Saturday, August 26, 2006

Three's Company

A reader of DISContent wrote in asking for clarification on my take on Bill Martell's (revised to html) 3 Equal Act Structure for screenplays. This script tip of Bill's (which he was kind enough to let me post here) is the basis for a lot of my DVD premiere script structure. It boils down to the following:

3 - 30 page acts = a 90 page script

Notice how symmetrical that structure is with no act "weighing down" the other. It's a great starter template for making sure your script has momentum. You know that by page 45 you should be deep into the story (halfway there no less!) and wondering how the hell the hero is going to get himself out of the mess he's in.

This script structure was derived from purely budgetary considerations - fewer pages equals less production time equals greater savings. It also equates to greater savings when it came to (VHS tape and now DVD disc) replication. If your movie comes in around 90+ minutes that leaves plenty of room on a DVD5 disc for some trailers and a behind-the-scenes feature. If your feature clocks in at 110 minutes and you add all the other DVD essentials to it - you have to move up to a larger DVD9 disc. Is it any wonder that most independent DVD discs these days are DVD 5's?

*** Bill Martell makes a point in his revised article contradicting me. He's a buddy, but he's wrong. He's forgetting about bit rate and compression which dictates the quality of the image on a DVD disc. You generally have a QC standard on these that means that you have to hit a certain average bitrate or you won't pass. So, length of media does factor into what disc you use. A 110 minute movie at a passable bitrate means you won't have room for all of the other things that go into the disc - which means you have to move up to a larger disc thus costing more money per disc for replication or lose a trailer. That necessitates a call to Sales to see if the additional replication costs will be justified by pre-orders. Yes, there are some companies that fudge the bitrate for their movies, but remember that image quality is something that is reviewed by the industry trades and websites like DVD Talk, so that too factors into sales. Now back to the meat of the piece***

The three equal act structure also allows you time for three plots to be interwoven throughout the story:

The A plot : The main character's journey.

The B plot: The villain's secret which will of course affect the "A" plot eventually when it is revealed.

The C plot: What about the "sidekick?" What can he/she overcome and affect the "A" plot?

The A plot will be the dominant plot obviously, but it's nice to have two other subplots going on to amplify the repercussions of the A plot. You see this all the time in movies. In Die Hard, while McClane was kicking terrorist ass, his wife was dealing with her issues, and Al the cop was overcoming his issues (ultimately to save McClane and the missus). Both Al and McClane's wife's actions affected how McClane achieved his goal.

As I hinted at earlier, the 90 page - 3 equal act structure allows for no meandering and no fat accumulation on the script. It plops you right into the story and hopefully keeps you there until the 90 minutes are up...

and that, my friends is good pulp.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the intellectual permission to cut that scary retarded man-child of a second act down to size.

wcmartell said...

You're right - I'm wrong. Never took that into account.

- Bill

Bill Cunningham said...

See - we make a great team. You approach from one angle, I approach from another and everyone benefits.

(and believe me, there will be plenty of times when I'm wrong)

I'm especially glad you allowed me to link this up, and get the party started...

Next time, your place. I'll bring beer.

Cryptid1 said...

Thanks, Bill!