How to Watch a Movie in Eight Sequences
When I was in film school at FAMU in Prague, I took a class called “Script Analysis.”
As someone who loves movies and wants to make them, it was the most useful class I've ever taken.
On the first day of class, the professor, Pavel Jech, broke the three-act structure down into eight sequences. That was it. That was the class. For the rest of the Spring semester, we watched film after film and then dissected them based on this idea of an eight-sequence, three-act structure.
I now see these eight sequences in just about every well-written film.
Let me describe them to you, and I bet you’ll start seeing them as well . . .
But first I need to introduce the “want” and the “need.”
The protagonist—the main character of the story—wants something, and that want drives the action of the plot. It keeps us watching through Act II.
On a deeper, more psychological level, the protagonist “needs” to learn something or retrieve something she is lacking. Usually she doesn’t realize her need at the beginning of the story. The Need provides the underlying moral—it’s the lesson that the character learns at the end of Act III.
So, that being said, here are the eight sequences:
Three Acts, in Eight Sequences:
1) Status Quo:
We see the protagonist in their normal environment. This sequence ends with a “catalytic event,” which disturbs the status quo.
The catalytic event knocks the character’s world out of balance. She is forced to make a decision. She must choose either to act and bring the world back into balance, or to not act. If she chose not to act, we wouldn’t have a story, so this sequence ends with the character deciding to do something—deciding to solve the problem. The character wants to solve the problem—that’s the conflict of the story. Will the protagonist get what she wants? That question drives Act II.
3) Rising Action (1)
The protagonist tries to solve the problem in the problem in the easiest way possible. This doesn’t work. She has to re-group and she prepares to try another tactic.
4) Rising Action (2)/Mid Point Twist
The protagonist tries a new strategy of solving the problem. This time she gets a little closer to her goal, but she doesn’t reach it. This sequence ends with a “Mid-Point Twist,” in which new information is revealed. The Mid Point twist changes the trajectory of the story, because it bring the character closer to their want, but further from their need. This is the first time in the story that the character’s “need” becomes apparent.
5) Friend Sequence
Then the narrative takes a pause for a moment. The protagonist talks with her allies, and we learn more about why she wants to conquer the problem. In this conversation, she starts to realize her underlying need.
The protagonist faces the problem. In this sequence, the “want” is resolved. She either gets what she wants or doesn’t. But she hasn’t yet addressed what she needs.
7) False Resolution
This sequence shows what would happen is the character got only what she wants but not what she needs. This sequence usually feels like: This is what the story could end like, but it should really end like this . . .
Whether or not the character has gotten what she wanted, she still has the opportunity to learn from the events of the story. This is the actual ending of the story. The character either learns what she’s needed the whole time (a comedic structure), or she fails to learn (a tragic structure). The moral of the story, or “what this film means in relation to the millennial adventure of the soul” (stealing a line of Joseph Cambell) is revealed. The end.
This Eight Sequence structure was originally developed by František "Frank" Daniel, a Czech filmmaker who emigrated to the USA and taught screenwriting at USC. Here’s some more details if you're interested: Wiki: The Sequence Approach
I think Prof. Jech might have put his own spin on it a bit with the Want and the Need.
Let's Put it to Use
So there’s my basic summary of what we learned in class. I’m sure it’s frustratingly vague, and what we really need to do is apply these concepts to actual movies.
I hope this post can start a conversation. Let’s bring “Script Analysis” to Indywood.