Syd Field’s 3 Act Structure – A necessity for Narrative Structure, or a tool to use based on personal choice?
When writing a script, or film plot, it is believed that the idea has to be created by using the ‘3 Act/Arch Structure'(a system built by script writing guru Syd Field) in order for the film’s plot, short or long, to be written good enough for audience members to understand. A comparison between the plot of Disney’s short film ‘Paperman‘, and Cutter Hodierne’s short film ‘Fishing without Nets’ will show that a story can be both interesting, and good, even if the plot structure dose not follow Syd Field’s 3 Act/Arch Structure.
Before comparing the films to see if their plot fits the structure, or not, while presenting an interesting story – the actual Structure in question needs to be understood. Syd suggested that the plot of the film should be written as though divided into 3 acts, or arcs, which are titled Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3.
Act 1 (also known as’Set Up‘) makes up 1/4 of the plot, for example in a two hour film – Act 1 will make up thirty minutes, where the audience is drawn into the story via a ‘hook’. The ‘hook’ to catch their attention, at the start, is from the Exposition, this is like where in a novel – if the first sentence dosen’t grasp the readers attention then they won’t be interested in the story.
Then, eventually others features of the Act 1 start to appear to keep the interesting flowing – if the audience’s attention has been caught – the Main Character, who we follow on their ‘journey’ – or in some rare occasions plays the role of narrator as well – as they learn of a goal that they need, and want to fulfil, a Dramatic Premise, the idea of the story plot, then follows Dramatic Situation, the circumstances surrounding the action, and Inciting Incident, this point sets the story in motion – this occurs approximately halfway through the first act, and (finally as the plot goes from Act 1 to Act 2) Plot Point no. 1, there are two plot points in the story plot which separate the acts from each other – they propel the story into a new direction – plot point one is the moment where the main character takes on the problem.
Act 2 (also known as ‘Confrontation‘) makes up 2/4 of the plot, in a two hour film this would be sixty minutes of the film, where the audience has established what the story is about – now they are going to see if the character can reach his goal. Like Act 1, Act 2 is made up of parts. First you have the ‘Obstacles‘, these are minor problems which the character faces that stop him from reaching his – or her – goal, then comes the ‘First Culmination’, this point happens just before the half way point; the main character seems so close to achieving their objective/goal – then suddenly it all falls apart, the story then reaches the ‘Mid Point‘, this takes place halfway through the film where the character is at their lowest -and seem furthest away from fulfilling their objective/goal, and the final part is the ‘Plot Point, No. 2’ once again the plot is going to be propelled into a new direction – the conclusion, or as Syd Field suggests ‘Act 3’.
Act 3 (also known as ‘Resolution‘) makes up the final 1/4 of the plot, in a two hour film – Act 2 will make up the final thirty minutes of the film. The final parts of the plot are ‘Climax‘ (or second Culmination) at this point the plot reaches its maximum tension and the forces in opposition confront each other at a peak of either physical, or emotional, action, and finally the ‘Denouement’ is where the audience witnesses a brief period of calm at the end where a state of equilibrium (a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced) returns – and the goal has, or has not, been achieved by the character.
Now that the structure has been established, and what it involves, it is time to compare examples to see.
The two which will be used are ‘Paperman‘ by Disney in 2012, and ‘Fishing with out nets‘ made the same year by Think Media Studios Vice Films.
Paperman, Disney, 2012
The film opens up with our main character, supposedly named George, standing at a train station platform (this is the Exposition). Suddenly A train goes by- and with it a gust of wind that blows a piece of paper onto his shoulder, then that paper flies away from his shoulder to off screen. He looks surprised, then more so when a young woman, named Meg, runs past him to catch the paper. Meg tucks away the piece of paper while coming to stand next to George (this is the Main Character). Another train goes by causing one of George’s papers to land on Meg’s face. George pulls the paper away to see Meg looking surprised. She then smirks as she notices that her red lipstick has left a mark on his piece of paper. George looks at the paper to see what’s so funny, where he sees the mark – he chuckles at this, and just sees Meg as she sits on the train which leaves the station (this is the Dramatic Premise/situation). George is then at work thinking about Meg with the paper before him, until his boss dumps a load of paper onto his desk. After his boss heads back into his own office George plan to get on with work until he notices Meg in an office in the building across the street (this is the Inciting Incident). He tries to get her attention but waving his hands – to no avail – then he makes a paper aeroplane (this the Plot Point, No. 1).
Paper aeroplane after paper aeroplane George throws them at the window where Meg is to get her attention – but narrowly misses each time (this is the Obstacles). Then George knockout his basket to realise that he is down to his last sheet of paper, the piece of paper with Meg’s red lipstick on it, regardless George carefully fold the aeroplane, he’s ready to throw it – then the wind catches it causing him to lose it. And Meg leaves the office (this is the First Culmination). Just as George is about to go after her he turns to find his boss standing there, who dumps another load of work onto George’s desk. His boss turns and heads back to his office thinking George will get on with the work. However George runs out of the office chasing after Meg. Just before he comes out the building Meg turns a corner off the street. When George comes out of the building and didn’t see which way Meg went, only finding the red lipstick paper aeroplane – which he throws away, George gives up (This is the Mid Point). The paper aeroplane which George threw away lands in a pile of the aeroplanes, from earlier, that have landed in an alley way near by. The planes suddenly come into life in a whirlwind – nearly all of them follow George while the plane with the red lipstick goes to find Meg (this is Plot Point, No. 2)
George is suddenly surrounded by the paper aeroplanes who stick to him, and start pulling him to the train station, while meg is being led to the same train station by the single paper aeroplane (this is the climax, or Second Culmination). Eventually the two reach the platform where they met in the morning, and at that point the aeroplane loose their magic. The two see each other and smile (this is the Denouement). (In the credits Meg and George can be seen chatting to each other at a restaurant with the lipstick stained aeroplane between them.)
