Updated: Aug 11, 2018
By: Jess Canty
Hi y'all! Wanted to continue our conversation about how to spot great story structure. Now that you have a good grasp on the over-reaching 3-Act Structure let's dig a little deeper.
There are TONS of ways of describing the main beats in a typical dramatic story and they all basically describe the same thing. But I think Blake Snyder (author of the Save The Cat books) does it best. So... here you go...from Blake himself - and I have added the pages/minutes that we spoke about last time.
OPENING IMAGE(pg 1): This is fairly self-explanatory; it's the scene in the movie that sets up the tone, type, and initial salvo of a film, a "before" snapshot - and the opposite of a final image.
THEME STATED(pg 5): Also easy. Usually spoken to the main character, often without knowing what is said will be vital to his surviving this tale. It is what your movie is "about."
SET UP: The first 10 pages of a script must not only grab our interest - and a studio reader's - but introduce or hint at introducing every character in the A story.
CATALYST(pg 15): The telegram, knock at the door, act of catching your wife in bed with another - something that is done to the hero to shake him. It's the movie's first "whammy."
DEBATE(pg 15-25): The section of the script, be it a scene or series of scenes, when the hero doubts the journey he must take.
BREAK INTO TWO(pg 25): Act Two, that is: it is where we leave the "Thesis" world behind and enter the upside-down "Anti-thesis" world of Act II. The hero must make a choice - and his journey begins.
B STORY(pg 30): The "love" story, traditionally, but actually where the discussion about the theme of a good movie is found.
FUN AND GAMES(pg 30-55): Here we forget plot and enjoy "set pieces" and "trailer moments" and revel in the "promise of the premise."
MIDPOINT(pg 55-60): The dividing line between the two halves of a movie; it's back to the story as "stakes are raised," "time clocks" appear and we start putting the squeeze on our hero(es).
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN(pg 60-75): Both internally (problems inside the hero's team) and externally (as actual bad guys tighten their grip) real pressure is applied.
ALL IS LOST(pg 75-85): The "false defeat" and the place where we find the "whiff of death" because something must die here.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL(pg 85-90): Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? That part of the script where the hero has lost all hope...
BREAK INTO THREE(pg 90): ... but not for long! Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration or a last-minute action or advice for the love interest in the B story, the hero chooses to fight.
FINALE(pg 90-110): The "Synthesis" of two worlds: from what was, and that which has been learned, the hero forges a third way.
FINAL IMAGE(pg 110): The opposite of the Opening Image, proving a change has occurred. And since we know ALL STORIES ARE ABOUT TRANSFORMATION, the change had better be dramatic!
So now.... homework assignment.
Take your favorite movie. The one you have watched 50 times. Maybe its Top Gun. Maybe its Toy Story. Maybe it is Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Get a timer or use the app on your phone and start the timer when the first frame of the movie comes up.
Is there a letter that arrives for the hero at 15 mins? Does the Hero step into the new world at 25 mins? Is there a first kiss at 60 mins (the midpoint is often the A and B story coming together for "sex at 60"). Does Hugh Grant think he's lost Julia forever in the Dark Night of the Soul with his friends telling him its totally fine that he turned her down and then do they literally ALL JUMP UP AND GET IN THE CAR for the start of Act III?
Remember, you need to do a little math if the movie is longer than 110 minutes - but have fun with this. See how your favorite film probably not only follows the beats but follows them to an eerie degree when it comes to the time-stamps of each of these moments.
Next week we break down Act III...