Sunday, November 30, 2014

I, Too, Have Thoughts About Serial...

Some have requested that I share my thoughts on “Serial”, the smash-hit podcast that re-examines the conviction of a man named Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend when they were high school seniors, 15 years ago.  Well soon back to Do the Right Thing (which is now tragically timely)...
I’m obsessed with true-crime stories in general and false-conviction stories in particular, devouring every detail in cases such as the recent exoneration of Ricky Jackson. As a result, I’ve become convinced that false-convictions are far more common than most people think, and there are probably tens of thousands of wrongly-convicted people in America’s prisons, especially dark-skinned men.

That said, I’ve now listened to every second of “Serial”, and I’ve never seriously doubted for even one of those seconds that Adnan Syed is guilty.

Here’s the thing: This series is clearly not aimed at a typical true-crime audience, and it seems to me that its success is somewhat predicated on that unfamiliarity. The production values and philosophical tone peg this as true-crime for listeners who thought they were too sophisticated for true crime, which gives the show a fresh perspective and makes it a good listening experience, but also gives it license to be frustratingly naive. Koenig is a veteran reporter, and I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, but it’s a little odd that she herself adopts such a credulous persona here. On one level, this is a smart narrative choice that makes her into a compelling hero, but it can lead to some eye-rolling.

The problem is that many of the supposedly exculpatory aspects that Koenig dwells upon would be seen as non-issues for an audience familiar with this sort of case. Here are four big ones:
  • #1: She keeps focusing on the fact that, while Syed had some motivation, he didn’t have enough. Wouldn’t he have just shrugged off the break-up?
...But who has a good motivation to kill an 18 year old honors student? Nobody. There’s no good reason to do it. But it keeps happening. Most not-for-profit murders don’t make good sense to anyone but the murderer. We have her diary saying that she doesn’t know why he can’t just get over the break-up. That’s more proof-of-motive than you usually find in such cases.
  • #2: She focuses on the fact that there are dozens of discrepancies in the various accounts, and the main witness’s story changes somewhat each he tells it.
...But this is always true. There has never once been a murder case without baffling discrepancies and inconsistencies in honest testimony. The only time this doesn’t happen is when everybody “gets their story straight” beforehand. What we call “memories” are a crude compromise between our actual sensory input at the time and the shifting self-narratives we craft in our heads. This whole series shows why it’s almost impossible to convict a millionaire (like O.J. or Robert Blake) of a crime, no matter how obvious their guilt is: because any case, even if it’s “open and shut”, starts to seem improbable if you have enough time and enough money to pick apart every inconsistency.
  • #3: She focuses on the fact that Syed is a nice, charming guy on the phone.
...Again, this is very common. Have you noticed that pre-recorded messages that keeps reminding her that she’s talking to an inmate? There’s a reason for that. Many, many prisoners are nice and charming, and you have to keep reminding yourself who you’re talking to. If he’s guilty of doing what Jay says he did (killing with several days’ premeditation), it would be weird if he didn’t have that affect: Listening to him talk, he sounds as if he could be a innocent, affable guy or, just as likely, he could be a charming psychopath. They’re hard to tell apart. Psychopaths, because they have no core self, are very good at becoming the charming person who you want them to be.
  • #4 She focuses on the fact that there’s little physical evidence.
...This is also very common. For the most part, cases with physical evidence don’t go to trial. If you’re nailed, then you’re nailed. If there’s a trial, it’s almost always a “he said / he said” case like this. This is why it sucks to be a prosecutor, defense attorney, or juror. The overwhelming pressure to make a plea deal creates a situation in which every jury decision is a pure judgment call. To a certain extent, Koenig is falling prey to the “CSI effect”: she shouldn’t be so surprised that there’s no smoking gun evidence introduced at trial.
On one level, I shouldn’t be surprised at all by the popularity of the show: it combines the excellent radio journalism of “This American Life” with the compulsive thrills of the true-crime genre. But I still find it a little odd, for a few reasons:

