The Mini Movie Method


I never tire of hearing the Hollywood screenwriting gurus speak. They all have their individual take on storytelling and they all make good writing and storytelling sense. Le raconteur du jour is Chris Soth who teaches his mini-movie method.

Most screenwriters are taught the conventional three act structure in terms of storytelling. Very briefly, the three act structure was built around theatre, most notably by Aristotle in Ancient Greece (prior to their debt crisis). It was a harmonious union between drama and the physical and technical constraints of theatre. Playwrights needed to work out a way of getting the audience to return after forced intermissions, when sets needed to bumped in and out, while retaining dramatic structure. Hence the act breaks or turning points.

With the advent of cinema in the early twentieth century, the constraints changed from theatre sets to film reels. Believe me, reels weigh a ton. And you couldn’t stuff an entire film onto a single reel. Most reels contain about eight to ten minutes of footage.

The pioneers of cinema therefore created “mini movies” or self contained sequences to accommodate these forced breaks. In many ways it’s similar to five or six act structures in telemovies to allow for commercial breaks. I learned to edit film on a Steenbeck, with a splicer, tape and a projector. Much like my forebears, I was disinclined to edit between reels.

Typically a mini-movie or sequence is about ten minutes in length and there are eight to ten sequences in a movie. This refreshing paradigm also aids the writing process since it’s easier to write ten pages in a writing session than 25 pages for a single act; double that for act two. This is also how the “write your movie in ten days” theories work, by forcing you to set milestones for your script. Despite technological advances which allow film makers to film hours of footage on a single disk, it’s still worthwhile breaking down your script into manageable chunks.

I also love the mini-movie method because many screenplays (particularly at first draft stage) sag in the middle; much like a tent after a storm. Writing discrete action sequences abates this, and it also helps you write more efficiently since there are self imposed page limits to cover the story points in a sequence.

The mini-movie method blends with the three act dramatic structure in terms of introducing the hero’s journey, rising action and conflict to a climax and a resolution. The mini-movies are therefore distinct yet interdependent, much like the components in a computer which work together to allow it to function.

Try it out and see how much more manageable the screenwriting process becomes.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. JG Sarantinos says:

    Allen, Paul Gulino’s book came to my attention a few weeks ago. Admittedly, I haven’t got my hands on it but it sounds awesome. In terms of giving credit, the Mini Movie method was moulded by Chris Soth, A USC graduate who also incidentally quoted Gulino and Blake Snyder. The thing with screenwriting paradigms, is that they are all derived from our storytelling ancestors millenia ago, so there is difficulty in assigning “credit” as such. The purpose of this blog is not to claim ownership of intellectual property as such, but to raise the bar of screenwriting and reduce the amount of crap that bypasses my filters. my experience in london was worse. novels forced thru a final draft filter with little plot.

    I’ve had a quick look at your blog and would like to reference a few articles such as “A Heroine’s Journey” and ur review of the sequence approach. This will co-incide with a course in LA called “Beyond The Chick Flick”. I’ve had a quick look at your horror screenplay, the first 5 pages. Great, catchy title. you’ve set the scene, genre and audience. I only read the first 5 pages and you’ve started with a gore and blood scene followed by helicopters. all visual. great. however, the page count should be around 90-100 pages. you also need to strip as much description as possible. i’m seeing too many chunks of text and i’m thinking is there enough story here to fill 90 minutes? Without having read the whole screenplay, i’m already bogged down and can’t get to the story easily. brutal, i know, but when you have a ton of reading, most scripts are junk mail… that’s how we think for better or worse. that’s how hollywood readers judge projects; based on first impressions.

    best

    gideon

  2. Can I have a more detailed example, like an actual break down of the sequences like in a treatment

    1. Yes, exactly. Think of each mini movie as a self contained sequence

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