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Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach Paperback – April 27, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


"With a fresh take on the oft-mystifying subject of screenplay structure, Gulino breaks some new ground in what I like to call 'screenwriteology'….the analyses are detailed, clear and insightful….In conclusion, if you're slaving for answers about structure, there's plenty to digest in The Sequence Approach. Bring you appetite, and Chef Gulino will make sure you don't go home with a hungry mind." —Dave Trueman, Script, December 2004

About the Author

Paul Gulino is Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at Chapman University, USA.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; unknown edition (April 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826415687
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826415684
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Typically screenplays are divided into three acts. Paul Gulino goes beneath the 3 act structure to lay bare a critical building block for each act: the sequence. His insightful book discusses how a properly written sequence improves the audience experience of the story.

Gulino focuses on how the movie unreels in the mind of the viewer. A sequence works dramatically when it hooks into the psychology of the audience to keep them involved in the story, wondering what's going to happen next.

Gulino locates the origin of the dramatic sequence in the limitations of early movie making technology: movies started as one-reeler stories with a maximum play time of about 15 minutes. When films stories expanded beyond one-reelers, each reel still maintained the same narrative structure because the viewing experience --and narrative flow -- was interrupted every time the projectionist had to swap reels. Each sequence/reel was designed to be a mini-story within a larger story to pique viewer interest so that they would wait in the dark for the reels to change to find out what happened next.

The dramatic unity of the sequence was also necessary for serials shown in installments over the course of weeks. Stories were written so that the reels ended with a cliff hanger, a dramatic hook to make the viewers come back next week to find out what happened next.

Even after technology made it possible for theaters to show a full-length film without interruption, the time frame and dramatic dynamics of the sequence has persisted. Why? Because, Gulino suggests, there are psychological factors at play in the viewing experience. "The notion of a feature film having eight parts [sequences] is, like all else in dramatic theory, tied to human physiology.
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Format: Paperback
Although I've had some success as a TV writer (with drama, sitcom, MOW and soap opera credits) I've never been able to crack the three-act structure commonly associated with screenwriting. For those like me, Paul Joseph Gulino's "Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach" is a godsend. He manages to cut that intimidating and unwieldy structure into much more manageable portions.
In the interest of full disclosure, I taught a TV writing course at Chapman University this spring where Gulino is a tenured professor. And I won't argue with those who might dismiss this review as influenced by that association. I can only point to my produced credits -- there's not a feature among them -- and my desire to write films (in addition to episodic TV) as justification for seeking out this book and embracing it. I strongly encourage others interested in screenwriting to do the same.
Gulino offers a thorough explanation of the eight-act sequence approach (pioneered by Frank Daniel at AFI, Columbia and USC) and an eclectic set of examples. His use of classic and contemporary features lets the reader reconsider and reconnect with some of these great films. Personally, I found this portion of the book an entertaining trek through the history of the craft. Along the way, Gulino also provides a concise and valuable summation of screenwriting techniques.
While beginners will benefit a great deal from this book, I think those who'll likely get the most out of it are those (again, like me) who've already wrestled with the standard screenplay structure -- and lost too many matches. Gulino is an encouraging coach with a different approach that makes a hellava lot of sense. Battered and bruised screenwriters will want to get back in the ring and try again.
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Presents a superb approach to writing a screenplay, or any long story. Much more natural than Syd Field, or, God forbid, overly-Dramatica. Sequences break a story into eight manageable, bite-sized chunks, like chapters, instead of trying to break it up into 3, very large and very intimidating acts (Aristotle's "beginning, middle, and end" -- what the hell does that mean? Aristotle's advice equally describes a story and an elephant. Useless). Each sequence addresses a specific dramatic question in your story (sub-questions of the full, 3 act story), sets up the question, builds the conflict and resolution, while increasing the dramatic tension toward your full-story climax. The book provides examples from known movies, and explains dramatic techniques you may not have read before. This is an excellent book. Goes deeper into story building than many other books. Too many writers seem to forget the 1st Commandment of story writing: seduce the reader/audience into wanting to know what happens next. That's it. That's the bottom line for story writing. Any writer or writing teacher who snubs their nose at the 1st Commandment is full of B.S. This book helps you focus on the 1st Commandment.
Two more books every story writer should have: "Advanced Writing," by Wells Earl Draughon, and "A Story is a Promise," by Bill Johnson.
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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:

- 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.
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