writing
screenplays
disney movies
film crit hulk

How Three-Act Screenplays Work (and why it matters)

17/10/2016
दृश्य 543 575
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Following up on the (brief) discussion in the Hercules video about how three act structures create a conventional narrative in Hollywood movies.
A screenplay having three acts is not just arbitrary, nor is it a myth - some of your favorite movies use it, and here's why it works.
Cited articles:
Film Crit Hulk - "The Myth of the Three-Act Structure" birthmoviesdeath.com/2013/12/11/hulks-screenwriting-101-excerpt-the-myth-of-3-act-structure
The de-Hulkifier: simonganz.com/2013/04/the-dehulkifier/
Todd Vanderwerff - "The biggest problem with modern blockbusters, explained by Independence Day: Resurgence" www.vox.com/2016/6/29/12046656/independence-day-resurgence-bad-review-no-second-act-problem
Patreon: www.patreon.com/lindsayellis

Lindsay Ellis
Lindsay Ellis
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  • Yusuf Pekmezci

    Yusuf Pekmezci

    3 दिन पहले

    This whole video was produced in a greatly planned three act structure. Respects.

  • MarinaO

    MarinaO

    7 दिन पहले

    it's a really weird feeling to watch this and realize that a novella I wrote a little while back matches all this beat-for-beat

  • Jeremy parker

    Jeremy parker

    22 दिन पहले

    So the classic Star Wars trilogy is a series of 3 act structure films within a 3 act structure.

  • Rob Motto

    Rob Motto

    महीने पहले

    Pretty sure that was Nocturnal Animals not Nightcrawler.

  • Reuben M.D.

    Reuben M.D.

    महीने पहले

    What do people think about a film like Spiderman Far From Home, where the main deceit is revealed earlier than the Act 2/3 break (I feel)?

  • Christopher Knuffke

    Christopher Knuffke

    महीने पहले

    "Three-act Structure" became a "thing" in Hollywood after Syd Field (1935 - 2013) wrote his famous book "Screenplay". . . which structure he imported from Broadway. . . and Fields says in that book, the fundamental unit of a movie is the sequence. . .

  • Harry Dewulf - Literary Editor

    Harry Dewulf - Literary Editor

    महीने पहले

    Wait... Max has "growth" in Fury Road? When?

  • NC Arts Review

    NC Arts Review

    महीने पहले

    Shia LaBouf is a shit. That observation alone made this video the truest thing ever.

  • dentoncrimescene

    dentoncrimescene

    2 महीने पहले

    It's a lot like writing music/ songs.

  • molesticles

    molesticles

    2 महीने पहले

    Try to find the originals of the 90s Disney classics. I can't stand the remastered ones.

  • killa17964

    killa17964

    2 महीने पहले

    You lost me completely at "Shia Labeouf is a shitty human being" which is uncalled for. He is the greatest actor of our generation.

  • Ryan Ratchford

    Ryan Ratchford

    2 महीने पहले

    4:50 TENSION & ACTS
    5:42 Backstory
    6:08 S1 Point of Attack
    6:42 S2 Inciting (Central conflict)
    7:40 Want v Need
    8:35 S3 Lock In (go on quest)
    Main Tension
    9:18 S3 begins Act 2
    9:33 S4 (try first time goal)
    9:54 Midpoint
    (change goal/ twist)
    10:30 S5 Build on Twist (shift MP-S5)
    11:26 S6 (Conflict comes together)
    Low point (find new tension Act 3)
    12:39 S7 Decide face related tension 3
    13:17 Twist 3 (keep interest/ personal)
    14:12 S8 Climax (resolve 3 Tension)

  • CrashSable

    CrashSable

    2 महीने पहले

    Couldn't this video have been half the length and still hit all the same points (probably more effectively too)?

  • Kenneth Wilson

    Kenneth Wilson

    2 महीने पहले

    Boost

  • Chill bro

    Chill bro

    2 महीने पहले

    I constantly have to stop and replay everything to process the torrent of information in your script.

  • flerp derp

    flerp derp

    2 महीने पहले

    I feel like most Tarantino movies do not follow the 3 Act Structure

  • Clinton Jones

    Clinton Jones

    2 महीने पहले

    Understanding basic story structure is important when you're first learning how to write or analyze stories. Only when you really understand this structure can you subvert it. All the writers of great, unconventional novels or movies do understand basic story structure. It's like music, the masters can improvise because they know the rhythm and structure so well.

