Introduction To My Film Structure Breakdowns
For many years, I’ve been analyzing and breaking down the structure of movie narratives. I’ve decided. it’s time to start sharing them with you.
Understanding the structure can help you see how the movie and narrative function at a deeper level and can be very helpful to writers as well. Here’s what you need to know:
I’m not making any claims that the screenwriters, directors, or editors had the structures I identify in mind. These breakdowns are purely based on my analysis of the film.
My breakdowns are based on a couple of assumptions. First, character goals pretty much always define the sections (sequences or acts) and the end of the sequence or act comes at or shortly after the climax of the section, which is defined by the moment the character succeeds or fails at the goal. Second, goals are generally organized into sequences (10-15 minute units), acts (20-40 minute units), or a combination (2 or 3 sequences nested within each act). Whatever the size of the unit, the assumption is that they are roughly equally proportional in length. Third, while a movie may break down into the traditional three acts, often times there will be more acts (usually four, sometimes five), and sometimes movies will employ smaller sequences rather than acts as the main structural unit.
Generally, sequence or act goals are defined by what the protagonist wants. Sometimes, however, another character may define the goal, especially if the protagonist is absent from the unit.
If a movie has both external and internal movie-level goals, these are almost always DEPENDENT. That is the protagonist must achieve or get one in order to get the other. Often this is INTERNAL–>EXTERNAL, but EXTERNAL–>INTERNAL is also common. Once in a while goals are independent, but this is more unusual.
Times are almost always based on the theatrical version of the DVD or digital version of the movie. I don’t use the screenplay for breakdowns because it’s almost impossible to know what version of the script it is, and because often times the script changes during production and during the edit.