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The Three-Act Structure: The Repeating Phantasm Of Story

July 18th, 2014 by Jonathan Katz

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school. 

Before anyone ever utters “Lights! Camera! Action!” another famous triplet makes its appearance in the filmmaking process: Act One, Act Two, and Act Three.

The Three-Act Structure is the most basic and traditional form of structuring a story for film.  While plenty of films can, and do, deviate, the Three-Act Structure remains the tried and true staple of screenwriting. Let’s dig a little deeper into each act, using the comedy classic “Ghostbusters” as a guide.

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

ACT ONE:

The purpose of the first act is to introduce the audience to our hero’s world: We experience his status quo.  We see what’s missing in his life. We need to know how things are so we can see just how drastic the eventual changes can be.

In Ghostbusters, scientist Peter Venkman and his colleagues live a mundane life as paranormal researchers at a university.  Venkman is especially lonely for love, to the point of messing with his own experiments to get close to a woman.

But Act One isn’t all about playing the name game with the hero.  It also contains the inciting incident – the first time the hero’s status quo gets shaken up.  Sometimes it’s an invitation for change; Other times, the change just lands in their lap.  This call-to-action is irresistible: Though heroes may resist, they always give in.

When the university decides to strip their funding, Venkman and his colleagues are dismissed from campus.

Now, with nowhere to go, they decide to start their own little business – the “Ghostbusters.”

ACT TWO: 

The second act in the three-act structure is the main meat of the film and is usually separated into halves by the midpoint.  The first half finds our hero embarking on his new journey. He reacts to the inciting incident and follows that path until the story swings in a new direction at the midpoint.

After a crazy yet successful ghost-bust,

the team’s business booms and they quickly become a national sensation.

However, Egon notices that the ghostly activity has been growing quickly.  Our midpoint occurs when Zuul, the demon-dog appears.  This event twists the story from happy-go-lucky scientists catching cute little ghosts to something much more sinister than they all anticipated: The apocalypse is coming.

After the midpoint, things get dangerous for the hero.  The villain makes considerable progress, the hero is in mortal danger, and outside forces from a third party sometimes affect the hero’s fight. The end of Act Two puts the hero at the bottom of the proverbial pit, with the stakes higher than ever and hopes lower than ever.

In Ghostbusters, the government cracks down on the team, shutting them down and releasing all their captured ghosts into the wild.

So while the world is one step closer to the apocalypse, the Ghostbusters find themselves in jail, stripped of their equipment.

ACT THREE: 

In Act Three, the hero must use everything he’s learned over the course of the story to fight back.  He’s overpowered, but not outsmarted. The experience of Act Two has armed him with information, skills, and confidence to defeat the villain and restore order to the world.

In Ghostbusters, Venkman and the team convince the city to free them so they can fight Zuul and stop the apocalypse. Zuul is their toughest foe yet, and they fight harder than they ever to save humanity from destruction.

These three scientists go from disrespected fools at a university to the men who save the world.  Even lonely ol’ Venkman finds a little bit of love.  This is the final function of Act Three: to show how the character’s world from Act One has changed as a result of the story.

Starting with “getting to know you” in Act One, then navigating the labyrinth of Act Two, and ending with the pulse-pounding climax of Act Three, the Three-Act Structure helps divide up a story into the satisfying emotional experience that we’ve all come to know and love: a “movie.”

 

Last comment: about 10 hours ago 6 Comments

Vincent Vega’s in the House

June 1st, 2011 by Andy Forssell Acting CEO and SVP of Content

Most moviegoers don’t notice what studio is behind any particular movie. We see the studio names flash on the screen in the opening credits and then they’re gone. Even to avid film lovers, it’s the movie that matters most. Sometimes the director, often the actors. But the studio for most people just isn’t a piece of information worth retaining, if even worth noticing in the first place.

Over the last couple of decades, though, the name of one studio just refused to lurk beneath the surface. It kept hitting us film buffs again and again, flashing briefly on the screen before movie after movie. And not just on any movies, but those kinds of movies that you talk about with friends, and that stay with you for days afterwards. It just kept repeating itself with a sort of resonant frequency, powered by a host of amazingly talented new creative voices, the raw energy of doing things that were truly new, and a certain taste that defied definition or categorization. Movies that weren’t just entertaining, but that seemed to truly matter.