  • Britta Moline

    Britta Moline

    2 महीने पहले

    So what films in your mind DO NOT have a three act structure? Great video!

  • RainestormVideo

    RainestormVideo

    2 महीने पहले

    This is one of the best, most concise deconstructions of the three-act structure I have ever seen. I am constantly seeing articles and opinion pieces decrying the three-act structure and how it is strangling cinema and yet even in the best, most critically received films, the three act structure is glaringly there. One thing I do I have to disagree with you on, though: Psycho has a very definitive three-act structure.

  • Daniel Jensen

    Daniel Jensen

    2 महीने पहले

    I feel like the Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds really only had two acts, but that's also part of why it was so terrible and wasn't satisfying at all.

  • Jervis Germane

    Jervis Germane

    3 महीने पहले

    So, when it comes to the two competing theses here, it all comes down to this: if you analyze something in such a way that it has a three-act structure, it has a three-act structure. If you analyze it so that it doesn't, it doesn't. And if different people use different terms to describe the same thing at the same time, no one can understand what they're saying.

  • Pam’s

    Pam’s

    3 महीने पहले

    Haha
    I always use ‘damn it’ as a start lol

  • SlightlyWetFart

    SlightlyWetFart

    3 महीने पहले

    You talk too fast for my slow brain

  • olivia

    olivia

    3 महीने पहले

    can u do a video on movies that dont follow the heros journey? (and mabey how to write one)

  • Scribbler1382

    Scribbler1382

    3 महीने पहले

    I thought Point of Attack was just another way of saying Inciting Incident, not a separate thing? What you're calling Point of Attack in this video seems more like what I was taught is The Hook. (Love your video otherwise, though you talk a little fast.)

  • Adam Symes

    Adam Symes

    3 महीने पहले

    David Lynch is more of a 2 act director

  • Jon Wesick

    Jon Wesick

    3 महीने पहले

    Is anyone other than me totally bored with the 3-act structure and formulaic fiction?

    • RainestormVideo

      RainestormVideo

      2 महीने पहले

      A lot of people conflate three-act structure with formulaic. They are not the same thing. Books like Save the Cat have made screenwriting incredibly reductive to the point of making it seem like all you do is fill in the blanks but that is not the purpose of three-act structure. Three-act structure is not meant to pigeonhole you into filling in story holes with “fun and games“ or “the promise of the premise“ moments. It is there to help illustrate the evolution of a story/character and how they serve the narrative.

    • Scribbler1382

      Scribbler1382

      3 महीने पहले

      There's lots of non-formulaic stuff out there. You can usually find it in the remainder bin of any bookstore or in the 99 cent DVD bin at Walmart.

  • SD

    SD

    3 महीने पहले

    This was brilliant!

  • Kelly Long

    Kelly Long

    4 महीने पहले

    WHY IS HULKS ARTICLE IN ALL CAPS IT HURTS MY EYES

    • Kelly Long

      Kelly Long

      4 महीने पहले

      Omg lindsay you read my mind you're amazing I'd day ily but I don't wanna be creepy

  • tazmon122

    tazmon122

    4 महीने पहले

    17min. and not 1 single mention of why the 3act structure is a thing...JOE CAMPBELL!!
    12 steps in the heroes journey. bracket the transitions between acts, as well as a bracket in the middle of act II, and oh look, 12 convenient places for those 12 steps of the heroes journey to rest. even Shakespeare in 5 is still looking at those cyclical 12 steps.

  • daniel claro

    daniel claro

    4 महीने पहले

    First thing I thought when I saw this video was FCH hahaha

  • combsaaron

    combsaaron

    4 महीने पहले

    I love you, Lindsay

  • Rory Stevens

    Rory Stevens

    4 महीने पहले

    I really really REALLY appreciate you distinguishing tools of the creative process from tools of critique. Writers constipate their creativity attempting to build within formulas rather than just exploring the story as it appears to them.

  • Bavo Debraekeleer

    Bavo Debraekeleer

    4 महीने पहले

    Have you read John Truby's The Anatomy of Story, and if so, what do you think of that?
    I've never really understood why the three act structure is so much talked about, and from your explanation I understand that it's only use really is to analyse tension build up after you have a story, but having three structures doesn't really mean anything if you want to know if you have a great story, so what's the point?
    Yeah, guess I'm still in the dark on this one ...

  • Jim Pelham

    Jim Pelham

    5 महीने पहले

    Thank you for another excellent video!

