Non-Hollywood story approach?

Hi there

Does any of you know about any non-Hollywood story theories, methods, articles or the like?



What do you mean by non-Hollywood story theories? Non-Campbell/Vogler/Field/McKee/Snyder/Truby etc, or just non-summer-blockbuster-spectacle?

If the former, try watching some classic European cinema, especially French, such as Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year in Marienbad and anything by Jean-Luc Godard in the period up to about 1980. He and and his fellow-thinking directors, such as Francois Truffaut and Claud Chabrol, wrote up their ideas in a magazine called Cahiers du cinema. I’ve no idea how accessible those articles are now.

I will put it a litte squarely to claryfy.

Hollywood is first an industri with all that goes with that.
Europe has (had) the auteur idea of creative approach.
I think it is more theme based in the conception.

I think all the persons you mentions is from US.

Strange that europe have not developed its own theories.

Non of the authors you mention takes theme as their starting point.


Sorry, mic. I didn’t express myself clearly enough.

The classic French directors I mentioned were the ones I was suggesting for a non-Hollywood approach; in fact many of them were deliberately anti-Hollywood. I suggest you google Cahiers du cinema. But perhaps you’re already familiar with them?


The approach to non-traditional film is an interesting problem for the writer. Immersing oneself in the work of, for example, the New Wave – Godard, Truffaut et al – is a wonderful, essential experience for any film lover, but I don’t know how instructive these films are for a writer. They’re all so intrinsically tied to improvisation, invention, and the purely visual nature of cinema, the script itself is almost beside the point. In the case of the New Wave, the French film credit for the writer – “Scenario” – seems to be an accurate description.

The same is true, I think, with any number of non-traditional filmmakers (Lynch, Cassavetes): watching their films certainly gives you a sense of how to approach making a non-traditional film, but if you’re looking for tips on the structure, the blueprint… well, best of luck. There may be no “there” there.

Thinking about the topic, though, a couple of ideas occurred to me:

  1. Take a look at Rind Lardner Jr.'s script for the original MAS*H (widely available online) – then look at the film Robert Altman went on to make. It’s a study in the difference between writing a movie and making a movie (and a testament to just how good Altman was.) You can make a non-traditional film out of a traditional script, and this is absolute proof. A script/screen comparison of 2001 works too.

  2. Seems to me that getting ahold of the scripts for Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy might give you some insight into writing the non-traditional film. As brilliant a stylist as Keislowski was, he also worked from a plan. There’s still a disconnect from the page to the screen, but at least it’s a chance to see how a master filmmaker put his vision on paper.

Hugh and Sean… Thanks to both of you

Googled Cahiers du cinema, but was not able to get any information what their particular approach/theori was.

Still think it is strange that non of the theories we know start from theme.


I think Sean summarised the approach of the Cahiers du cinema crowd very well. The only word I’d add to his description is “Marxist” - which is a pretty theme-bound word!


Don’t worry that American writing teachers will somehow prescribe “Hollywood” themes and subject matter to your script. If you think of the scenes that make up your film as a series of containers - then you decide what goes in them, no one else. From start to finish your script will have your subject matter, your themes and tone. All the teachers do is suggest how successive containers can be more intriguing and more satisfying to an audience, how your character and themes can resonate more strongly and so on.

In Story … pd_sim_b_1 Robert McKee details a gamut of story types into which every story can be placed. He’s not prescriptively “blockbuster” if you’re afraid of that.

Lajos Egri’s book The Art of Dramatic Writing … d_sim_b_21 is predominantly about writing stage plays but has excellent universal truths applicable to screenwriting also. It’s also worth noting it was written sixty or more years ago.

and Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach by Paul Gulino … 445&sr=8-2 is one of the best books I know of if you want to get away from all the theory and just learn some solid dramatic principles and a simple structure that gets out of your way and allows you to just write what comes into your head.