I always listen to “This American Life”, and the pilot for this show ran as a regular episode of that show, so I listened to it at the time, and enjoyed it, but I decided at the time not to make the jump over to the Serial podcast, because it seemed as there wasn’t going to be enough meat to the story. After all, Koenig had already made clear from the outset that no new big piece of exculpatory or condemnatory evidence would come out, and no new trial would be triggered, so it sounded like the whole 12 hours would be circling over the same ground already covered by the pilot. Now that I’ve gone back and listened to the whole thing, I find that it is well worth listening to, but my original opinion hasn’t changed. This isn’t really a “serial” in that it has no cliff-hangers and really no plot progression, just an ever closer-examination of the same evidence.

In addition to the lack of “Ah-ha” or “Gotcha” moment, there are other reasons that, of all the true crime stories out there, this one doesn’t seem like a particularly good candidate for a 12-part series:
  • Too many trial participants refused to be recorded (the detectives, the prosecution, the key witness, etc) or died (the defense attorney), so we’re still getting a very incomplete picture, even after all this investment.
  • Of the people who are on tape, there’s a distinct lack of “real characters”. Simply put, nobody is “giving good tape”. There are no weirdos or slicksters or dim-bulbs or tough guys that might make you say “Wow, I could just listen to this guy talk forever.” The case is just kind of dreary. There’s not a lot of personality here.
  • There’s no outrage factor. There are so many hundreds of “Innocence Project” cases with outrageous abuses by the cops or prosecution and/or infuriating incompetence by the defense. There’s not really any of that here, from what we’ve heard so far. This is just a very typical case, no matter how life-shattering it was for the victim and the accused. There’s some value in re-examining a more typical court conviction but 12 hours is pushing it, especially when there are so many more fascinating and/or infuriating cases out there.
The most baffling thing is that this show has proven to be more popular than “This American Life” itself, which has been producing superlative downloads every week for almost twenty years, including many, many true crime stories even more compelling than this one. If you discovered this show independent of TAL, then do yourself a big favor and dive into the TAL archives. They do a lot of stuff other than true-crime, but here are ten of their best true-crime episodes that you can start out with:
  1. #210: “Perfect Evidence”, on DNA exonerations and false confessions.
  2. #356: “The Prosecutor”
  3. #385: “Pro Se”
  4. #387: “Arms Trader” (This is a good example of an crime episode with just as much ambiguity but lots of huge plot twists, wild personalities, and the cheerful participation of the both the defense and the prosecution, led by a merciless young go-getter named Christopher Christie)
  5. #405: “Inside Job”
  6. #414: “Right to Remain Silent” (with amazing secret recordings by a whistleblower cop)
  7. #419: “Petty Tyrant”
  8. #487 and 488: “Harper High School”, Parts one and two
  9. #507: “Confessions”
  10. #536 “The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segarra”
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Feel free to let me know in the comments if I come across as merciless as Chris Christie...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Straying from the Party Line: Do the Right Thing's Omniscient POV

So we’ve established that, unlike most movies, Do the Right Thing has a passive protagonist and it’s not about the solving of a large problem. This movie isn’t about a crisis that necessitates a series of tough decisions, it’s about a series of lightly-taken decisions that unexpectedly culminate in a crisis.

This brings us to another unusual thing about this movie: Many elements are not introduced from the POV of the hero.

If you think about it, this is kind of odd: Sure, there’s a huge cast, but it’s all limited to one block, and Mookie is constantly on the move and friendly with every character, so wouldn’t it make sense to simply introduce each new element in the movie from his POV? This is the way things are done in everything from “The Sopranos” to “Harry Potter”, after all. But instead, the camera chooses not to favor Mookie, jumping ahead of him or away from him several times, and introducing new elements on their own.