    When Tim Bevan (the producer of Three Weddings and a Funeral) came to my school in order to address the drama students, my 17-year-old self felt quite sure that I should tag along too; my singular ambition was to write books, and my youthful self-esteem harboured no doubt at all that such tales would be swiftly converted to film. So I went along to the Old Library and perched at the end of a plush leather sofa, where the fellow gave a most interesting talk. When he asked for any questions, I asked for his advice on screenwriting.

    He surprised me by saying that the most important thing (from the point of view of a producer leafing through yet another script) was structure, that the story ought to split down into three distinct acts; and that I should have a close look at the script for The Godfather, as a perfect case study of a structured script.

    For many years I assumed that there were 3 acts because it was most convenient for the producers, because that's how it had been since the 1930s, secondary to a technology that could fit half an hour of footage on to a reel; and to the biology of the audience, who will probably need a wee in the next 90 minutes. Anyway, I was delighted with any answer at all!

    Thank you for providing the detail of what he actually meant, as well as the excuse for my little trip amongst the thick carpets and wood panelling of memory lane.

  • RadioMuse1

    RadioMuse1

    5 महीने पहले

    "I don't think the study of story (theory) helps with the creative process so much as it helps us to understand why; what we've already created, works."
    This pretty much sums up how I feel about academic theory for the study of almost any art form - but I'm more familiar with it with regards to music.
    In the creative process theory can occasionally help you break out of a corner you've painted, written, or designed yourself into, but otherwise it's best to not dwell upon. To understand why your favorite song, painting, sculpture, play or movie works - theory provides a structure through which to understand that with enough clarity that you can add the idea to your proverbial tool box in case you need to recognize it again, or use it for yourself.

  • Carlos Tello de Meneses Vega

    Carlos Tello de Meneses Vega

    5 महीने पहले

    Is there a particular book about the three-act structure you like (or find particularly helpful to deepen into it)?

  • Azraelle

    Azraelle

    5 महीने पहले

    Structure is not something that needs to be fought against; it is a convention of story-telling. A tool. Should indie construction workers rebel against the hammer because it is the tool used most frequently when building a house?

  • Kafui Makafui

    Kafui Makafui

    5 महीने पहले

    I love this video. This is the video that's given me the beam of hope to get back to a short film was almost giving up on, all because someone talked me out of it.

  • Elsa Frost

    Elsa Frost

    5 महीने पहले

    Hands down, this is the best detailed explaination of the 3-act-strucutre I've been given in my life. I love your content!
    Thanks for uploading. 💗

  • Elsa Frost

    Elsa Frost

    5 महीने पहले

    I personally really enjoy making up a story going with the 3-act-structure. I'm just a big fan of this thing lmao
    But then again, I'm also a noob and basically need it to understand story structures a bit better.
    I also think it's a better structure to hold on to than the hero's journey tbh. And less explicit, so IF I'm going to tick boxes it's going to be the 3as rather than the hj.

  • Ian Moore

    Ian Moore

    5 महीने पहले

    Most houses are built generally following very similar structures, and for good reasons. They are tried and tested, work efficiently and are commonly understood. But we love it when a house with an unconventional structure succeeds in doing its job. The same goes for film writing. Learning the 3 Act Structure and the various principles involved can be extremely useful, in the same way that learning the construction techniques for building a conventional house could be useful even if you're building a beautiful unconventional house. I would be wary of deifying it too much though.

  • Todd Crabtree

    Todd Crabtree

    5 महीने पहले

    I think all the movies you used to show your point really helped make it clear and easy to understand. I mean, aside from the fantastic script. But there's such a big range of movies you used that all fit nicely into the three act structure that it reinforces what you say excellently.

  • BoyOfSteel101

    BoyOfSteel101

    5 महीने पहले

    Yeah, I have a question. Why the fuck am I paying for film school when there’s you out here giving this shit up for free?

    • Elsa Frost

      Elsa Frost

      5 महीने पहले

      lol same

  • VatticTV

    VatticTV

    5 महीने पहले

    Why does learning about structure not help you write good stories?

    • VatticTV

      VatticTV

      5 महीने पहले

      @Josh Cottle Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am no writer myself, just an avid reader and, nowadays occasional, film watcher. The idea of creating a compelling story is alien to me. I can see now that it might restrain and make things feel forced.

