some sense of structure, eventually. Though it's rarely in what most of us would consider 'proper order' by the end of his flicks, audiences:

a) have a decent idea about who each of the characters were, what each of them were after, how each had changed, grown, or diminished throughout the film, such that

b) they leave the theater, and are able to answer the 'What was it about?' and 'Was it any good?' questions, and

c)are vastly entertained, even given the twisted nature of QT's style, and probably go back and watch his stuff again, in awe and in order to catch all the stuff that ties Beginning to Middle to End, Act I to Act II to Act III

I would think any other 'good work' in a screenplay would also stack up to my a-b-c and the Act I/II/III structure

I would tend to think that, if any one of the Acts were removed from the structure of any screenplay, the whole would suffer to the point of being unproduceable, or, at very least, unwatchable in (un)finished form...

Message Edited by crAZRick on 04-01-200710:01 PM

I no longer regret that I have no quote, quip or anecdote to share with my countrymen... how about all y'all?
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angus
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Re: Montage

Thanks for your responses Rick, Ian, and Daniel. Actually, it was in part the Naked Gun, and Team America montages that made me hesitant about using the montage in my script, but what I want to show is a character cooking and cleaning and basically becoming "the little woman," so maybe the montage would be the best way to do it...or maybe not...it's something to experiment with anyway...
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angus
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Re: Three Acts v. Freeform

Yes, I suppose in order for a movie, short or long, to make any kind of sense there should be a beginning, middle and end...I guess it's the five major events that I find rather perplexing...I mean, is it possible, for example, to not have a plot point one, or to have a plot point three?
Ian
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Ian
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Re: Questions for Daniel

Daniel,

I hope you had a good weekend. Thanks so much for answering my questions.

I'm gun shy when it comes to formatting since I sparked a debate on triggerstreet's boards. Seems that a lot of writers see 'bible' on a book and believe it to be finite; no wiggle room. So, your suggestion to me makes absolutely perfect sense and I usually find something that works for me and stick to it. I've encountered writers who are so stuck on the minutia of formatting that they ignore larger, far more important aspects of the craft like story and character and... I had one writer tell me that I must use . . . instead of ... I really don't care as long as I'm consistent. That's why your suggestion makes so much sense. It's how I'm wired.

I finished reading your chapter, among others, and it was very informative. I pretty much follow the same routine so I'm not keen to change it - why fix what ain't broken. You make some very good points in your chapter and I most enjoyed the way you illustrate the three act structure. Nicely done. New terminology for me is MDQ and, though I always included an inciting incident, I just never labelled it as such. I called it my set up, though it has more punch than a mere set up. Your examples are great, too. I've always been alone in my researching of films - picking them apart. It was nice to read your thoughts. I was thrilled with the nice bonus on the website - downloaded all the scripts. Excellent! I'll be watching a few of them along with their scripts.

As for B.B. - I'm sure he's a very nice man, but his 'people' wanted way too much for a one hour TV documentary, I'd have no way of coming up with the financing for a film project. Though one never knows until one asks, right?

Modern films not following the three act structure? You mention a few films that flaunt the rules of conventional plot in your chapter -2001, Vertigo and The Godfather. You also mention The Shawshank Redemption (or as you put it, The Shawshank Exception). I'm thinking ensemble films like Short Cuts and Magnolia. One film that I think might have the structure but that I can't seem to pin down is Crash (Haggis' version).

Cheers,
Ian
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crAZRick
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Re: Three Acts v. Freeform

I would say, if you find the 5 Major Events daunting or perplexing, then, just ignore that 'rule' and WRITE IT OUT!

I would guess (just a guess, I'm no screenwriting god...yet), once you have a complete story, and the story makes sense to you (and perhaps a few other people who know something about how a screenplay should read) that you have probably also magically answered the 5 Major Events, regardless how lengthy the screenplay is, regardless if you really focused on placing said events exactly where the book says they should go.