That studio is Miramax. To anyone who really loves movies, the name Miramax matters.

If they didn’t get you in the early days with Cinema Paradiso or My Left Foot, then they got you later with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Clerks and Sling Blade … or The English Patient, Trainspotting, Good Will Hunting, and Amelie. Movies that mattered just kept coming with the Miramax name attached. And it wasn’t just “serious” films that Miramax did well. They even managed to make genre films like Scary Movie and Scream break the mold for such films in a way that we just had to notice.

At Hulu, we spend a lot of time thinking about innovation and how to foster it. Apart from how much I love these movies themselves, that is another reason I have so much respect for Miramax. They innovated, and they were absolutely relentless about it for more than 30 years. So, I couldn’t be more excited to announce today that Miramax films and more are coming to Hulu and the Hulu Plus subscription service. On Hulu Plus, 27 titles are available today, with hundreds more to be added steadily over the next month or so. For those of you who are Hulu Plus subscribers, enjoy playing Pulp Fiction and many other great Miramax films in HD today on your Internet-connected TV, phone, or iPad. If you’re not a Hulu Plus subscriber, it’s a great time to try the service free for a week. And, in addition to all these great movies being added to Hulu Plus, starting in mid-June, we’ll be showcasing a selection of Miramax titles each month for free on the ad-supported Hulu service. This is the first time Miramax has made films available to movie fans on an ad-supported, on-demand streaming basis.

There are some films that give you a jolt the first time you see them. The really great ones hit you hard each time you watch. With moments like Uma Thurman and John Travolta’s Batusi dance scene, Samuel L. Jackson’s “Royale with Cheese” French lesson, and Christopher Walken’s warped story about a watch, Pulp Fiction is one of those movies. Each time I see that film, I discover something new, another level of detail from the mind of Quentin Tarantino. Now that it’s available on Hulu Plus, I plan to watch it yet again and see what comes to the surface this time. I hope you do the same: It plays as well today as it did the day it was released. A warm welcome to Vincent and Jules. Great to see you again.

Andy Forssell
SVP, Content and Distribution

Last comment: about 7 hours ago 16 Comments

Criterion Update: Finding Great Films Faster

April 7th, 2011 by Ben Collins Editor

Want to delve into the Criterion Collection but don’t know where to start?

We’ve just introduced some changes that make sifting through the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus a lot less daunting. Some brand new features will help you discover new films to love as we continue to additional titles from Criterion — more than 100 since launching the section in February, nearly all of which stream exclusively on Hulu Plus, with many others to come in coming weeks.

Since Criterion has compiled so many great works by the world’s greatest filmmakers, we’ve added new functionality that allows you to sort by director. So now you can devote an entire weekend to watching 10 Charlie Chaplin films from just one page.

Movies are now sorted into themes, too. Want to see Francois Truffaut’s first film? It’s “400 Blows,” and you can find that out under the First Films section in Themes. We’ve grouped together titles into categories such as Oscar winners, documentaries, and titles from independent American filmmakers.

Additionally, we’ve begun adding supplemental videos from the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus. You can find these as you watch a film, and they include some fantastic highlights, including:

We’ll continue to roll out supplements as quickly as we can digitize them.

We think these updates will enhance your experience as you enjoy the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus. Let us know what you think!

Last comment: about 8 hours ago 23 Comments

Hulu Interview: Michael Imperioli

March 21st, 2011 by Ben Collins Editor

Michael Imperioli has been your mobster and your intrepid TV detective. That’s probably how you know him — as Christopher from “The Sopranos,” or as Det. Fitch, the guy pinning down Michigan criminals as they try to make a beeline out the door of an interrogation room in “Detroit 1-8-7.” He’s tremendously proud of that show right now. It just finished its first season on ABC. The season finale was just posted on Hulu. It’s the only thing on TV right now that works like “NYPD Blue” worked, in that unrelenting, not-quite-so-perfect way procedurals should be. It fills a hole, it has great purpose, and he loves it.