    • Josh Cottle

      Josh Cottle

      5 महीने पहले

      If you're thinking about story structure whilst writing, chances are you'll write something that feels pretty formulaic and unnatural. Rather than the story flowing naturally from one point to another, it may feel like it is being forced to reach certain places because you're consciously trying to fit it into a structure which can lead to inconsistent pacing and tension. It should be noted this is not a rule. Learning structure can help you improve your work once you've written it, and depending on your writing style it may make creating a story easier, but it won't usually help you write a better story to begin with. It typically just helps you see ways to improve what you've done, to find out why a part of your story doesn't work and how to fix it.

  • Chris F

    Chris F

    5 महीने पहले

    Psycho's structure is baffling unless we understand that Norman cleaning up the crime scene is the whole point if the film. Psycho is not structured as a two-act play, it is merely *presented* as a two-act play. In reality, though, there are three segments separated by very clear breaks.
    1) Opening credits to Marion's dead eye.
    2) All the clean-up ending with car submerging in swamp.
    3) From Vera Miles appearance up to the end credit over the car emerging from swamp.
    The film is, quite litterally, about the anxiety of fearing the toilet didn't flush entirely. This is so straightforward it is plain reading, not interpretation.
    The structure is a mess but a three part mess.

  • KutWrite

    KutWrite

    5 महीने पहले

    Well done.
    A little fast in the monologue. Were you ever an auctioneer?
    Am I the only one who senses a major purpose of this video was to be able to announce that Shia leBouf is a shitheel?
    I agree with your last point. Millennia of story telling have shown us what structure and elements are most effective. Three-acts are but one of these. Someone else put up a fine video demonstrating that "The Dark Knight" has 4 acts. That's interesting to ponder, but probably has no bearing on the novel I'm writing.

  • Thomas Richter

    Thomas Richter

    5 महीने पहले

    What is the structure of Memento?

  • bloodware blogging

    bloodware blogging

    5 महीने पहले

    wait don't nolan movies use a 4 act structure

  • venomTang

    venomTang

    5 महीने पहले

    :) :)

  • Chocolate Coffee

    Chocolate Coffee

    5 महीने पहले

    I feel like this video was a bit under-handed. You never explained why a three act structure is three acts, or why the films you were defining as having three acts definitely only had three acts. You made the definition of an "act" more vague than the definition you were responding to ("The completion of a a subsection of character development or a point of no return for a character" becomes "A release of tensions" -- why does this help us?) and then never explained why your definition was the right one, just that it was.
    It seems instead of engaging with the actual premise of the author you were responding to's work, you just stated he was wrong and listed your way as right just because.

    I love your videos and was excited to watch this one, but I didn't learn why 3-acts are better than other structures or even why the films you were describing definitely had 3 acts, no more no less.

  • Jorge Hernandez

    Jorge Hernandez

    5 महीने पहले

    1,000 comments.

  • Mariemaia

    Mariemaia

    5 महीने पहले

    I adore your work, but I have to say that I dont agree that using the knowledge of the 3 act structure or any blueprint for that matter to check if boxes as it were is not conducive to the creative process. I'm not saying that following the theory rigidly will yield you results because, at least from my personal experience, the creative process ventures outside the confines of most theoretical blueprints regardless. This is clearly seen in several if your examples. That being the case it is helpful to look back at this checklist as a measure of cohesion because, as you mentioned, it demonstrates what has been done successfully. Following a successful model to sort of shave off the fat of your creative process in order to ensure your story's cohesive I think is at the very least a good pla e to start, especially when trying to see what has already been done and try to subvert that expectation though still adhering to the end result. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that theory is a tool, not the bible and as such can be used to greater advance to creative process as a short hand to achieve a more polished piece before leaving that imprint that makes it your own. I think that using theory in this fashion can not only yield good pieces but original ones as well since we can readily look at the past in order to build on the future.

  • adam

    adam

    5 महीने पहले

    Nyah, you'll do. Love your commentary on Shia Leboueff, he can be OK in the right movie but he's mostly just playing shitty characters.

  • cursed alien

    cursed alien

    5 महीने पहले

    Do you think it’s possible to use the idea of the 3-act structure on other formats of storytelling, like long-running serial podcasts with season-long plots? I’m asking because I can almost see a 3-act structure in The Adventure Zone (both Balance and Amnesty). Currently, Amnesty is at the “heroes reach their lowest point” beat.