It seems logical and natural that, if you have a solid story, with a solid Beginning, Middle and End, then you have also answered the 5 points; the inciting incident would be whatever brings the Good Guys and Bad Guys together, Plot Point 1 is generally the first big move by either side toward their goal, Midpoint generally deals with the conflict escalating due to Plot Point 1, Plot Point 2 would be the fall-out following the Midpoint handling of Plot Point 1, the regrouping for the final push toward the desired goals, leading to the Climax. Certainly, there may in fact be more plot points to deal with, but I don't think you have to focus so much on the 5-points at first draft; just write it out!

After you have it all laid out, and approved by your 3 genius readers, then you go back in and tweak it, beef it up or (more than likely) cut it down to fit 120-pages (or whatever format you are writing, but in the case of modern movie scripts, 120 pages = 120 minutes on-screen)

Then, you might start seeing places where scenes just don't flow, the beats just don't seem to be hitting solid enough, so you might tweak the structure, move scenes around a bit, tighten it up even further, without the substantial beefing or cutting of the original edit, so maintaining the basic 120-pages, just altering the flow.

Certainly at that point, you should be able to go back and find the 5 Major Events that you didn't even think about all the while you were writing it out!

it's a kind of magic!

same as you can attack a project in whatever order you like: start with the end or middle and work your way backwards and forwards; start with a solid lead character, invent the perfect foil for that character's flaws and faults, then hammer out the conflicts in 120-pages; maybe even start with a general MDQ, invent the characters and storyline needed to deal with your MDQ and pound out a quick draft or 3; I think you can also attack the rules of structure in similar manner. Just keep all the rules in the back of your mind, if not swirling around to vex or perplex you at random, and just focus on telling your story, in proper format. Then aim for the 120-page rule, then go back and tweak the overall structure. Lather, Rinse, Repeat... Sit, Balance, Pedal... Birth, Life, Death... even these simple 3-Act routines, have various tweaks depending on the user, probably able to break down into quadrants, or 5-Major Events; but the end results are the same: clean hair, a bike ride, Life in general.

I would think that hammering out a screenplay would be easier than nailing down 5 Major Events in the life of a real person who has passed away, but it's the same task, in general. Give the characters Life, have the charcters meet or at least meet conflict spawned by the other characters, have them face-off and face-down that conflict, have the opposition throw an even larger conflict at them, have them reach a satisfying conclusion. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang, ba-da-boom!
I no longer regret that I have no quote, quip or anecdote to share with my countrymen... how about all y'all?
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danielnoah
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Re: Three Acts v. Freeform

Hi, Angus. Of course, there are exceptions. In my detailed plot breakdown of the movie Sideways, I more or less cop to there not really being an inciting incident, and in truth the editor and I debated for days about its PP2 and climax. But the overwhelming majority of American films - I'd say, 99.99999999% - employ the three act structure with the five plot points. The question becomes, is approaching an original screenplay from this perspective right for you? It may not be, and that's just fine. And what Rick wrote is probbably true - if you were to intuit your way through a screenplay until it "felt" right, you'd probably find that you unwittingly employed the three act structure. Either way, who cares?? There are no rules in art - only techniques, and those are useful only as they serve the artist. What works, works. That's all that matters.
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danielnoah
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The Rule of Having Happened

You could certainly try it. Alternatively, you could skip over the process (i.e., montage) and show the result. That is, just jump to her having become "the little woman" and show the change through another character's eyes. Wouldn't that convey the same idea? This brings me to an important idea in screenwriting. I call it "The Rule of Having Happened."

We don’t need to know What Happened, just That it Happened.

To show a girl running away from home, you can describe her climbing out of her window and running off with a knapsack over her shoulder. Or, you can just cut to the next morning as her mother finds her room empty and her suitcase gone, the curtains blowing in the breeze from the open window. We don’t need to see her running away from home, we just need to know That it Happened.
Ian
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Ian
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Re: Three Acts v. Freeform

I would say, if you find the 5 Major Events daunting or perplexing, then, just ignore that 'rule' and WRITE IT OUT!

I'm not really sure who this is aimed at but seeing as how the majority of people on this board have yet to complete a script I'd like to convey some experience that has helped me along the way. I do not claim to have any of Daniel's experience (or elequence) but I have completed scripts and one thing that helped me more than anything else was studying the structure of films.

