Multi-Protagonist/Multi-Story Structure November 3

Films with multiple protagonists and story lines  (THE AVENGERS, THE HANGOVER, THE HELP, LOVE ACTUALLY, CRASH, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) can be huge hits and critical darlings, but they can also be very intimidating to write.   This workshop offers practical advice on structuring these kinds of complex stories. Recent box office success for The Hangover Two and Bridesmaids as well as Oscar wins for Crash, The Hours and Little Miss Sunshine highlight a long tradition of multi-story/multi-protagonist films.   This form moves easily from independent gem to Oscar nominee and, when it works, can be both powerful and irresistible.   But how do you make it work?

The tradition includes a variety of genres and approaches, from 40's and 50's classics like The Best Years of Our Lives and How to Marry a Millionaire, through The Big Chill, Diner, Hannah and Her Sisters, Parenthood, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Go, Traffic, Babel,  The English Patient and Love Actually.

Obviously, both Altman and P. T. Anderson are masters of this approach in films like Nashville, Shortcuts, Gosford Park, Boogie Nights and Magnolia. This complex structure works equally well  in mainstream comedies like the classic St.  Elmo’s Fire, The Breakfast Club, or Animal House, war films from Kelly’s Heroes to The Great Escape to Saving Private Ryan, mockumentaries like Christopher Guest's Spinal Tap or Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show,  horror films like Scream or Blair Witch and independent films like Lantana, 21 Grams,  Happiness, Personal Velocity and Friends with Money.

This lecture hopes to de-mystify this approach to film writing and make it less intimidating.  What elements do all mult-story/multi-protagonist stories share, if any?  What are the different demands in terms of characterization, structure and transitions?   Is the theme, in fact, the protagonist?  If not, how important is it?  Is three-act structure irrelevant, or still applicable in a recognizable way?  What kind of stories/themes are best served by this approach?