3. Story structure
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- By the time we hit act three, the story is now careening towards a final crisis, the inevitable climax. This is the most intense moment of the film for the protagonist, who should be in danger of losing everything they value most. Hopefully, the audience is on the edge of their seats. The choices your character has made in act one and act two were driven by their wants, but now they face their ultimate test. Are they ready to accept their needs and make choices they weren't capable of making in act one? For example, near the end of Finding Nemo, Marlin has found Nemo. This was his want and what's been driving him throughout the entire movie. But now, Dory, his companion and friend, is caught in a fishing net. This is the crisis. All Marlin wants to do is take Nemo home and keep him safe, but he knows that they have to save Dory, and that Nemo has the best chance of doing that. Marlin needs to let Nemo go and trust that he'll be okay. After the climax, the characters and the world return to a calmer place, perhaps a more complete or better version of themselves. We call this the resolution. In Finding Nemo, this comes after Nemo frees Dory from the net. We return to the reef to see a new version of Marlin, trusting and confident, letting Nemo swim off to school and checking in with his new shark friends. Let's get some thoughts on act three from our Pixar friends. - In act three, the character sacrifices their wants for their needs. They've seen the error of their ways and now it's just about demonstrating the change. - And you should have put your character through a lot of tests, and you should be able to show that your character has learned something, learned something that exhibits your theme, I mean the reason you decided to make this story in the first place. - Where theme and moral comes into this in act three is in the course of act two, your character has learned what's most important. In the course of act three, they're fighting for that important thing, and that usually is the theme of your movie that they're fighting for. So in Incredibles, in act three he's fighting for his family to be able to stay together to survive and to be able to become this super family. - It's important in a three act film to understand that you don't really know how well your first and second act are working until you see everything together. The last thing you want an audience to feel is that they've been cheated after going through two acts of a movie. - My personal feeling is that it should just really feel satisfying on many levels. You should feel like, oh, they fixed the big problem with the world. Oh, they've fixed the personal problem with themselves. Oh, they've vanquished the bad guys, things like that. And just sets the world right, and so you can walk out of the theater feeling, oh, that was wonderful and I learned something. - You can have a well-structured story and have a very logical conclusion at the end of act three, that you have overcome the obstacle, you foiled the villain, everything adds up. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a satisfying resolution. To have it be a satisfying resolution, it needs to be emotional. It is the end of your character's emotional arc. So in Up, the resolution is when Carl not only chooses that he'll still be friends with this boy, Russell, but he shows up for Russell's scout ceremony, and he's the one to pin the badge on Russell's sash. And that symbolizes, I will remain present in this boy's life. This kid is now family to me. - In act three, a film should be resolved. Sometimes that resolution comes with a surprise and the audience did not expect that ending at all, but it can be satisfying. - I love the resolution of Toy Story 3 because there's a surprise, there's an unexpected ending. Throughout the whole movie, Woody has felt like there's an either/or situation. Either I stay true to my kid, Andy, and go with him to college and sit on a shelf and lose my best friends, the other toys, or I betray Andy and I disappear with the other toys. And he finds the solution right at the end. When he comes up with the idea of having Andy donate all the toys together to Bonnie, and the surprise is that Woody put himself in the box. He has found the third way. He's found a way to be with his friends, and still let Andy be the one to make the choice to pass him on. That was such a surprising organic and really emotional resolution. - In summary, the third act is where we pull everything together. The characters have overcome their obstacles. Their arcs are now complete. The theme has been clearly expressed, and we've brought the story to a logical and emotional, sometimes unexpected conclusion. In this next exercise, you'll have a chance to identify the critical components of act three in your favorite films as well as develop a third act for your story.