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Before plot, you need structure! This short video introduces the principle of the 3 act structure to craft your story.

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Comment by Geoff Hall on May 25, 2013 at 7:50am

Hello Victor,

Sadly, no I don't have a video tutorial about this. I am developing this method/idea of a break from theatricality with my films. 'My Name Is Sorrow' is a case in point, in that the central metaphor is the room of her existence, which is obviously locational, but speaks as well of her spiritual captivity. It's part of developing the mise-en-scene in a deeper way than just set dressing for the sake of decoration and works on it as an expression of a character.

I'm working on the pre-production of my new film, a feature length production and what I've developed there in the writing process of the screenplay where certain pulses between action threads and what I call the iconic elements, that is, creating a different way of portraying women other than sexual objects or commodities. ( The film is about human trafficking and sex trafficking in particular).

This iconic element is obviously a moving image of what we could consider as the images of women in art, icons which promote stillness and reflection about their characters and their experiences in the story. This is all achieved visually, without any theatrical performance from the actresses.

The 3 Act Structure I believe, can get in the way of the story and enforce a structure which works against the flow of the visual story, after all this is film and not theatre. This means at the writing stage I may start with a strong visual metaphor and see how that creates or resolves tension in the character and the storyline. It's a stream of consciousness thing, whereby you want people to be able to dangle their feet in the water, the flow, but you want them at some point to feel like they can swim in the thing, be immersed in it and see where it takes them. If you are breaking this flow up into pre-ordained segments, that is difficult to achieve!

At the edit stage this means that you are not just working to the dialogue in the script, but to how the actors are workings with their character and the scene. I will cut when I catch something of that performance. It is a case of building up time and not fracturing it with micro edits and for a psychological drama I think this is key to developing the psychological character and feel of the visual story.

As film-makers it is most important that writers and Directors understand the visual medium and how to develop a visual lexicon of images, sounds and 'feeings'  for their story.

I hope that makes sense. Let's keep talking.



Comment by Victor James Cheady on May 23, 2013 at 11:49am

Thank you . your explanation is good. Do you have downloadable tutorial about it? I will appreciate it so much.

Comment by Geoff Hall on February 27, 2013 at 9:01am

Thanks for posting this Jeff.

I have had numerous discussions (and some heated debate) on this very subject on various LinkedIn.

The 3A Structure was something utilised in theatre and to some extent has found its way into film. However the two conventions are very different, one on the theatrical performance and structure and the other on cinematography. Robert Bresson, the French film-maker (‘The Devil, Probably’, ‘Mouchette’) spoke of cinematography as ‘writing with images in movement and with sound’. (‘Notes on the Cinematographer’, Green Integer Press, p16).

Most contemporary (christian) film-makers think more of content; of dialogue and message, rather than the method of creating a story with images. For them the camera is merely a utility, an aid to making images of dialogue occur in well-lit, well-recorded surroundings.

Paul Schrader has spoken of not using the 3 Act Structure (in fact most film producers I’ve corresponded with don’t seem to know of many who use this dated form). Schrader’s alternative was to develop what he called the ‘central metaphor’, which can be an image, a sound, a location or a phrase. In my experience, to use a 3A Structure for short film is a nightmare. You don’t have the time to develop each act and what is more appropriate is something like this ‘central metaphor’.

In my first short film, "One" the central metaphor was ‘madness’ and all the scenes focused on the patients of a mental institution just after the end of the First World War. It was a comedy! The institution as a kind of synecdoche for the world.

In my current short film production, "My Name Is Sorrow" the central metaphor is the room of my character’s captivity. It's a film about human trafficking and focuses on the inner thoughts of one woman, and how it has effected her.

I’m currently working on the Business Plan and financing for what will be my first feature film, to be filmed in Bristol (UK). This is a psychological drama about the demand side of trafficking. The ‘central metaphor’ in this is the girl of the title (sorry, can’t give too much away at present) and her appearance is one which allows us to question the whole element of ‘narrative time’. As Jean-Luc Godard once said, ‘every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.’!! In this film, the girl is a thread which links all the characters together, whilst we discover the depravity of the demand side of human trade.

I’ve seen some exponents even number the pages of a screenplay and so if you have a 100 page story, Act One must end on page 25. Act 2 must end on page 75 etc., and the ‘turning points’ have to occur a couple of pages before the end of each act to gain momentum for the next one. The theory apparently stems from the philosophy of Aristotle and some suggest that Shakespeare didn’t pay much attention to it, but introduced a 5 Act structure. However, as someone who writes his own screenplays, I can tell you that the writing process is anything but mathematical! You are basically creating a new world for people to stay in for awhile and the characters you have formed will take firstly me and then the audience on a journey that will not be subjected to such structures.

Bresson is trying to get the film-maker to think about their discipline, which is not about recording theatrical performance, but of creating those 'images with movement and with sound’. Cinematic storytelling is something we don’t consider much, we think of technique; of lighting, sound and framing, but seem to lose sight of this very intimate and visual method of storytelling. To do this we have to understand the world we are creating, its characters, its look, its atmosphere, which is so different from the live performances of the theatrical stage.

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