At first I found this very odd, but I think it makes sense: we have to cut away from Mookie’s POV so that we can see what he can’t see. After all, if he saw all of the same foreshadowing that we see, we would get too frustrated with him for not seeing the disaster coming. Ironically, this is one case in which we must sever our POV in order to maintain our empathy, because this assures us that Mookie couldn’t have predicted what we can predict, given our more-omniscient POV.

To a certain extent, the “antagonist” is merely the heavy hand of fate creating a tragedy that nobody wants, and the “protagonist” is not Mookie but the omniscient camera itself. Only the camera sees what no one person in the neighborhood can see: all of the little slights and frustrations that build up.

When we come back to this movie, we’ll take a closer look at that ironic sequence of events, but first, by request, I start off next week with my thoughts on the hit podcast Serial...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Straying from the Party Line: Do the Right Thing's Passive Protagonist That’s Not Solving a Large Problem!

Warning: This gets long!

So finally we’ve captured that elusive beast: a great movie with a passive protagonist. In face, we have sometime even more rare: a great movie that’s not about the solving of a large problem!

Let’s start with our hapless hero Mookie, and all the ways he deviates from our list:
  • He’s not especially resourceful.
  • He has a lot more flaws than strengths.
  • He doesn’t make a lot of difficult decisions.
There is indeed a moment in just about the right spot where Mookie takes responsibility for a problem: 18 minutes in, he quickly shuts down Buggin’ Out’s first calls for a boycott, ushers him out, lectures him, and then Mookie comes back in and promises Sal that he’ll keep Buggin’ Out away from the pizza place.

So that sounds about right, and indeed this problem will get larger and larger, but Mookie himself will not do much of anything to solve that problem until it suddenly gets out of hand, more than an hour of screentime later.

(There is one scene about halfway through in which Mookie mildly repeats his advice to Buggin’ Out, but he actually makes the problem worse, because he also confirms Buggin’s worst fear by noticing that Buggin’s “Jordans are dogged”. He doesn’t suspect that the ruining of Buggin’s Air Jordans by a white homeowner on the block is by this point the real source of Buggin’s mounting anger.)

Meanwhile, Mookie skips most of the steps that we expect to see a hero go through:
  • His offhand commitment to solving this problem doesn’t lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person.
  • He doesn’t grapple with a lot of tough moral dilemmas.
  • He has no lowest point or midpoint disaster.
  • He doesn’t turn proactive until the height of the climax, when he acts suddenly, belatedly, and rashly.
So does the movie get away with all of this? Absolutely! Let’s break it down...

First of all, why doesn’t Mookie’s passivity infuriate us?
  • Like Jake Gittes back when he walked a beat in Chinatown, Mookie is in a position where it seems (at first) like the “right thing” to do is to do as little as possible. Shut down Buggin’ Out, shut down Pino, humor Smiley, compliment Raheem on his rings. We don’t get frustrated with him because it seems like he is indeed “doing the right thing” and successfully keeping the peace (You could say that the one time Mookie breaks his commitment to mildness is when he gets angry at Sal about being nice to Jade, and it is perhaps this violation of his code that karmically brings about the crisis.)
  • We can tell that a problem is brewing, and we sense that we can’t trust Mookie to resolve it, but that makes the movie more exciting. This isn’t a movie about the solving of a big problem, it’s about the gradual combustion of a suppressed problem. 
But this still leaves the question: why do we put up with it? There’s a good reasons why most stories are about active protagonists solving large problems: Because that’s how we’re primed to watch stories. Our first instinct is to invest our identification in one character, caring only about that character, and only caring about the story to the extent that we care about the character. This is the easiest way to tell a story and the easiest way to read or watch a story.