But it’s not his magnum opus. That’s where “The Hungry Ghosts” comes in, an expansive window of how Michael Imperioli looks at the world in the eyes of five characters. It’s a film he wrote and directed with a few friends and some great funding, and it was well-received on the festival circuits in 2008. To mark its premiere on Hulu, we called Imperioli to talk about how he feels about “Detroit 1-8-7” after one season and “The Hungry Ghosts” a few years later.

Hulu: Now that the first season of “Detroit 1-8-7″ is over, have you had a chance to look back at it and see how it looks as a whole, and how the show’s grown?
Michael Imperioli:
I’m really pleased. It’s really funny, because I think it took some time in finding out what the show is. And I’m really pleased that the direction that the writers took. It’s half character-focused and half procedural. Toward the end of the season, we put a lot more into the characters, more into the city. We wanted to extract stories from the vibe of the city and not superimpose the crime of the city on it. I think, in the end, we did a very good job that, and we did a good job of doing justice to the feel of the city.

What I think sets “Detroit 1-8-7″ apart is that it’s not quite as tidy as usual procedurals. There’s actual character development. A lot of procedurals have a whole episode and take 30 seconds at the end to advance whatever relationships are between the characters. This show cares where its characters are going.
I think it’s much more character-driven than other shows like this. It shows what happens on both sides of the law — going into their lives and seeing what their personal lives are like to see why someone might have done something. There used to be more shows like this, like “NYPD Blue,” “Hill Street Blues.” There’s a history of that in the past. “Colombo,” even. In recent years, the procedural element of it, the technology of it has kind of taken over. It’s much more interesting to me — the procedure of solving the crime — than the courtroom side of it. I find that very interesting. Some people might find that very boring.

There’s a tendency for Detroit-related shows and art to be poverty tourism, where they use the name itself as a scare tactic. But “Detroit 1-8-7″ seems to have a pretty good feel of the city.
Before the show started, I hadn’t been to the city. I had just seen the pilot script. The pilot of the show was shot in Atlanta. I think we all initially wanted to do it in Detroit, but we were very concerned about weather. There’s a very small window of time in which we could shoot. There’s lot of snow in the Midwest, and then they weren’t really sure where they’d shoot it if it got picked up. So we went to Detroit to investigate, and we found out that it was the only place where it really belonged. Some people got a little upset because they had no idea what they were making. They thought we might be exploiting the negative image. But when you’re there, you find out it’s just a label and a misconception. There are a lot of problems there, but there are a lot of problems everywhere. There’s a much richer life that’s going on there, and I think we did a very good job of letting people know about it.

Hulu is now streaming “The Hungry Ghosts,” a film you wrote, produced and directed, and it comes off as a very personal film about your beliefs at that time in your life. You’ve had a couple of years to look back on it since it came out. Is there anything you’d change in the movie because of something you’ve experienced since then?
No, no. I made the movie I wanted to make. I was lucky to have the freedom and assembly of talent to put this together just how I wanted to.

This movie comes off as sort of a magnum opus of sorts. It’s sprawling and big and has big moral points in it. Do you think writers and directors are capable of a few projects this big in one lifetime?
Absolutely. Hopefully as I grow and mature and change as an artist, these expressions are going to change. And hopefully you’re still as passionate about your work as you were in the past. I was very, very fortunate that I had some friends who financed the movie and was able to make it the way I wanted.

The way “The Hungry Ghosts” is broken up into vignettes can pose a real challenge in keeping the film moving forward. It’s usually very hard to get momentum in such a segmented sort of movie, but this has a great pace. Were you conscious of this while making it?

You’ve just got to use your instincts while you’re editing and just try to imagine the movie as a whole as you’re writing. I didn’t really look at other movies to give me any ideas, but you’ve got to keep a certain balance.

