All subjective I suppose, but when watching films and TV series, I’ve always felt more comfortable with the traditional story structure of beginning-middle-end (I was going to add theatre but that would just elicit cries from those who know me of “When have YOU ever been to the fu…” etc).
It’s not to say I can’t enjoy films or TV with any other structure, but I’m always a little irked when watching something that forces me to ask – “Is this a flashback?..Is that her mother but in the future?..Is the dog really a cat?” etc.
Of course some writers/directors manage less conventional structure (?) with superb results (the TV version of The Singing Detective springs to mind) so maybe I’m just lazy and want the director, writer and actors to do all the work.
An example of a great film that uses my favoured tried and tested structure?
One of my all time fave films is ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart (and ‘The Dead End Kids’).
A Warner Bros gangster film made in 1938.
Beginning – two teenage boys in NY are stealing from a freight train, the police show up, the boys run, one of them (the young Cagney) gets caught, the other one gets away.
Middle – the boy who got caught goes to reform school and as a result is drawn into a life of crime. He becomes a gangster, a big shot, a local legend, a killer. The boy who got away goes straight and becomes a priest. Despite their different paths, they remain friends.
End – I won’t tell you because..spoiler etc, but its dramatic and moving and clever.
The story structure/format works because you don’t ever notice a structure. It never gets in the way which I suppose it’s why so many stories (films, plays, TV series, fairy tales and country songs) apply it.
Basically if you’ve got a good story, a good cast and a good director, no need to be ‘clever’ (if you’ve ever seen the 1970 ‘counterculture’ mess that is the film Zabrinskie Point, you’ll see how badly things can go wrong when you arse about too much with structure).
“Ah!” I hear some of you say “That’s all very well in films and on telly, but what about commercials? How can you tell great stories in less than a minute? Beginning-middle-end in less than 60 secs?”
Well, let’s see..
The ad I’ve chosen as my blast from the past is for Cockburns Special Reserve Port.
Beginning – Establishing shot and “Tut! Rescued by the Russians”
Middle – Product shots, visual gags, Robin Bailey, wonderful performances all round, silly foreigners/mild xenophobia, posh comedy Brits.
End – Beautifully delivered (nb: and funnny!) end joke.
Well under a minute (and the client can’t say ‘but you never mention the product’)
Take note and enjoy.
Eugene Ruane is Creative Director, Shark Awards Kinsale.
PS (below) another one by the late Alan Parker.