Screenwriting: Feature Films in the Small Scale

Screenwriting: Feature Films in the Small Scale

A feature film is terrifying. There is so much more that goes into a feature film than you would ever think goes into it. It's a monstrosity of page upon page upon page with everything having meaning.

But I learned a little trick recently and I'm going to share with you today a way I find breaking down a feature film into manageable chunks helps incredibly with not only your understanding of movies, but also how to write them.

The thing is you need to treat a feature film as a string of short films strung together. Let me explain - you have the basic three act structure of a film, and adhering to the classical breakdown, there are the turning points in act one and two, the call to adventure etc. Every segment of your film should consist of a self-contained film.

For example, in my hypothetically completed feature film I have the act one turning point. This is a moment in my feature, taking up, let's say, 10 minutes of time. Those 10 minutes create the segment of the act one turning point, but the segment itself is broken down into an entire three act structure. The 10 minute segment has it's own call to adventure, act one turning point, climax etc. While they might not be as in depth (and certainly won't be devoted as much time) they are still structurally there.

To use Inception for an example, and no, I'm not going to be describing the plot in any detail so you don't need to get your spoiler blinders out. What I want to take out of inception is the dream within a dream idea. A dream is built out of the world that is created, the people that fill it and the things that occur in the dream. (That may seem unimportant but stay with me now. Skim ahead if you need to.) If you fall asleep in a dream, you go to a layer down within the dreams. This secondary layer is still as fully fledged of a dream as the first dream was. The second dream has just as rich of a world, just as important characters and events that occur in it. But in comparison to the first dream, it is just a small ripple effect. The first dream is the feature film, built out of smaller dreams that are exactly the same, only smaller. (Also the time thing is reversed, the inner dreams go faster than the outer shell dream, but I thought this was a good example so I went with it anyways.)

So with this in mind, I don't know if this taught you anything, but at the very least, it's just a different way to look at feature films. It's like a big lego block made out of smaller lego blocks that are all the same. If you have a block that didn't have as much care put into making it, the entire thing will look bad.

Or something with a metaphor.

A game designer, producer, production designer, writer and editor, Jason has dipped his toes into many creative fields, perhaps too many. He lives in Toronto, writing, making games and thinking about dogs. Follows Jason on Twitter at @jwestonwong.