Jack C Newell is director of the films Close Quarters, How to Build a School in Haiti and Open Tables. He is head of TV, Film & Digital at the Second City Training Center and a graduate of Columbia College Chicago in film/video. We talk about using improv to make movies, the job of the director and his latest feature which seamlessly weaves improv into the fabric of the film.
It’s an improv form–a structure for an improvised performance like the Harold or La Ronde.
Often in a play, a series of scenes are set in one location, all in a row with no break in time. For instance, the structure of Chekhov’s most famous plays are all pretty similar. They consist of four acts, and each act happens in a different setting. Characters enter and exit many times during the act and each time the combination of characters on stage changes, a new scene is formed. These are called French scenes.
French scenes are the building blocks of monoscenes. You start with 1-3 characters on stage doing a scene. Eventually one (or more) characters exits or enters and a new French scene occurs with the new combination of characters. There are no sweep edits or tag outs. Entering or exiting is the only way to “edit” within a monoscene. A monoscene can be 10 minutes or an hour. It’s up to you.
Think of it as a series of beats
Each beat is probably around the length of a scene, between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. The lengths should vary, but most beats should be at least a minute long. If you are getting a lot of 30 second beats, you need to focus on making beats longer and holding off longer before you enter or exit.