The assignment for the first module on Screenwriting was to “produce a written Story Breakdown, including premise, controlling idea and character breakdowns”. A key task for this Creative Writing class was to be able to come up with a structured story; luckily Syd Field, in The Screenwriter’s Workbook, gives guidelines that successful Hollywood screenplays nearly always adhere to, what he calls ‘the paradigm’.
As traditional stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, Field classifies these as Act I, Act II and, of course, Act III. Given that the average Hollywood movie now lasts around two hours it’s not only possible but preferable to structure the screenplay to a tight timetable. So, if a page of screenplay approximates to a minute of screen time, the one hundred and twenty-odd pages of the film can then be precisely divided up into the three acts that the paradigm demands. Here’s how it might work:
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