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Indie Birds – Three-Act Structure Versus Alternative Structure in Movies

Hollywood Three-Act Structure

The Hollywood Three-Act Structure is most broadly incorporated in films produced in America. In addition, the Three-Act Structure is very easy for the viewing audience to comprehend and understand. The First Act acquaints the viewing audience with the characters of the story. The Second Act keeps the audience drawn to the basic message of the story; it retains the emotional significance of the viewing audience, as well. The Third Act brings the story to an end. In simpler terms, Act 1 is the beginning of the story, Act 2 is the middle, and Act 3 is the end of the story.

For a typical 120-page screenplay, Act 1 is 30 pages long (or 30 minutes), Act 2 is 60 pages (60 minutes), and Act 3 is 30 pages (30 minutes). Typically, the Inciting Incident which is followed by Plot Point 1 occurs in Act 1. Plot Point 2 occurs after the midpoint of Act 2. Then, the Story Climax (ie, the culmination point in Act 3 of the story) is where conflict between the central and opposing characters is thought out and brought to a successful conclusion. Therefore, Act 1 is characterized by Setup, Act 2 by the Confrontation, and Act 3 by the Resolution.

During the Setup phase in Act 1, the story begins with establishment of the main characters; it also clarifies the foundation of the movie. During Act 2 (the Confrontation Phase), the lead character is conceded with several problems and barriers to overcome. As the story progresses, the number of challenges confronting the main character is disclosed. Act 3 (the Resolution Phase) is the last part of the story where the main character successfully accomplishes the goals that were established at the beginning of the story.

Alternative Structure

The alternative form of screenwriting is any form of screenplay that does not conform to the traditional Hollywood Three-Act Structure. For example, in contrast with the Three-Act Structure, Alternative Structure increases the total number of acts to 4, 5, or even more. Another variation could have been implemented by challenging the generally accepted genre characteristics of a film. For instance, in a Western, the protagonist is usually a very positive, moral person that faces several challenges by himself. In this case, the scriptwriter could challenge “the genre motif of the positive protagonist by making the main character an outlaw and a murderer and surrounding him with people who were worse” (Rush and Dancyger 8).


An understanding of the basic, distinctive, narrative qualities associated with the Hollywood Three-Act Structure and Alternative Structure of movie-making is very helpful to student filmmakers. However, although American and European films are similar in many ways, they still also have distinct qualities separate from each other. Therefore, film students having a solid imprisonment of the Hollywood Three-Act Structure versus Alternative Structure storytelling approaches will be able to further mature their technical skills to successfully tell stories through the media of film.


Rush, Jeff and Ken Dancyger. Alternative Scriptwriting: Writing Beyond the Rules. Boston: Focal Press, 1995.

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