This movie asks a lot more of us. It asks us to jump around, and never plant ourselves too firmly in any one character’s shoes. This makes it harder to care, but Lee and his collaborators know how to compensate for this lack of a comfort zone:
  • It’s just really funny. The dialogue is funny. The performances are funny. The vibe is funny.
  • The editing style is bracing and invigorating. It’s bouncy. It’s brash.
  • It’s absolutely gorgeous to watch. Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s number one influence was Jack Cardiff, who shot Michael Powell’s movies, such as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, and he successfully recreate the eye-popping use of impressionistic and vibrant color.
So why doesn’t it deflate the movie that nobody is trying to solve anything? I would say that we are somewhat aware as we watch that our narrative expectations are being frustrated, but we go along with it simply because we trust the filmmakers. Every aspect of the filmmaking is so good that we know we’re in safe hands, and we give the movie a reluctant benefit of the doubt until everything finally coalesces in a very satisfying way at the climax.

Next time, one more big deviation…

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rulebook Casefile: The Hero Has to Fundamentally Change the Story

Still not completely better, believe it or not, but lets finally dig into this movie a bit.
When you’re writing a story about a fiasco, then the first instinct is to have the hero rise above the situation and wisely shake his head at the folly on display. After all, he’s a hero, and heroes are smarter and better, right?

There is no better example of this than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Everybody is hot to get the skulls except for Indy, who gets dragged along reluctantly and keeps scoffing at how silly the whole quest is. In the end, Indy wins the race to find the skulls, reiterates that he doesn’t really care, and half-heartedly enters the cave anyway.
But this is completely wrong. The hero must drive the story, even if that makes the hero “look bad”. 

When Do the Right Thing came out, many movie critics claimed that it was morally irresponsible of Spike Lee to have his “hero” throw a trashcan through Sal’s window, rather than try to bring everybody back into harmony. Certain members of Lee’s audience, they argued, needed to be shown a demonstration of moral rectitude, or else they might swarm out into the streets after every screening, smashing every window they saw!

But, over and above the overt and covert racism of the critics, that would have made for a terrible movie. Audiences have no patience for heroes who stay above the fray. No matter what’s going down, we want our “heroes” to be in it up to their necks: When there’s greed, they should be the greediest. When there’s anger, they should be the angriest. When there’s folly, they should make the biggest fools of themselves.

In the riot, Mookie finally proves himself to be the “hero” of the story, not (necessarily) because his act was the right thing to do, but because it finally made him the fulcrum of the story: this day finally becomes his story, defined by his action, and his flaw and/or strength, depending on how you read it. Is he “the only one who could solve the problem”? Not really, but he’s the only person with a foot in both worlds, and therefore he decides that it’s his duty to tip the situation decisively in one direction.

Lee’s most daring move, in fact, was not his hero’s climactic action, but all of Mookie’s laid back actions before that. We’ll look at that next time…

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Ultimate Story Checklist: Do the Right Thing

