The Group Monthly Letter – April 2014

by Geoff Hall on April 30, 2014

 Technique over Artistry


Mentoring for word, image and performance art.

Mentoring for word, image and performance art.





Another month passes by and my learning increases as we press towards producing our film.

I’ve learned more about business and the film industry, as well as directing and screenwriting, than I thought I’d have to, but nothing is wasted! The hottest topic, and the most fervently disputed one so far has had to do with storytelling technique and why just about ‘everybody’ adopts the 3 Act Structure for their screenplays.


We live in paranoid times, where everyone is expected to think the same about sexuality, spirituality, climate change, badger culling and yes, screenwriting. We seem to live in a time where the arguments are polarised and anything which reveals a lack of conformity to the dominant, or should I say noisiest claims, suffers from the tyranny of the intellectual discipline we call the knee jerk reaction.


There have been death threats for a scientist in Australia who counters the arguments for global warming; stories of scientists towing the line in an attempt to get funding to ‘prove’ such a phenomenon. So much for objective truth you may say, but I think we are a long way past any such claims in this day and age, as science is the utility of the powerful.


Jacques Ellul speaks of ‘The Technological Society’, wherein technique is all.


“Everyone has been taught that technique is an application of science…technique figures as the point of contact between material reality and the scientific formula. But it also appears as the practical product, the application of the formulas to practical life.” [p7]


Ellul tells us that “The anxiety aroused in [people] by the turbulence of the machine is soothed by the consoling hum of a unified society.” [p6]

Because yes, if we all follow the same technique towards sex, spirituality, politics, management and art (let’s leave it there), then harmony will ensue and we will know who is ‘one of us’ and who is the deviant malcontent.


In terms of film-making it seems quite clear to me that a 3 Act Structure based on Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ is anything but appropriate for 21st Century filmmaking. (And yes, you may have understood from this that what he was talking about wasn’t the latest Cecil B DeMille film, but Ancient Greek theatre!)


However, those who have never written for film are taught this ‘technique’ in the belief that it will somehow guarantee a hit screenplay. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but if you don’t stand by this teaching you can, as I have found, be pilloried as an amateur, a prat and yes, even a bigot and an elitist snob. (Quite a range of personality disasters!)


The fact that many pursue creating a 100 page screenplay and believe that the first act must be 20 pages long, the second act 60 pages and the third act 20 pages long, and that this more accurately describes book-keeping and not storytelling, seems to evade them. Writing is an organic and not a mechanical process, it has to do with imagination and not prescriptive technique. All such prescriptions do for a film is add the ‘consoling hum’ of a unified system.


Artistry is not about conformity, McLuhan will tell you that! Nor is it about unified theories and techniques. It is about an imaginative response to the inspiration for a story, or a sculpture, painting, dance, poem or song.


Art and spirituality are not realised or expressed by conforming to the lowest common denominator of technique. Education may teach you technique, but life teaches you that playfulness is the key to communicating with your audience, that to translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing, is first and foremost an act of imagination.


If we want to be the best for the Giver of the gift, then we need something other than a firm grasp of outmoded technique!




Totally agree! The rules for any art form should be just set as guidelines, which can be broken. If an artist is learning their craft they may want to play it safe, however the artists we remember for making ground breaking work are those who did not keep to conventional wisdom, or techniques.

by Tony Perrett on May 1, 2014 at 1:42 pm. Reply #

That’s right Tony and eventually we take that fore-granted, as part of accepted practice. Whether that’s U2, the Impressionist painters, social realist film, synthesiser music, the X-Files production values and storylines, moving images. These things are no longer radical, but grafted into art practice and regurgitated ad nauseam!

by Geoff Hall on May 2, 2014 at 11:23 am. Reply #

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