In film, a sequence is a series of scenes that form a distinct narrative unit, usually connected either by unity of location or unity of time. For example a heist film might include an extended recruitment sequence in which the leader of the gang collects together the conspirators, a robbery sequence, an escape sequence, and so on. Each of these sequences might further contain sub-sequences; for example the robbery sequence might consist of an entry sequence, a safe-cracking sequence, and so on.
The sequence is one of a hierarchy of structural units used to describe the structure of films in varying degrees of granularity. Analyzed this way, a film is composed of one or more acts; acts include one or more sequences; sequences comprise one or more scenes; and scenes may be thought of as being built out of shots
• Master scenes, which are the key scenes to the bulk of the plot.
• Introduction scenes, where characters are introduced for the first time.
• Static Scenes – Exposition: where there is very little motion of the subject or camera.
• Flash back, flash forward, “what if” scenes - where the audience is taken into the past, future or to examine the wishful thinking of the protagonist, to reveal motivational and/or crucial story points.
First, “hook” the audience to get them interested in watching further, often done by posing a puzzle, raising questions in their mind, and promising an answer.
Then provide exposition: who, what, when, where, etc. Introduce the MC – give a glimpse of MC’s life “before” the story itself begins; gives a sense of what the MC’s life would have been like if the events that lead to the story hadn’t interfered.
Establish MC’s Inner Conflict: show what they want, which is often different from and in contrast to what they really need.
Inciting Incident or Point of Attack: (At approx. 10 pp. mark) Intrusion of instability on initial flow of life, forcing MC to respond. Often takes form of New Opportunity, even new geographic place.
Sequence sets up the Main Tension (MT), and the corresponding Central Dramatic Question (CDQ) that Act II will address.
First, MC attempts to grapple with the destabilizing element introduced at Inc. Inc. above. MC has every expectation that the problem will be solved and the story finished after this first attempt to solve the problem.
Whatever solution MC attempts backfires or otherwise fails to solve the problem, instead leading to a bigger predicament.
Plot Point : A dramatic event that blows the MC’s world apart, creating the MT and the CDQ.
MC makes first attempt to solve MT problem – choosing the easiest solution to the problem, hoping it will resolve the problem immediately.
MC generally fails, and things can become life threatening at this stage.
MC may successfully resolve a lesser problem, the problem at the sequence level, but the resolution of that problem undoubtedly leads to much bigger and deeper problems, rather than the resolution of the MT and the CDQ.
MC’s first attempt has failed, and MC is forced to try one or more desperate measures to return his life to stability.
Out of the ashes rises a New Hope. After MC takes new action, things turn around, and a Major Truth is revealed, causing:
Mid-Point or First Culmination: a Major Reversal of fortune, making MC’s task even more difficult.
Often, give the audience a very clear glimpse of an answer to the CDQ – the hope that MC will actually succeed at resolving his problem – only to see circumstances turn the story the other way. First Culmination may be a glimpse at the actual resolution of the picture, or its mirror opposite.
———– Mid Point ———-
ACT II (cont.)
MC works on whatever New Complication arose in the First Culmination – trying to confirm or deny the Major Truth leads to a Discovery and: A Major Twist or Action and greater jeopardy.
May again give a glimpse of apparent success or failure, though usually not as profound as at the First Culmination.
New characters may be introduced, new opportunities may present themselves, and subplots may be developed.
As always, resolution of tension in this sequence does not resolve the MT/CDQ, but merely creates new complications, usually more difficult with higher stakes.
MC has now eliminated or lost the chance to use all easy potential solutions to solve the MT, and must take one last Desperate Action, creating:
The Climax or Second Culmination – in which the MC must face her greatest fear directly. The MT and CDQ are resolved and answered respectively.
Key to the Second Culmination: either completely resolves the MT and CDQ, or “reframes” them significantly. It doesn’t have to be the “low point” of the story, as many have suggested.
Gives the audience yet another glimpse of the possible outcome of the picture. Can mirror the end of the film. The glimpse can be of the actual resolution, or more typically, its mirror opposite.
The movie could end here, but the resolution would be unsatisfying and incomplete.
New tension created, new setting, new objective, all created by the unexpected consequences arise from the apparent or actual resolution of the MT/CDQ.
May force MC to work against her previous objectives. Story can be turned upside down/glimpsed from a new angle.
Stakes are even higher, and the pace can become frenzied.
Resolution of this sequence is characterized by a Major Twist – the new course of action pays of dramatically in this major twist or Reversal.
Resolution of MC’s problem – the instability created by the Inc. Inc./point of Attack is finally settled completely.
Having been given a glimpse of the resolution at the First and Second Culmination points, and to a lesser extent at the end of each sequence, the tension of the story is at last fully and completely resolved.
Re-introduce MC and her life, “over-delivering” on the hopes or fears of the audience. The resolution creates a life significantly better than our fondest hopes for MC, or dramatically worse than our greatest fears for MC.
Either way, the audience must realize that MC got what she needs, but in a manner totally unexpected. Resolution is satisfying.