Updated to the sixth and final checklist!
Self-centered pizza delivery man Mookie works at the only white business in his neighborhood, Sal’s Pizzeria, which Sal runs with his sons Pino and Vito. Mookie lives with his sister Jade, who bugs him to be a better employee and be more responsible to his baby Hector and Hector’s mother Tina. Other denizens of the block include smooth DJ Senor Love Daddy, old bum Da Mayor, wise advice giver Mother Sister, mentally challenged Smiley, angry young man Buggin’ Out, and angrier young man Radio Raheem. Buggin’ Out tries to organize a boycott of Sal’s because Sal only has pictures of Italian-Americans on the wall, and Smiley and Raheem eventually join him, bringing racial tensions to a boil. Radio Raheem chokes Sal and then gets killed by the police, sparking a riot in which Mookie contributes to the destruction of the Pizzeria. 
PART #1: CONCEPT 17/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 Not especially : “A conflicted black pizza delivery man working for the only white business on his block must decide what to do when a race riot breaks out.” This movie was sold on the success of the writer /director /star’s previous two movies, which were more broadly comedic.  He cashed in that goodwill here with a more ambitious movie.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
 A comedy about a race riot.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
 Yes, everyday city tensions culminate in a death and a riot. 
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Very much so.  There’s almost no plot.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
 Mookie, for lack of a better one, but he’s relatively passive and we’re never sure if he’s a hero or an anti-hero.  It’s interesting that Mookie is sometimes the POV character and sometimes not.  Sometimes he leads us to the next character and sometimes the camera jumps away from him independently.  It’s almost as if the camera is the hero, sometimes agreeing with Mookie and cutting along with his perspective, sometimes cutting in opposition to his POV to things that impeach what he just said, or impeach what he’s about to say. (The case can also be made that Buggin’ Out is a co-hero or co-anti-hero, because he’s the one who is actually driving the plot and Mookie is just reacting.)
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
 Yes and no.  We think for the most of the movie that this is just a day-in-the-life story, but we realize at the end that almost everything we’ve seen has contributed to the riot.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
 Yes, a pizza delivery man and his boss.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
 The hero is doing very little, but yes, Pino opposes him.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 Greatest fear and ironic answer to his question: The mayor says, “Do the right thing” and Mookie responds, “That’s it?” It turns out to be a tough question.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
 Very much so, he surprises himself and us when he throws the garbage can through the window. 
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Very much so.  He was told that there will always be a place for him there just before the riot.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
 Yes and no.  Nobody is working to solve the problem, but Mookie turns the tide, for good or ill.  He doesn’t solve the problem, but he attempts to, in his own way.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
 Transform the situation: he destroys the Pizzeria, banishing the whites from the neighborhood.  Transform the hero: It’s hard to tell.  It doesn’t seem so on the surface, but we suspect it has.  He spends the night with Tina and Hector, which seems like a bit of a personal breakthrough.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Yes, it’s very funny but also a satisfying drama.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
 The street chalk, the radio station, the direct address framing, etc.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
 The racial slur montage, the riot, etc.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
 Just the climax.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Goofy: “Don’t ya love your brother Mookie anymore?  I loves ya Jade.” Then bold: Yells “Hell no!” to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
 Entirely.  We never learn any backstory, other than what we can infer.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 The easy-going pizza delivery man, the bridge between the blacks and whites.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Simmering rage and irreconcilable contradictions.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 For lack of a better word: Jive: “Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.” “He’s gonna be beating you like an egg for the rest of your life.” “No, you the man.” “Vito is down.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Ignores your protests, then repeats what he said in the first place.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
 He tries to bridge the communities not because he’s a good guy, but because he wants $250 a week plus tips.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 “Gotta get paid”
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
 “Gotta get paid.”
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open: He wants to keep the peace to keep his job.  Hidden: Buggin’ Out tells him to “stay black”, and he worries that he’s not doing that.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
 Not much, in either case.  He’s serenely confident in his ability to avoid physical danger (he’s the only one who doesn’t flinch at Radio Raheem, and chills him out instantly), and he’s got emotional armor on.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
 Shiftless (takes forever on his deliveries, avoids his son and his son’s mother unless he wants sex)
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
 Funny, empathetic to everyone, laid-back, a good lover.
Is the hero curious?
 By implication, because he knows everyone in the neighborhood and cares about their business.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 His resourcefulness never really gets tested, because he never accepts a large challenge.  Like Jake when he walked a beat in Chinatown, he’s doing as little as possible.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Gotta get paid, don’t mess up my business, don’t put up with mistreatment
