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Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach Paperback – April 27, 2004
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"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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Top customer reviews
I enrolled in the Mini-Movie Method class from ScreenwritingU, after reading partially through this book. I dropped the class because the book is much better. The book avoids the incessant hype, the need to tie it to Joseph Campbell's idea of an heroic journey, and the fixed formula of eight mini-movies.
This book treats sequences in a non-dogmatic way. He starts by explaining the idea behind a movie with eight sequences. But the movies he analyzes do not all have eight sequences. Some have fewer. Some have many more sequences.
The idea of breaking a movie into sequences, each with its own story dynamic of tension that relates to the overall story tension is a very helpful way to work on a movie. You don't have to work in a linear fashion. If you get stuck temporarily on one sequence, you can work on another.
What the book misses is more discussion about crafting and rewriting your sequences. The theory discussion in this book is very brief. Maybe a bare 5% of the book. The author briefly summarizes dramatic theory as it relates to audience interest based on telegraphing, dangling clause, dramatic irony, and dramatic tension. Then on to another brief summary. That a description of the eight typical sequences. The rest of the book is analyses of movies. Well-done analyses. But I think There could have been more discussion about how sequences expand a writer's ability to sustain interest. For example, how the classic three act structure for a movie can be applied to each of the sequences could have been discussed more and illustrated with diagrams.
One thing worth noting, though, is that if you buy the paperback edition, you may find the print rather small. It's definitely smaller than the print in most of the dead-tree books I own. It doesn't bother me - I'm still pretty young - but if your eyes give you trouble, you may be better served by the Kindle edition so you can enlarge the text.
The point is, I've done a bit of reading bout screenwriting. I started with Field and graduated to McKee. Branching out, I discovered some gems (like Teach Yourself Screenwriting and Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting) but most stuck close to the so-called paradigm of three acts. One, by the way, that I agree with although I may not stubbornly call it "three acts". According to Truby (who vehemently poo-poos the three acts structure), Aristotle--claimed as the father of the three acts--actually said nothing about three acts, only about a story having three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The problem for a writer who sticks to the three acts like a limpet mine is one of approach. Looking at the long journey ahead (starting with that cold, empty page), attempting to jam a story into Field's page breaks, turning points, act breaks and so on is daunting enough. A simpler way could certainly help.
Gulino returns to a now-forgotten method of writing a screenplay using sequences. Frank Daniel's teachings from the 1980s are the linchpin of this approach and even that goes back to the technical limitations of early (very early) screenwriting for early movies. Back then, every reel lasted 10-15 minutes after which they had to be replaced. This hard limit naturally forced writers to break their stories into 10-15 minute chunks, each one complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Of course, with time and technological advancements, this limitation disappeared but Frank Daniel realized that continuing to write in this way made a lot of sense. It enabled handling the story in manageable chunks. No more the long line of plot disappearing in the unseen distance, but writing a short 15-minute film that would fit within the longer film is less of a problem.
I really like this idea. It makes sense and it's easy without being simplistic. Gulino has written this book based completely on this idea and it's a success. After the first chapter, which covers the history of the sequence approach, he expands on the approach by showing examples of how some good movies can be broken into sequences. He begins the discourse with analyzing one of my favorite movies, Toy Story.
Supposedly, the movies he analyzes are arranged chronologically. He begins with Toy Story because he really, really likes the movie. I can't fault him on that one. He does go quite far back though and analyzes some obscure (at least to me) movies that I'm having a hard time finding on video. In reality, that slight negative isn't important. What's important is that he proves his point, over and again.
The sequence approach is a valid one and while the casual reader would think Gulino is advocating a radical departure from the venerable three-act structure, he really isn't. In the first introductory chapter, Gulino asserts that sequences actually fit very nicely into the paradigm: 2 sequences in the first act, 4 in the second, and two in the third. Nice.
In summary, this is a good book to have as a reference. Not every movie will fit nor can every story be written by slavish observation of the sequence approach. No matter, for most stories, writing is greatly aided by this method.
Five well-earned stars.
I own dozens of books on screenwriting. Compared to other books on the trade, this book is meant for those who already have a basic understanding of screenwriting. Gulino only touches on the basics before getting into the main focus of the book: The sequence approach to screenwriting.
Before getting into the details of the sequences, Gulino gives us four tools to enhance story during the writing process and references these tools throughout.
The issue I have with the book is that its core, the sequence approach, is explained in only four pages. This four-page overview left me wanting more, and seems to need a more detailed explanation of each specific sequence.
The strength of the book is not in teaching the sequences, but in showing their application on several successful films. And that's what the majority of the book is about: analyzing these films and showing us how this approach applies to each.
Overall, the book is more of a case study on the sequence approach, rather than a detailed "how to" teaching tool. That said, Gulino's work is still helpful for those trying to master the craft of screenwriting.