When I was younger, I was filled with a grad student's certainty about how drama worked. I thought I knew all about this stuff, and was happy to debate it for hours. Now I find myself in a very different place. It's a lot harder to stand on my soap box. But it's a much happier, in-the-moment place to be (and to write from). I'm seeing screenwriting from so many perspectives these days that I can't help but stay in the moment.
I had a three-hour meeting this morning to guide the final stages of the edit on Mr. Gary. We're still finding new meaning and new questions in the script. We're forced to use what we have, even if a shot doesn't work the way we thought it might. The funny thing is that the solutions we're finding are usually better than the original script. Somehow you don't come up with the really genius answers until you're the protagonist, and the script issue is the invincible antagonist and you've gone through your midpoint, low point, and battle scene. It's like every moment of the script has a three-act structure leading up to its creation.
I'm teaching a class of college kids about screenwriting. They're mostly new to storytelling. Some of them aren't even interested in film. They're video game designers. I've spent the last two weeks figuring out how to condense and communicate the crazy, wonderful mystery of writing and the fairly practical ways to getting there. Screenwriting feels more like an instinct to me than a set of rules. But they want the rules, of course.
I showed them the first five minutes of Harold and Maude yesterday. It might not be the natural choice, but I wanted to push them a little out of their comfort zone. (And who knows -- maybe there's a video game in there somewhere..) One reason I chose it: the first scene has a pretty neat three-act structure itself. I could talk about every topic I'd be touching on for the whole semester.
I've got some pretty standard topics to cover this semester: loglines and synopses and treatments and beat sheets and all the story elements. And somehow it hit me all of a sudden. The three-acts are just the nature of events. It's how we perceive them. You've got a three-act structure in a logline. You break down each element of the logline into a three-act structure, and you've got a synopsis. Break down each of those beats and you've got a treatment. And so on. This stuff doesn't translate well to words. So many screenwriting gurus have tried to slap their bumper sticker on the three-act structure and call it their own. But the moment you call it one thing, you lose hold of what it truly is. There's something really beautiful here. There's something full of joy here. And I hope I find better words for it before I recklessly start blogging again.