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 No one else is willing to bridge the two worlds.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
 Yes, he stands up to both Pino and Buggin’ Out, trying to chill them both out.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
 He’s counting his money.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
 Sort of. Despite being on the job, he still considers his time his own “My name ain’t Kunta Kinte.” He does his own business on his epic delivery trips.  He’s really his own boss.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
 Not really.  He’s not solving a lot of problems.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 15/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
 Yes, he’s sick of his sister’s nagging, sick of Pino shifting his own responsibilities onto him.  (And he’s in denial about his shiftlessness and suppressed rage)
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
 His sister heckles him on the way out the door, then he’s ordered to sweep up even though that’s not his job.  Not long later, Tina calls.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
 No. He thinks the only solution to his sister and Tina’s nagging (and Smiley’s for that matter) is just to keep at his job and get paid.   He does not realize until the end that this solution is untenable.  The closest thing he gets to an intimidating opportunity is when Da Mayor says “Always to the right thing.” But Mookie doesn’t know what that means, so he feels that he gets no opportunities to rise above his situation. 
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
 Nothing but, for most of the movie.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
 When Buggin’ Out announces his boycott, Mookie promises Sal that he’ll shut it down, which is his interpretation of “Do the right thing” at this point. 
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 It’s nor really unforeseen. Buggin’ Out continues his boycott attempts despite Mookie, and Pino’s racism is also escalating.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 He assumes that he’s shut down Buggin’ Out and he can go on about his day.  He encourages Vito to stand up to Pino instead of confronting Pino directly.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
 Yes, he has fun with Vito, Senor Love Daddy, etc. He starts to anticipate the money, and promises to buy a picture from Smiley at the end of the day when he gets paid, etc.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
 There are two, but Mookie misses both, because he’s in the shower (This is an odd structure!)  In Buggin’ Out’s arc, he reaches a lowest point in the montage where everybody contemptuously refuses to join his boycott, then he takes it to Sal by himself and only humiliates himself.  Sal then has a midpoint disaster of his own when Pino sits him down and says he doesn’t to inherit the business, then yells at Smiley in the street, in view of everyone while Sal shakes his head in misery.  This is probably the key moment that leads to the riot (though it was improvised and wasn’t in the script!)  Mookie then sort of looses a safe space when Jade comes to the pizzeria and drives a wedge between Mookie and Sal.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Somewhat.  He actually visits his son and Tina, he confronts Pino more directly, etc.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
 When Sal spits racist invective at Radio Raheem, Mookie decides that Sal is unacceptably racist after all, and the chasm cannot be crossed. 
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
 Very much so. 
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
 The killing of his friend and the riot teaches him that his attempts to ease tensions were foolish. 
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
 Yes, something in him snaps.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 We can sense that the mayor’s words are now echoing in his head: Always do the right thing.
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
 Not really: he acts rashly, then reverts into paralysis.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 He waits too long.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
 He is forced to improvise, yes, but neither side ever has a timeline.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
 Very much so.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
 The same time.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
 Yes.  He talks to Sal the next morning.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 17/20 (Buggin’ Out notices that there are no brothers on the wall of the pizzeria and decides to organize a boycott.)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 Yes, it begins at the moment that Buggin’ Out takes offense at the amount of cheese on his slice.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 It is now.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Sal doesn’t expect to or want to converse, he just expects Buggin’ Out to pay and go away.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Who is the little girl that Mookie is talking to?  Smiley is outside.  We can hear snippets of unrelated conversations.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 How much trouble will Buggin’ Out cause in the time it takes him to eat his slice?  Once Sal comes out with the bat, it’s clear that Mookie and Vito and Pino have to get Buggin out of there before violence breaks out.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
 Yes. Sal and Buggin’ Out both lose it.  Pino and Mookie are also affected.  There’s also a great little moment between Pino and Sal when Pino silently takes Sal’s bat away.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 As with almost every scene in the movie, our sympathies are totally split.  We basically side with Sal (as Mookie does, at this point) but Buggin’ Out makes a pretty good case.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 It starts out as a clash of personalities and then becomes a clash of agendas.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Surface: get free extra cheese, then put brothers on the wall.  Suppressed: what are you doing in my neighborhood?  Why don’t we own our own stores?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Sal willfully confusing the meaning on “brothers” has subtext to it.  The pictures themselves carry a subtext.  The ownership issues is in the subtext until Sal calls it out. 
