Filmmaking 101

Filmmakers, listen up. The three-act structure exists for a reason. Ignore it and your film will SUCK. There are NO exceptions to this rule. (Really, take even the most indie of indie no-budget films, and guess what, if it’s any good, it’s following the three act structure.) If you think there are films that work outside of the three-act structure, you are a fucking MORON and should have your filmmaking license revoked. (I am so sick of seeing great ideas destroyed by bad filmmakers and editors, especially you documentary filmmakers out there who have amazing footage and an amazing subject, and you haven’t a fucking clue as to what to do with it.) The three-act structure is the very foundation of story-telling. Embrace it, or SUCK.

12 thoughts on “Filmmaking 101

  1. There are few filmmakers that I’ve met on the festival circuit that I admire more than this man. Wish we’d had it back in ’09. I’d have petitioned to put it up as an end card on OFFICIAL REJECTION. 😉

  2. Gorman,

    I hope you will take it as a compliment as I use this opportunity to refer to you as “One Badass Mother Fucker”.

    I’ve told you this before, but seeing “You Are Alone” and meeting you a few years back in Birmingham, AL was the most important film-related experience I’ve ever had. You continue to inspire me both with your filmmaking and just your general outlook on this trip we call life.

    I truly hope to make it up your way someday (sounds like the trip would be worth it for the pizza alone!). When I do, a sip and a slice are on me.


    1. Yes, I take that as a compliment. Thank you! And likewise…if you’re every in town, count me in for that pizza and beer!

      So wished we could have made Sidewalk this year. Love that fest…

  3. Totally! Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Charlie Kaufman… Those guys should are total “fucking morons” who should have their “filmmaking licenses revoked.” There are plenty of different ways to tell a story. Finding creative ways to defy conventions is what it’s all about, otherwise you’re just going through the motions. I’m surprised a filmmaker of your stature and talent would make such a bold, insulting claim.

    This is especially ironic when compared to your very next entry where you rally against some kid posting “a bunch of bullshit filmmaking rules on his blog and calling them gospel,” especially “the bullshit they learn in film school.” In film school I’m pretty sure they teach the 3-act structure.

    1. You don’t even realize EVERY film from EVERY filmmaker you mention uses the three-act structure. It’s not about breaking convention, it’s that every great writer who ever lived, even those that went against convention like Vonnegut, still stuck to the three-act structure, because it is the only way to tell a story. If you don’t understand that, you are an idiot.

      As for me picking on bullshit filmschool rules…perhaps if you read the silly list before you commented on my comments, you’d understand what I was talking about, and realize how moronic they were. But instead, you comment on something you know nothing about. You MUST be a film student.

      Though it’s pretty obvious that if they are teaching the three-act structure in film school, they’re doing a piss poor job, as you can’t even recognize it when it’s right there in front of your face.

      1. I am not a film student, just a fan, but maybe I should’ve been more specific with my list. All the filmmakers I’ve listed certainly have used the three-act structure, but not in all of their films. Quentin Tarantino would be yet another example of a filmmaker who subverts film structure in his films. Would you consider “Pulp Fiction” to have three acts? What about some of the Coen brothers’ films? Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere?” Basically, I’m asking you what you consider to NOT have a three act structure, since your definition appears to be pretty lenient.

        Just wondering if you could clarify what you’re talking about. Inform me instead of simply getting all uptight about it. As for the kid’s film blog, I’m sure his rules were shitty and “moronic,” I was just commenting on the irony of you making a post titled “Filmmaking 101” and then berating someone for making their opinions “sound like gospel.” There’s an exception to every rule.

      2. There is no exception to the three-act rule in story telling. That’s it, plain and simple. You can play with it, but ultimately every good film follows it. (Every good book as well.) The Coens have never strayed. Neither has Tarantino. As for “Somewhere,” it was such a horrible film that even typing its name upsets me. It had no structure, which is why is was the worst film of last year, hands down.

        I don’t want to give examples of recent films that don’t because many of them are on the film fest circuit with me, which was why I went off on that rant. Great subject, bad filmmaking. Why? No three-act structure.

        Even in my film, Color Me Obsessed, which breaks every rock doc rule, I followed it to a T.

        Act 1: the set up, introducing the band, their early years, ending of course with the release of the cd that would propel them into the stratosphere.

        Act. 2: Conflict, conflict, conflict…the most important word in story telling. Then by the end of act 2 our heroes are at their low point and break up.

        Act 3: The resolution of some sort, in this case, how every rock band in the last 20 years owes everything to The Replacements

        That’s it. That’s every story. (You can certainly play with it, but ultimately it can be reduced to that simple formula.)

      3. Also, if you could identify the inciting incident, midpoint and denouement of Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and Malick’s “Tree of Life” by next class that would be great. This will be graded. 🙂

        (Ok, Kaufman was a bit of a stretch. But he has made it quite clear that he thinks the 3 act structure is bullshit in interviews and such, and tries to avoid following it strictly. I mean, that’s what “Adaptation” is about.)

        I’m also not saying the three act structure is a bad thing. Like you said, it’s the story structure that has been around for centuries. But calling everyone who tries to defy conventions “fucking morons” isn’t the best way of saying “I prefer films with a beginning, middle, and end.”

      4. I’m sorry…I barely have time to write my blog. I’m not a fan of Inland, just too long for no reason, and I have yet to see Tree Of Life…most likely won’t. (I’m shooting two films, have another playing the fest circuit, and am in pre-production on three others. Time is short, and I’m not a Malick fan. Ask me about the new Woody Allen, that I loved)

        I was never saying I prefer films with a beginning, middle, and end. I am saying that even if your film doesn’t have a beginning, middle and end, you still had better have a three-act structure, or your film will not work. It absolutely won’t. It’s like air to story telling. You take it away, the story dies.

        But every great filmmaker from Chaplin to Hitchcock to Bergman to Fellini to Godard to Allen to Jarmusch to Morris follows this rule. They might fuck with it. They might turn it on its ear. But I promise you, it’s still there.

        And Kaufman says it’s bullshit because that’s the cool thing to say. He still follows it, even when making fun of it.

        And to let you know where I stand, you can look at my 2010 best film list if you check December, and you will see I rated Somewhere worst. Best were Exit Through The Gift Shop and The Town, but I believe I would rank Winter’s Bone over The Town at this point. Most over-rated, hands down, Black Swan.

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