- Paperback: 412 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (9 Nov. 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674839757
- ISBN-13: 978-0674839755
- Product Dimensions: 17.7 x 2.8 x 22.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 864,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique Paperback – 9 Nov 1999
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Thompson...trespasses on the turf of the screenwriting gurus here, gun in hand, to blast away at the three-act structure universally accepted in the business since Syd Field codified it in his 1979 book Screenplay. In its place she proposes four acts, sections of roughly equal length which she labels 'setup,' 'complicating action,"development' and 'climax and epilogue.' -- Alistair Owen The Independent Thompson's insightful analysis of Ground Day and of the screenwriting process in general should be fascinating toboth writers and audience alike. More thoughtful writing and more discerning audiences can't help but lead to better movies, and this informative and provocative book is a step in that direction. -- Harold Ramis, Director, Ground Day How refreshing to encounter a film scholar who understands that, first and foremost, movies must be written. Thompson's book offers an invaluable resource not only to professionals, but to any dedicated moviegoer who wants to better understand the intricate cratf of telling stories on film. -- Ted Tally, Screenwriter, The Silence of the Lambs
About the Author
Kristin Thompson is an honorary fellow in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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Top Customer Reviews
As things stand, aspiring screenwriters must pay attention to the vagaries of three act structure when pitching their ideas: in Hollywood especially, execs are very much in thrall to the notions popularised by Field, Key et al, mainly because it provides them with the analytical tools to get their teeth into your story, and suggest changes that, to an extent, can justify their role in optioning and pre-production.
However, as Thompson demonstrates, the vast majority of films as made diverge from the three act model, and in fact have a four-act structure.
This is a fundamental point, which will help any writer get over the perennial problem of that "difficult second act": here is a an analysis that demonstates that it's better to split your second act into two. Thompson shows that most Hollywood movies are in fact split into four equal parts, rather than three parts of unequal length.
Reductive, formulaic catch-all writing credos are antithetical to creativity, and in many cases are so loose in their criteria that they end up providing little of practical value to aspiring writers.
Thompson stresses the individuality, the virtuosity involved, the difficulty of good writing - and demonstrates that not only will you not write well overly adhering to three act formula - you will write a screenplay which will be difficult, if not impossible to film. So be warned.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Just to have an educated author present an argument against 3-Act structure is provacative (Hollywood wants formulas, not new paradigms). In the rush to collapse the shelves of bookstores across America, too many "how-to-write-a-screenplay" tomes have twisted the 3-act structure into a cliched checklist far removed from any aesthetic considerations. This book shows the limitations of not only the 3-act philosophy, but other screenwriting "rules" as well.
While the critiques of all the films were full of insights, I preferred the chapters which discussed the differences/similarities between "old Hollywood" and "new Hollywood" with regard to "classic" storytelling and today's movies' cookie-cutter-characters with every-plot-point-in-its-place.
For both writers and the viewers this book proves to be a thought-provoking read not only about film, but the nature of story itself. You'll never look at movies, or your own memories, the same.
Through detailed analyses of several popular films, Thompson argues that effective films feature a major turn near their midpoint (where less effective films tend to sag). This turning results in a structure of 4 acts of roughly equal length, rather than the uneven 3 acts (Syd Field's quarter, half, quarter) typically touted in screenwriting books. If true, Thompson's theory could revolutionize the way young screenwriters approach their stories, and spare countless filmgoers the watch-glancing and bun-shifting that occurs during the drawn-out 2nd acts we often sit through.
If you find your 2nd act running out of steam, and/or want a fresh perspective on filmic plot structure, read this book. Better yet, test its theory first: skip to the middle of some of your favorite films and see whether a major turn occurs near the halfway point, pushing the story in a new direction and reinvigorating it. (E.g., Ghostbusters: first half is fun & games, but at the midpoint the demondogs grab Dana and Louis and the Gozer story kicks in.)
(To be sure: Thompson's book isn't a how-to or a simple cure-all; there's much more than that going on her analyses. I just wanted to comment on this one aspect.)
Once through the book and I think you'll find all you need. This isn't one that you pick up again and again to get you through the rough spots. Borrow it from your local library, spend a day or two pulling out what you need and then return it. There are many other books that will be more useful to you as references.