  • peter kerj

    peter kerj

    6 महीने पहले

    >subplots are important
    Racine a shit

  • Evan Kimball

    Evan Kimball

    6 महीने पहले

    I personally found Hulk's articles inspiring because in the film industry, where I work, there is an over reliance on 3 Act and that specific form and I'm bored of it. It's to a point where all readers at festivals and producers want to see is those beats, turning in a beat sheep and if you're not a writer/director who intends to go indie, there is no room for your 5 Act or whatever script. You are rejected. The films I like are the noisy ones, with no clear 3 Act, and I feel sick when I start a film and see the beats so clearly and feel the lack of inspiration and flatness of it all. I truly hope, and desire, for a bit of a revolution against this ubiquitous format. Reading comments below, and from my own experience, audiences and producers are becoming alienated from other forms of storytelling. Some of the most amazing things I've seen recently are Chinese Operas, Russian Ballets, and experimental immersive films, works of great storytelling where 3 Act isn't possible. If audiences aren't exposed to the idea that films can be done differently, we'll have a bit of a dark age in the near future, as too many kids head to film school to learn to write instead of into the world to find inspiration.

  • RM Bee

    RM Bee

    6 महीने पहले

    Question because I feel like trying to contribute something: What about the Ballad of Buster Scruggs? Do all the shorter stories it contains merit analysis via this framework? Is the utility of the three-act structure as a reference frame for analysis limited to some of its stories but not others? If so, what is the significance of the exceptions (those stories in the film that do not merit analysis via the same narrative framework theory as the majority)? I'd be interested to read some opinions.

  • Candace Boyd

    Candace Boyd

    6 महीने पहले

    Can an individual sequence tension be an open question as opposed to a yes/no question? For example, would "how will protagonist choose to handle x development" be a sequence tension?

  • RottenDoctorGonzo

    RottenDoctorGonzo

    6 महीने पहले

    There is a deep misunderstanding in this comment section about what an act is.

  • Barnaby Jones

    Barnaby Jones

    6 महीने पहले

    Just a thought, would a prologue constitute either (or both) the first sequence and the point of attack, or are they separate from the structure?

  • racewiththefalcons1

    racewiththefalcons1

    6 महीने पहले

    3-act structure is prominent because EVERY story has a beginning that establishes the conflict, a middle that involves the conflict, and an end that resolves the conflict. You can elaborate more and separate the larger parts into smaller parts (4 acts, 5, acts, 8 acts, etc), but you can't break stories down any more than 3 parts. By definition, it is not possible.

  • Kevin Savage

    Kevin Savage

    7 महीने पहले

    Hulk let his moderate popularity go to his head and stopped with being really rigorous. This article in particular started me losing interest in his articles.

  • Jeremy Pickett

    Jeremy Pickett

    7 महीने पहले

    (Takes a long draw from a straw in a pink lemonade in a fifties style Coca cola glass)
    That was good.
    (Exits stage left wearing a black suit, cornflower blue tie, and argyle socks)

  • Mitesh Gohil

    Mitesh Gohil

    7 महीने पहले

    THANK YOU

  • Gaussamer

    Gaussamer

    7 महीने पहले

    As someone who finds the creative part of writing a story (interesting characters, cool and fun conflicts, and interesting histories) easy, or at the very least fun, but has trouble organizing those elements into a cohesive and enjoyable narrative, studying the three act structure, I think, has helped me a lot with creating a story that works and is entertaining to an audience.

  • Mike C

    Mike C

    7 महीने पहले

    It’s as though intellectuals build a thought system with language that allows them to transpose their views over what they see. The Sects of Five going to war with the Three is of so very little consequence. Don’t forget Dan Harmon’s Eights.

    Hehe, sects.

  • Geoffrey Linehan

    Geoffrey Linehan

    7 महीने पहले

    Movies have a setup, escalation and climax. Thus three parts. However, according to a favorite theory I study, our brains work out a problem fully through four perspectives. Thus, sometimes a movie can seem to have four acts when two of the perspectives buttressed together are very different. Also, a movie can have a second story running parallel, as happens with two and a half hour films. This is the case with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Empire Strikes Back. Also, the protagonist is a function purely of the overall story. The main character serves as the view of the audience. Often these are the same person, but in Fury Road, I think Furiosa is the protagonist while Max is the main character. Same with Sarah and Kyle in The Terminator.

  • Burnkastel

    Burnkastel

    7 महीने पहले

    are ghibli films also 3 structured?

  • ablo show

    ablo show

    7 महीने पहले

    I mean not to be weird about but cant a sequence be an in itself. What if a story only has like 3 sequences in it.