Screenwriting: The Sequence Approachby Paul Gulino
Pub. Date: 04/27/2004
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
The great challenge in writing a feature-length screenplay is sustaining audience involvement from page one through 120. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach expounds on an often-overlooked tool that can be key in solving this problem. A screenplay can be understood as being built of sequences of about fifteen pages each, and by focusing on solving the dramatic
The great challenge in writing a feature-length screenplay is sustaining audience involvement from page one through 120. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach expounds on an often-overlooked tool that can be key in solving this problem. A screenplay can be understood as being built of sequences of about fifteen pages each, and by focusing on solving the dramatic aspects of each of these sequences in detail, a writer can more easily conquer the challenges posed by the script as a whole.
The sequence approach has its foundation in early Hollywood cinema (until the 1950s, most screenplays were formatted with sequences explicitly identified), and has been rediscovered and used effectively at such film schools as the University of Southern California, Columbia University and Chapman University. This book exposes a wide audience to the approach for the first time, introducing the concept then providing a sequence analysis of eleven significant feature films made between 1940 and 2000:
The Shop Around The Corner / Double Indemnity / Nights of Cabiria / North By Northwest / Lawrence of Arabia / The Graduate / One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest / Toy Story / Air Force One / Being John Malkovich / The Fellowship of the Ring
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Gulino's book is one of the best screenwriting handbooks I've ever read. It's simple, clear and concise, providing a powerful tool that can help a screenwriter to engage an audience. The first chapter introduces the sequence concept and shows the four fundamental techniques used to capture the audience attention. In the following chapters the author uses the aforesaid tools to analyze eleven movies, covering six decades and various genres, and showing the effectiveness of the sequence method. Once you have learned the method, it's quite simple to apply a similar analysis on whichever movie you want. As a screenwriter myself, I'm familiar with the traditional three-acts paradigm and the various writing techniques. In Gulino's book I found the anwers to three major questions I had about screenwriting: first of all, I noticed that all my favourites directors have the ability to create long, beautiful and well-structured scenes, or sequence of scenes sharing at least one unit of time, place, action. Classical directors like Kubrick, Hitchcock, Lean, Kurosawa and Leone all had these ability, so as Scorsese, Spielberg, Cameron and Tarantino. The sequence approach confirms this intuition and shows that it all happens in a more general way, that is dividing the whole screenplay in blocks that, just like short movies, have their own acts, protagonist and dramatic tension. Another classical feature is the ability to enrich and deepen the narration by shifting the thematic point of view from the protagonist to another character. Gulino's book shows that it's easily achieved building some of the movie's sequences around a character other than the protagonist. For example, in 'Lawrence of Arabia' fourteen of the sixteen sequences are built around Lawrence, that is the movie's protagonist, showing us its dramatic needs, hopes and fears about the Arab cause. One of the remaining sequences is built around General Allenby and its efforts to persuade Lawrence to go back into the desert, so stating its strategical and military importance. In a further sequence the reporter Bentley serves as the protagonist, expressing the importance of Lawrence as a romantic figure and revealing the reporter's cynical point of view. Lastly, the three-acts structure, and its further developments in Syd Field's work, is a paradigm independent of movie's length. Nonetheless, because of the way it has been developed, Field's theory seems to fit better in a canonical one-hundred-and-twenty pages screenplay, that is a two-hour movie. What about a two-and-a-half- or three-hour movie? Gulino shows that while the three acts are stretched to respect their canonical proportions, the sequences always retain a ten- to fifteen-minutes duration. This obviously means that a three-hour movie contains more sequences than a two-hour, proportionally distributed among the three acts, allowing the screenwriter to create a richer narration and explore more characters' points of view. With an exceptional length of three hours and thirty minutes, 'Lawrence of Arabia' stretches the three acts respectively at fifty, one-hundred-and-twenty and forty-minutes, but the sequences are sixteen, that is twice the number of sequences contained in a one-and-a-half to two-hour movie. In conclusion, I recommend this excellent book to anyone who is interested in movies & screenwriting.