Fishing without Nets, Cutter Hodierne, Sundance festival, 2012
The film opens with what the audience believes to be fisherman, but then we see that they have gun – they are wearing masks – telling that these men are there to cause trouble. The screen goes to black before changing to another point of view. We follow a man, name Khadir, who lives in Somalia who is being a fisherman like his forefathers – but he is barely making a living, and the elders of the village tell him that he’s no good. The pirates seem to be a big somewhat secret businesses they make the right money to live off of. However though normally we believe the pirates to be savages with no sense of moral – some pirates show a sense of careful planning, and how that they don’t need to kill unless it’s a last resort. but they are tough as nails.
Khadir has a small child of his own – who is feeling unwell, but he does not have a lot of money to pay for the medical bill. Later Khadir meets up with his old friend, who now works as a pirate claiming that he earns a lot of money from the job – he offers Khadir a job that will involve a big pay check to help the pirates navigate their way through waters which they are unfamiliar with (however Khadir knows very well since he usually fishes there).
Khadir refuses the job saying that he wants to earn his money honestly. However the pirates come to get him anyway, because they really need someone to help them, and knowing what power they have – that they could kill him if he refuses – Khadir agrees to be their guide. As a spy for the pirates gives them the details of a ship heading to a port across the unfamiliar waters, the pirates get ready to take the ship. The film ends with Khadir getting ready to, what the audience believe is, attack with the pirates. The plot has flashback but with out changing the quality, or colour, of the footage.
Though ‘Fishing without Nets’ doesn’t seem to follow the 3 Act Structure as much as ‘Paperman’ does – in their own way each film is interesting. However the film viewer’s interest of a film can be more of the subject, or themes of the film rather than the actual structure of the plot itself. With the film ‘Paperman’ and ‘Fishing without nets’ this definitely seems to be the case.
In order to deliver a good script I have chosen to write scripts with the genre of fantasy in them – since this is the genre that I mainly watch, and has been a personal favourite of mine for as long as I can remember.
In the DepicT competition they accept any genre. But as with any competition, unless stated otherwise, the film must not contain anything that would be considered harmful, or distressing, to the target audience – e.g. drinking, self harming, smoking, etc.
Light of the Wings
We see a small phoenix/harpy, who is named Echo, perched on a tree over looking a valley.
The world is grey, and the life is dull. The others Harpy are doing the same as everyone else – no one is different. The younglings have a small glow, but as they grow it dims away to nothing. Echo suddenly notices a golden light from above. Looking up she sees a gap in the clouds, and a blue sky. Echo tries to fly – but two sinister looking harpies, named Doubt and Misery, try to stop her. Echo flies through the valley and notices a bramble bush that sits below the mountain where the light is. As Echo flies through Doubt and Misery can’t follow her, but the thorns of the bush try try to hold her back. Echo doges the thorns before she breaks through the clouds, and sees a world where there are endless possibilities. Though wanting to show the others of this new freedom Echo knows that she must leave to grow in strength. However Echo glances at her family one more time, as if silently debating as if it would be a good thing to leave.
The Adventure of Sparks
A young girl, named Katie, who is stuck indoors while it rains is busy doodling herself as a cartoon, named Spark, with superpowers. Suddenly the cartoon winks at her. Katie watches as Spark run across various surfaces that are styled as a game – learning the basics of the game; move, jump, block, fight. Then she battles with a main villain. Spark defeats the villain, and hold aloft her sword. Katie smiles before doodling some more.
As with any idea there are restraints to a certain degree.
One of these is Technical. A restraint will be depending on the types of technical equipment that will be used – it will effect the time it’ll take to record the film (e.g. 2D animation takes a longer time, due to each little movement of the characters and scenes has to be painted by hand, to make than live action – but live action requires a bigger team of people in order to film it).
Another restraint is Budget. If the final film is to be done as a live action film then the budget would have to be set throughly to meet the demands towards the creation – paying for actors, hiring of equipment, transport, etc.
A final restrain is Copyright issues. Obviously the film needs to be an original idea so that it’s not just a ripoff, or illegal adaptation of a pre existing idea (a negotiated price to the rights of a script, or novel, has to be made before production if an adaptation is to be made.)
Written Treatment of Final Idea:
Katie, a young university student, is busy doodling in free time during class.
After finishing a drawing of herself as a superhero named Spark – the drawing comes to life.
Spark is surprised when the word ‘Walk’ appears in the top right of the screen in bold letters. Spark carries out the command as she moves the word disappears from the screen. Then the word ‘Jump’ appears, once again Spark follows the command as it takes her to another platform. The word ‘Block’ appears before Deadend, the villain of the game, makes his appearance.
Deadend sends a fireball towards Spark who ducks. Deadend laughs before firing another ball of fire. This time Spark’s ready as she puts up a force shield, thus carrying out ‘Block’. Then after the command disappears the word ‘Fight’ appears. As Deadend gets into a fight stance Spark then creates a cage behind Deadend – before sending her own ball of energy flying towards him. Deadend has no time to block as he goes flying into the cage. Once he’s in Spark closes the door, and then locks it. Spark does a little victory dance while Katie smiles.