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 Mookie, as always, keeps his feelings on this issue hidden and/or suppressed.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes.  When Buggin’ asks “How much?”, he’s implying that this isn’t worth $1.50.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Lots.  Buggin’ sits down, then Sal comes out with the bat, then Mookie takes Buggin’ out.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Giving the pizza, refusing to take it, taking the parmesan, taking it away again, taking out the bat, Pino taking it away, etc.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, Mookie and Sal decide to kick Buggin’ out.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Not really.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
 Previously asked: Not really.  New: Will Buggin’ Out stay away?  Will his boycott take off?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 No, it goes to the end.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Yes, violence has now been intimated.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Very much so.  Each individual viewpoint is so strongly and empathetically stated that we have no idea where the author’s ultimate sympathies lie.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Very much so.  Only the camera sees the riot coming.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 Very, very much so.  Even Buggin’ Out, the one person supposedly motivated by civic concerns, is really upset about cheese and his shoes.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Yes and no.  There are times when they openly discuss issues that probably would not openly discuss or admitted to, but these moments are stylized (almost like Shakespearean asides), so it works. 
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
 For the most part.  Jade obliquely refers to Mookie’s baby.  Mookie and Sal are very indirect in their confrontation over Jade, etc.  But then we get explosions of people saying what they normally don’t say, like the racism montage, which is intentional and works well.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
 Very much so.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Jargon of the setting: very much so.  Tradecraft: not so much, but that’s fine.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor family: Sal: Italian-American “The both of youse” “this is a respectable business.” And subtle racism “You paying now or on layaway?” Pino: open racism “How come you niggers are so stupid?  Da Mayor: old-fashioned “Good morning, gentlemen” “Clean as the Board of Health”, Default personality trait: Sal: magnanimous, Pino: angry, Vito: sweet, Buggin’: agitated, Raheem: very agitated, Argument strategy: Sal: increasingly irritated reminders, Pino: muttered asides, Buggin’: appeal to (his own) logic.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
 Very much so.
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Yes, everyone.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
 Senor Love Daddy: head/heart. Sal: Heart. Pino, Raheem and Buggin’: spleen. Mookie: gut.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
No, nobody really understands Mookie.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
 There is almost no exposition, but what little there is (such as why they have their pizzeria here) comes out gradually and naturally.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 There are several, but that is explained by the heat making everybody irritable.  It’s clear that there wouldn’t normally be this many confrontations.   
PART #6: TONE 10/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
 Comedy-drama, mixed throughout.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
 “Urban”, the day-in-the-life-of-a-city genre.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
 Comedy and drama come with fewer expectations than other genres, and it meets them all.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
 Vibrant, brash, outrageous, buoyant.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
 It’s clear that this will be the story of one day, and it is asked what will be the consequences of the heat.
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
 Senor Love Daddy is our narrator, and he warns us that this will be a hot, dangerous day.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
 Will Mookie end up like Da Mayor?  Like Sal? Should he be more like Buggin’ Out?  Like his sister?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Yes, Sal takes out the bat early on, then puts it away unused,  Raheem fights a boombox battle with the Koreans, the Italian-American has his car soaked, etc. 
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 Mother sister reverses her stance on Da Mayor, Mookie stays the night, Vito stands upt to Pino.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
 Yes, we find out the consequences of the heat.
PART 7: THEME 13/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Integration vs. self-preservation
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
 Pino: “Who’s working for who?”
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Not much.  There are few moral dilemmas until the end.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
 Very much so.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
 Very much so.  There are a million little authentic observations, like the kids scraping the cans on the sidewalk to better direct the spray of water.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 Very much so.  Real life police killings are referred to many times.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Yes.  Raheem’s speech, Mother Sister’s advice, the interactions with the Koreans, etc.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
 The bat, the boom box, etc.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 It’s still split pretty much evenly at the end, as evidenced by the conflicting quotes from Martin and Malcolm
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
 Yes, Mookie just wanted to get paid, but he destroys his job instead.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
 Yes.  Will Mookie comes back to Tina, etc.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
 They do discuss it, but they don’t kill the meaning or settle the dilemma as they do so. 
Final Score: 106 out of 122