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Author Topic: WR: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting  (Read 1372 times)

Offline Mr. Hamrick

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WR: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« on: December 14, 2011, 05:50:12 AM »
Alright gang, over in the general forum there is a thread about a "writing support group".  Figured I'd place this here as a resource.  It is something called "The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting" that I pulled from a book called "Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach".  This is a summary of a few chapters of the book and is generally what I use to try to "outline" treatments for scripts.  This method has been used by such films as "The Fugitive", "Titanic", "Witness" and many others.  It's a pretty common approach.

Quote
Sequence A:  The first "15 minutes" are the answering of "who, what, when, where, and under what conditions the movie will take place".  This exposition follows a "hook" to bring the viewer into the picture.  The sequence usually ends with and "inciting incident" or "point of attack".
Sequence B: Another approximate 15 minutes that sets up the main tension and/or pose the dramatic question that will shape the rest of the picture.  The protagonist usually spends much of this time dealing with the destabilizing element introduced at the end of the first sequence.  The problems that the protagonist attempts to solve in the first sequence lead only to a bigger problem or predicament that marks the end of the first act and occupies the second.
Sequence C: The third 15 minutes allows a first attempt at solving the problem presented at the end of the first act.  The attempt will either fail or lead to yet a bigger problem. 
Sequence D:  The fourth 15 minute sequence usually sees the first attempt failing and perhaps a second desperate attempt by the protagonist.  Often leads to the mid-point or first culmination that presents new complications.   There is usually some sort of  "plot twist" or "turning point".
Sequence E:  The fifth 15 deals with the protagonist dealing with the second set or new complications. 
Sequence F: Ends with the second culmination and ends the second act.  The protagonist is often at his or her lowest point and often winds up with the mirror of the story's conclusion. (roughly 15 minutes)
Sequence G: Unexpected circumstances from the previous sequences raise the stakes and create a new angle.   Subplots begin to be wrapped up if the main tension is result or the effects of the main tension being resolved are dealt with.  (roughly 15 minutes)
Sequence H: The resolution and epilogue and coda.  (roughly 15 minutes)
Epilogue:

Quick notes on the summary:  While the sequences are broken down into 15 minute blocks, the actual length can and likely will vary.  From personal experience, I have used the same basic template for doing a short film that was roughly 27 pages on length.  (It is one of two short scripts that I want to expand it into a feature.)
« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 01:55:42 AM by Mr. Hamrick »

Offline BlueBard

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2011, 02:37:01 PM »
Hey, that's pretty useful for breaking down the timing.  If you followed that, you'd have a roughly 120 minute length "feature".  Thanks, Mr. Hamrick!
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Offline Mr. Hamrick

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2011, 02:59:27 PM »
Hey, that's pretty useful for breaking down the timing.  If you followed that, you'd have a roughly 120 minute length "feature".  Thanks, Mr. Hamrick!

No problem.  And the thing on the timing, as I mentioned, is that the amount of time can vary.  You're right though that the break down in the book is based on a 120minute feature. 

A few other notes that might be of use here:

Generally speaking:
Most "major theatrical" features are between 100-130 minutes.  Interesting enough, that range has increased over the years.  If you look back at films from the 20s-40s, a majority of them were between 85-100 minutes.  That range is still increasing today and moving more toward a range of 110-150 depending on the genre and the filmmaker.

Most "short films" are under 30 minutes.  By design, shorts are usually geared toward film festivals where festival programmers either put them together in blocks of shorts or attach them to a feature screening where the feature wasn't quite as long as it normally would be. 

Often, indy films and films geared toward film festivals will run more toward a range of 80-100 minutes.  I have seen a few that have ran shorter.  While these films are considered "features", a majority of them are not going to get theatrical runs and many will be lucky to get out on DVD.  (Which is sad, I have seen two REALLY good films at The Atlanta Film Festival that to this day were never released theatrically.  One of them has never and likely will never be out on DVD.)

I've heard in the past, though I do not know if this is still the case for sure, that the folks out in LA prefer scripts of roughly 100-110 pages.  One page was usually considered to be around a minute of film.  I strongly suspect this is no longer the case.  And while not 100% sure, it's a safe bet that the length of time per page would vary based on genre.

Offline Xenolith

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2011, 04:43:24 PM »
I wish I could do that.  I cobble and snowflake my way into a story...which is why it usually takes me forever to write fiction.  It would probably be a good exercise to force myself into sequential plotting.

Offline Viking

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2011, 01:55:52 AM »
Very intriguing, and an extremely useful reference when contemplating writing even in a non-film setting.  Getting a sense of "how much time should I be dedicating to building the foundation of this story" could prove very helpful.

Offline Tawodi Osdi

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2011, 07:36:44 PM »
I've been wondering about either taking a course on screenwriting or buying a book on the subject.  This is a good place to start.  I have some ideas that might make a decent screenplay, and it seems to me screenwriting would be useful in any writing that would useful when the visualization of a work is primarily out of the writer's hands, like comic book writing and game writing.  The last bit is just personal supposition, however.

Offline BlueBard

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2011, 05:48:10 PM »
I've been wondering about either taking a course on screenwriting or buying a book on the subject.  This is a good place to start.  I have some ideas that might make a decent screenplay, and it seems to me screenwriting would be useful in any writing that would useful when the visualization of a work is primarily out of the writer's hands, like comic book writing and game writing.  The last bit is just personal supposition, however.

I'm sure there are parallels, but I'm not sure that it's accurate to say that "visualization" is delegated away from the writer.  Even in a screenplay or script, I believe setting and stage directions are important for the people whose job is to develop the visual elements.  It is very necessary for the writer to provide every detail that is important to set the mood, establish the characters, or further the plot.  Then the visual elements can be expanded upon or tweaked by the experts.

If the the scene takes place in a spooky old castle and that setting is necessary for the plot, then that detail needs to be in the script.  The director or whoever can't simply opt to place the scene in a forest in sunny California unless they've got a very good reason to do so.  If the scene needs a telephone in it, then the script had better mention it and it better be in the setting.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2011, 05:49:49 PM by BlueBard »
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Offline Mr. Hamrick

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Re: The Sequence Approach to Scriptwriting
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2011, 07:48:08 PM »
If the the scene takes place in a spooky old castle and that setting is necessary for the plot, then that detail needs to be in the script.  The director or whoever can't simply opt to place the scene in a forest in sunny California unless they've got a very good reason to do so.  If the scene needs a telephone in it, then the script had better mention it and it better be in the setting.

There is a difference between props and set dressing.  Items used or handled by the actor or actress in the scene are props.   Props are almost always in the script.  The only two exceptions I can think of where they wouldn't be is if the prop was improvised or added by the actor, actress or director at the time of filming.  Even in that case, the script supervisor is suppose to make a note  that the prop was added for continuity. 

On the other hand, set dressing is usually worked out by the Art Director and the Director.  Usually, set dressing is not mentioned in the scene UNLESS there is a particular thing referenced in the scene.  For example, if you have a certain poster on the wall in the scene that might be referenced or tell you something about the character but isn't picked up or handled by anyone in the scene.

Oh! and just to get a bit more confusing.  Green Lantern's ring (for example) would be considered could be considered a costume piece (while he's wearing it), a prop (when he is being handed the ring), or set dressing if the ring is sitting in a display case in a scene.