You can always tell a new writer, or someone who hasn’t yet written a feature script, when meet them at a party or film festival mixer, and are treated to tirade on the worn-out, tired-old-Hollywood-script-format, that, they argue, has enslaved the film industry and turned countless creative folk into mindless button-pushing hacks. ‘Where is the originality?’ they’ll ask. ‘Hollywood just isn’t what it used to be!” These folks will tell you that when it comes to screenplay structure, ‘they just don’t buy it,’ and that they—personally—have chosen to take the creative high-ground, forging a new and shiny path toward writing-independence and bonified FREE THOUGHT. And they really believe it. Hell--they FEEL it. And they should! Why?
Because they’re NEWBIES. They’re very, very green, and they haven’t yet learned what it took THIS writer at least two mediocre early-screenplays to fully digest: Screenplay structure is your friend. It doesn’t exist to cuckold writers—it exists to make our jobs easier. And our scripts better. And our lives just a little bit more enjoyable.
Structure wasn’t created by producers then heaved upon us—it was crafted by veteran screenwriters as a means of sharing with new writers what they WERE ALREADY DOING and what WAS ALREADY WORKING. There’s a misconception out there that learning screenplay structure will turn us all into producers of the SAME KINDS OF FILMS—namely, Hollywood blockbusters like Twister or Armageddon. Well, guess what? Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman, Todd Solondz and Diablo Cody all use standard screenplay format—just like J.J. Abrams and Aaron Sorkin. You can argue that some do it better than others, and we all have different tastes. But that’s where the creativity comes in—in HOW use the structural guidelines while avoiding predictability and cliché. Screenplay structure is not an obstacle, it’s a shortcut. And the sooner you internalize that fact, the sooner you will be off and running.