I annoyed the hell out of my wife when watching films because I would glance at my watch and quietly announce "Plot point one" or two or mid point. I marveled at how simple the structure was and by seeing it in action was able to translate it to my work.

Creating your five major events, especially for a writer yet to complete a script, in my opinion, is the best way to start. Once you use it and understand it and go through the process, then I'd say go ahead and try something else if it ain't working. And, remember that these events need not happen on the same page for every script. As Daniel writes in his chapter, it is not an exact science. There is definitely wiggle room. Screenplays are not all 120 pages nor are they all 90 pages. They usually land somewhere between these counts. And, there are even exceptions to that rule.

Rules were made to be broken, but I always learn and apply the rule first, then I break it and only if it suits my story.

I've had a large number of writers tell me they've not completed a script. Every single one of them admits to not outlining or if they did, it was a few notes only. Anyone who can write without using Daniel's suggestions or some kind of outline, is in a very small minority.

Even if you've written the story out in prose it behooves you to find, mark, or create those five important points before you start writing your script. Do that, and I guarantee you'll have a much better shot of not only finishing your scipt, but it will also be a much better, cleaner, tighter script.

Understand and apply the three act structure and then try freeform - that's my advice. Even in a short script. Once you find success with it (finish a script or ten) then try some new things.

Cheers,
Ian
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angus
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Formatting Issues

[ Edited ]
Hi guys,

I have a couple of formatting questions for you...

Is Courier New in MS Word the same as Courier?

Is it OK if a character cue is the last line of a page and the actual dialogue begins at the top of the next page?

Am I being too anal?

Thanks.

BTW Is there a reliable online resource that contains information about formatting?

Message Edited by angus on 04-04-200709:33 PM

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crAZRick
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Re: Formatting Issues

yes Courier New or Old in MSWord is acceptable

and No, Character cue should be immediately followed by dialogue on the page, even if it's just one complete line of a multi-line speech. If you reach the bottom of the page with the Character Cue, you should insert a Page Break and start the new page with the Character Cue followed by properly formatted dialogue.

and Yes and No about being too anal... pefection counts when it comes to getting your work sold, but not so important to have exactly correct font or structure while hammering out the basic first-draft...

but, at the same time, the more you have correct and proper going in, all the easier it makes the revision process later on

:smileyhappy:
I no longer regret that I have no quote, quip or anecdote to share with my countrymen... how about all y'all?
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Brendan_M_Burns
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Re: Formatting Issues


angus wrote:

Is Courier New in MS Word the same as Courier?

Angus,

Courier and Courier New are slightly different (Courier New has a lighter weight), but both faces are spatially identical. That is, they'll take up the same amount of space. No one except a type freak would be able to tell the difference at first glance, or care.
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danielnoah
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Re: Formatting Issues


angus wrote:
Hi guys,

I have a couple of formatting questions for you...

Is Courier New in MS Word the same as Courier?

Is it OK if a character cue is the last line of a page and the actual dialogue begins at the top of the next page?

Am I being too anal?

Thanks.

BTW Is there a reliable online resource that contains information about formatting?

Message Edited by angus on 04-04-200709:33 PM






Hi, Angus. I don't think the different Courier fonts matter. The character name and ensuing dialogue need to be on the same page. You're not being anal, this stuff is important.

I like this site for formatting: Screenwriting.info.
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angus
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Re: Formatting Issues

OK, this brings up another question...

The Screenwriting.info website states, "The CHARACTER NAME is formatted in uppercase letters and indented 3.5" from the left margin."

However on page 362 of Writing Movies it says, "The character name starts 4" from the left of the page."

So, is it 3.5" or 4"? Or are both ways correct and the writer just choses one way and sticks with it throughout the screenplay?

(I run into sources that contradict each other like this all the time and I find it very confusing...)
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angus
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Re: Formatting Issues

I just read on the website that FADE OUT should never be at the end of the script, but our book says that the screenplay may end with FADE OUT. Which is correct?

Arrgh!
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