Notes on Craft – (Part 2 of 6): Structure

PART 1: Premise & Concept

PART 2: Structure

PART 3: Character

PART 4: The First 20 Pages

PART 5: Dialogue & Scene

PART 6: Rewriting & Polishing

CRAIG MAZIN (Scary Movie 3, 4; The Hangover Part II)

– “‘Story’ and ‘Screenplay’ are two different things; you need to know the story before you write the screenplay.”

– “Most important when trying to figure out what stories to tell is to ask: ‘Is it pertinent to the human condition?'”

– “I try to look at structure as the character’s relation to theme.”

– “A character starts the story believing one thing and finishes believing the opposite.  Pixar movies do this well- check out Little Nemo… also Up, which are both the exact same movie.”

– “When you’re writing with someone else you have to be incredibly specific.  When you’re on your own you have to wonder a bit because you don’t have anyone to tell you if it’s good.”

– “When writing set pieces, make sure they’re also advancing the story.”

– “The midpoint is the first time your hero sees himself in a new way.”

– “We admire characters, not for what they can do, but for what they can endure.”

BEN GARANT & THOMAS LENNON (Night at the Museum, Reno 911, Herbie Fully Loaded… also co-authors of How to Write for Fun & Profit)

– (BG) “When you’re writing you need to check in with your story so you know where it’s going.  It’s like Jazz; it’s improvised but you know where it’s going.”

– (TL) “If you’re not sure whether you should use structure then look at Purple Rain.”

– (TL) “Structure is simple. You get a likable guy thrown up in a tree, toss rocks at him, then you get him down.”

– (BG) “In comedy, the ‘rocks’ you throw at your hero in Act 2 are ‘sketches.'”

– (BG) The midpoint is the worst obstacle you can throw at your hero.  In The Matrix, Neo is told by the Oracle he’s not The One.”

– (TL) “You need to have conflict so that your characters want to kill one another.”

– (TL) “You’re first script should be shocking in some way. Fresh, original- so you stand out.”

ROBIN SWICORD (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Memoirs of a Geisha, Matilda)

– “My husband (Nicholas Kazan), needs just enough story to get started writing so that he can progress while keeping his creative juices alive.”

– “I will follow a character if I know what she wants.  A great desire can propel a story.  A strong desire should meet an impossible obstacle.  Then at the end they’ll have achieved something.”

– “Theme is what drives each story.  Once you know what your theme is you should disguise it within the writing.”

– “At the end of Act 2 the Gods flick your character.”

– “At midpoint, the story gets a whole lot ‘deeper’.  In Little Miss Sunshine her grandfather dies.”

– “Writing a script won’t change your life.  Making a film will.  Go make your movie.”


– How important do you think adhering to a structure is for your script?

– Do you outline and/or write a treatment before you start writing the script?

– Do you think all the best movies have a formula?