The Guru: Frank Daniel, via Paul Joseph Gulino
The Book: Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach
The Year: 1970s / 2004
The History: Frank Daniel was a Czech film producer who emigrated to America in 1969, then taught screenwriting at three of the country’s biggest film schools: AFI, Columbia, and USC. At each school he preached the “sequence approach”. He never published these ideas in a book, but instructors at these schools spread the word. Finally, in 2004, one of his protégées, Paul Joseph Gulino, published a book that summarized Daniel’s approach.
Thing that Makes You Want to Reject the Book Outright: Well, before you read a word, there’s Gulino’s author photo (above), which is exactly what you fear a guru will look like.
Areas Where It’s Less Than Helpful:
- As with most books, the description of the structure is too vague and generic, while the definitions of the jargon are too specific and arbitrary.
- In general, this theory gives too much equal weight to each of the eight sequences. There’s no sense of rising action. Unsurprisingly, devotees of this approach tend to write episodic screenplays.
- If you look at what we’ve studied so far (please enlarge!), you’ll notice right away that this one’s significantly different. The sequence camp deserves credit simply for stubbornly resisting the three-act orthodoxy, and reminding screenwriters that there are totally different ways of looking at things.
- In sharp contrast to Field, Daniel/Guilino stress that the hero, rather than meandering through the second act while waiting for the climax, should always be trying to solve the problem right away and the only reason that it takes so long is that everything keeps getting turned on its head, which makes sure that the screenplay keeps expanding in scope.
- I love the idea presented here that, after the ¾ mark, the “dramatic question is answered” and now the hero starts working against everything they’ve worked for up until that point. This isn’t always true, but once Gulino pointed it out, I realized how often this happens. Basically the hero realizes that he/she’s been building a house of cards and spends the rest of the movie trying to tear it down.
- It took me years to figure out that the main difference between the second quarter and third quarter of a screenplay was “the easy way vs. the hard way”. Gulino, unlike Field, does mention this, though he doesn’t emphasize it very much.
- I like how Gulino explicitly focuses on the audience’s experience of the story, and the need to build false expectations in order to create irony.