Films he analyses from a sequence-based perspective are Toy Story, The Shop Around the Corner, Double Indemnity, Nights of Cabiria, North by Northwest, Lawrence of Arabia, The Graduate, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Air Force One, Being John Malkovich and The Fellowship of the Ring.

I think I’ve said it on these forums before, but I’m fairly certain if a new screenwriter had to read only one book then this one would give them the best chance of writing a saleable screenplay first time.

But read all the books you can get your hands on. Reading Truby will not make your writing formulaic if you don’t want to write formulaic stuff. Most theory is there because human brains adhere to certain aesthetic principles. Form not formula.

Everyone needs to find their own preferred structuring method. It’s there to help you organise your creative vision into the best possible form. Your preferred method will merely help you place your ideas on the timeline, somewhere between the opening and the conclusion. Your own dramatic skills will do the rest. Whether your preferred structural paradigm comes from a Truby or an Egri shouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference if you can use it as just one tool in your arsenal for holding an audience’s attention and satisfying them emotionally.


I agree with Robin. The pieces of guidance these authors provide amount to tools, not laws.

About the absence of a framework that starts with theme. Theme (i.e. argument/writer’s point of view/proposition to be proven) is essential, in my view. I’d be hard-pressed to think of any popularly successful piece of fiction on page, stage, or screen in the Western world that lacks a theme. Without a theme, narrative falls apart.

However, no audience or readership wants a theme thrust down its collective throat. It has to be disguised, sometimes very thickly. Spoonfuls of sugar and all that. That may be why (almost) no “Hollywood” paradigm starts with theme.



I thank you all for your interesting and thorough input!

Dare I change the subject a bit to:

What do you consider the main differences between european(/asian) and US storymaking in movies.


I’m very very far from being an expert, so I’d just offer two (probably very gross) generalisations. European and possibly Asian movie-makers are more willing to stray from the classic Campbell/Vogler/McKee/Snyder etc model, and are more willing to consider a “down”, or an “up-down”, rather than a classic Hollywood “up” ending (though of course in practice many Hollywood endings are not actually “up”).


Campbell/Vogler can be connected, but I don’t know how you’re connecting them with either Snyder or McKee, or those two with each other.

Snyder we can leave out of this thread altogether - he’s the most Hollywoodised and prescriptive of them all, and IMHO the least worth reading.

McKee is damned good and utterly cross-cultural.

As for up endings and down endings - even Truby on his “Blockbuster” course says you should write whichever is right for the story, with the proviso; “But if you want to sell your work…”

And he’s right - in screenwriting you write to the market. No way of getting away from it. In Europe a producer might favour a down ending and you might disagree, “But if you want to sell your work…”

But as you point out there’s a new trend - the ironic ending - and maybe that’s now becoming universal and a writer can sell his work anywhere. Eg - Irreversible and The Dark Knight both had ironic endings and they couldn’t be further apart culturally.

Well, I think there are some similarities between McKee and the others (including Field - I forgot him) - the three-act/five-act structure and inciting incident for two. Even Gulino’s approach, valuable as it is, doesn’t really break out of that pattern, though it certainly adds to it. The terms may be different, but the meanings are similar. However, I did warn that my generalisations are probably very gross.

Agreed on the increasing and cross-cultural frequency of ironic, up-down, endings. The Dark Knight? A European-minded Hollywood blockbuster? (Mind you, “up-down” has been around a long time. Casablanca, anyone?)

And BTW, I’ve nothing whatsoever against McKee, in whose company, along with hundreds of others, I’ve spent many happy, useful and interested hours. Truby too.


Simple. Be creative instead of duplicating. Your only limits are the ones you set on your own imagination…

Hollywood tends to sensationalize and goes for the short term. They tend to reuse known methods that work and sell. They are in the business of entertainment and they are good at what they do.

In knowing that all you have to do is select a different approach. One that is not so short term and duplicative but rather rich things new and different.