There’s a very distinct media saturation element in the film — about how affected we are by what’s been deemed acceptable in mainstream circles.
Well, this film, to me, is really about the characters and the story. That should be the first thing. I can’t predict how it’s going to be received. That was an interesting thing with “Detroit 1-8-7.” I was in Detroit during a very interesting period of time, right after the show started airing, and there was an immediate response from the people of the city. They’d see me at a restaurant and tell me how much they liked it. I got almost immediate feedback. Some people felt a very strong connection to the show. I think they felt that it was a certain quality, that the country might be able to perceive Detroit in a positive way. And that’s very gratifying.

Last comment: Oct 9th 2014 4 Comments

A gift for movie lovers: Criterion Collection joins Hulu Plus

February 15th, 2011 by Eugene Wei SVP, Audience

My earliest movie exposure was heavily influenced by what my father could find at the local video store. He’d stop there on the way home from work and pick out one of new releases from the display of empty video boxes that lined the outer walls of the store. And so my early love of movies grew largely from a diet of American Hollywood blockbusters because that’s what dominated the most coveted merchandising space at our local video stores.

After college, I moved to Seattle, and some movie buffs I met there introduced me to a video store called Scarecrow Video. This was unlike any video store I’d ever encountered. It was enormous, carrying seemingly every movie ever put on video in any format, from VHS to laserdisc to DVD, including PAL videotapes and foreign region DVDs that required renting special machines to play. These were movies from all over the world, in all languages, sorted not just by new versus old but by country, director, and genre. It was at Scarecrow that I rented my first Criterion laser disc. Most of them were so rare that the store required a credit card deposit of several hundred dollars just to walk out of the store with the movie.

But it was worth it. The Criterion Collection is likely the preeminent distribution brand in the minds of movie buffs. They’ve earned that title in two key ways. One is by curating and licensing rights to a library of truly great, enduring movies. Secondly, when they bring those movies to the world, they do so with an attention to detail and quality that can only come from the purest love and respect for movies as an art form.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve added the Criterion Collection exclusively to our Hulu Plus service today. Criterion has digital streaming rights to over 800 of the films in their library, from a who’s who roster of directors: Antonioni, Bergman, Bresson, Bunuel, Chabrol, Chaplin, Clouzot, Cocteau, Dreyer, Eisenstein, Fassbinder, Fellini, Godard, Kaurismaki, Kieslowski, Kurosawa, Lang, Malle, Ozu, Renoir, Tati, Truffaut, Varda, and Welles, to name two handfuls. We’re launching with over 150 Criterion movies today, and we’ll be adding more titles each month. Among the launch list today are so many acknowledged classics: The 400 Blows, L’Avventura, The Battle of Algiers, Breathless, La Jetée, Jules and Jim, M, Pickpocket, Playtime, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, La Strada, and The Wages of Fear.

But just as exciting are the titles still to come. These include not just more well-known classics but also movies that have been difficult or impossible to find on video in any format. Le Silence de la Mer, by one of my favorite directors, Jean-Pierre Melville. The extended filmography of Kenji Mizoguchi. Early shorts by Chaplin. L’Assassin Habite au 21, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s first feature. This doesn’t even include the supplemental content Criterion is famous for and which we’ll bring to the Criterion experience on Hulu Plus over time: commentaries, documentaries, interviews, original trailers, essays, and more. Many of these will be digitized for the first time. We’re honored to partner with Criterion to make all this cinematic treasure available to movie lovers, critics, and historians alike.

Movies, unlike most of our TV programs, aren’t shot with ad breaks in mind, and it has always been tricky to find opportune moments to inject ad breaks in movies on Hulu.com so that we can compensate content owners while maintaining the optimum user experience. For Criterion, thanks to our advertising partners, Hulu Plus subscribers will be able to watch the Criterion Collection free of interruption. (Any ads will play up front.) For those who don’t have a Hulu Plus subscription, each month we’ll still rotate a few Criterion titles through Hulu.com with our normal periodic ad breaks.

The first set of Criterion movies are already available across all devices supported by the Hulu Plus service. On the web, you’ll find Criterion on Hulu at www.hulu.com/criterion. Please dive in and let us know what you think!

Eugene Wei
SVP of Audience

Last comment: about 8 hours ago 51 Comments