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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Fugitive: The Archive

It’s interesting that this movie didn’t do as well on the structure section as you’d think...
An interesting question that was cut when I cut this down from the longer fifth version of the checklist:

Are the physics of the world (realistic or stylized?) established early and maintained throughout?
They’re somewhat-stylized, as established by the waterfall jump. It’s thrilling because we can’t imagine how he’ll survive, but once he does without injury, we subtly go “Oh, okay, physical danger in this movie isn’t a big deal, so we switch to “how will he do this”, as opposed to “will he make it”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Babadook: The Archive

A modern masterpiece.
Here's a question that got cut that I miss (I frequently regret cutting this question):
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Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)? 
Very much so.  The Babadook = The Dada Book.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Star Wars: The Archive

This was the first movie whose coverage I archived, but now I’ve archived the archive!
When I updated the checklist to version six, I lost some answers that were interesting from the longer checklist, so let’s put those here:
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Are the physics of the world (realistic or stylized?) established early and maintained throughout?
The princess is hit by a laser and faints somewhat harmlessly. Horrible things will happen off-screen to characters we don’t care about, but characters we like will be hurt only in gentle ways, as in Obi Wan’s vanishing, which he accepts before it comes.  Even the choking is indirect, which makes it more chilling but less brutal to watch. 
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
Not really.  The plotting feels somewhat haphazard, without much payoff in this movie.  This isn’t necessarily bad: the shaggy-dog all-over-the-galaxy plot-progression is actually quite thrilling in an off-kilter kind of way.  We never cycle back around to anything (never go back to Tatooine, etc.) or cut ahead (introducing the rebel base before Luke gets there, etc.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The 40 Year Old Virgin: The Archive

This is another one where some interesting questions were cut from the checklist in the course of updating it from version 5 to version 6, so I've included those below... 
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)? 
Yes, every man feels like he doesn’t get enough sex, but this is an extreme example.  Likewise the waxing scene, etc, are examples of common anxieties made huge.  Flying through the billboard at the end symbolizes sex and a breakthrough.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
Yes, her “Sell Your Stuff on Ebay” store is established as a joke, so we don’t figure out that this will eventually be the solution to his problem.  (Although, as with almost everything else, this wasn’t in the original script, and they just worked it in after they saw that their exterior story location really did have such a store across the street!)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Iron Man: The Archive

This is another one where I had to cut a question from the checklist that elicited an interesting answer, so Ill preserve it here for posterity:

Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
 Yes and no: some plot contrivances could have been covered up better with set-up and payoff: At the end, why is Pepper standing in the same spot 10 minutes later? Why doesn’t Pepper call Tony earlier? On the other hand: The icing problem is nicely set-up as a problem, so that we don’t realize that it’ll be a solution later, and Tony giving away his heart, and getting it back, is set up as a character beat, so we don’t realize that it’ll be a plot solution later. Also: Coulson always being around pestering Tony is seen as a problem, so we buy it when it turns into a solution later.

Monday, June 12, 2017

In a Lonely Place: The Archive

This is another one from the early days where I was sort of transitioning from writing about Underrated Movies to spotlighting classics for the checklist.  Probably not one I would choose today, simply because it’s not well known enough, but it’s one of the all-time great movies and I found the checklist to be illuminating. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Frozen: The Archive

I had a lot to say about this movie...

Donnie Brasco: The Archive

Out of all the movies I’ve done, this is probably the most forgotten. It was from the early days of the checklists when the idea was more to pick random movies. I’ve thought about dropping it from the list and replacing it with Goodfellas or something. That said, I do adore this movie.  At Columbia, I rescued the screenplay from the garbage when they were cleaning out their archives, then I started reading it over and over.  Indeed the script has one of the highest scores of any movie I've done (Behind only Star Wars, I think) Theres just one area that it flunks: The Hook, and thats why its not as well remembered as it should be. Never forget the need for unique imagery!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Special Guest Picks: The Archive

Hey guys, remember when this used to be an underrated movies blog? Most of you probably don’t, but if you journey all the way back to January 1st, 2010, you’ll find that I blogged about a new movie every damn day for a long time. Eventually, just to save my mind, I started blogging about story in order to give myself some days off from the three-hour grind. Another way I would take a break sometimes would be to invite guests around to share their own picks. I still have all 148 Underrated Movies in their own sidebar, so I won’t archive those, but I never put the Special Guest Picks in the sidebar, so let’s archive those, shall we?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Losing My Religion (aka Writing Misconceptions): The Archive

 Did you know that books take a long time to write, and even longer to make it into the hands of readers?  This series is from late 2012, and it came about because I had gotten serious about writing the book (after spending two years generating the material).  The book finally came out almost exactly four years later, and now six months after that, I’m proud to say that it’s a success.  (I forgot to tell you guys that the audiobook was the Deal of the Day on Audible a few days ago, sorry!)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Narrative Breakdown Podcast: The Archive

Here's another one that never made it into the sidebar for some reason, so it’ll be new to a lot of you. Hey guys, did you know that before I had my own podcast, I was a semi-regular guest on the Narrative Breakdown podcast with James Monohan and Cheryl Klein? We covered a lot of good stuff over the years, and here I am archiving it for the first time. Enjoy! (And once you’re done listening to these, go back and listen to all the others!)

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Hero Project: The Archive

This is where it all began.  I decided to branch out from my Storyteller’s Rulebook pieces and start thinking seriously about story, and charted my thought process in real time.  A lot of this ended up in the book, in a very rewritten form, but a lot of it didn’t.  My favorite one that didn’t: Hitchcock In The Shadowlands

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What I Wish I'd Heard at Graduation (aka How to Get Ahead): The Archive

This is another one that’s somewhat painful to archive. I wrote this when I was a cocky 30-something in the first blush of career success. There’s a lot of stuff here that I’m no longer sure I really believe, now that I'm a more grizzled 40-something. Nevertheless a lot of this is pretty good, so I’ll let you pick through it and evaluate it with your own bullshit-meter.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Give and Receive Notes: The Archive

This series, for whatever reason, is not in the sidebar, so I completely forgot it existed until I had to link to it yesterday. It’s full of good stuff!  I laid the groundwork here for my current sideline giving notes professionally.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All the Charts Mentioned in the Book (and Some That Aren’t)

I just got an email from a book reader who pointed out that I promise readers that they’ll find some charts on my blog, but those charts aren’t actually easy to find here. So here’s the afterword of the book, annotated with where you can find these things on the blog:

Thanks for reading! For more advice, examples, and bonus material, please visit SecretsOfStory.com. You’ll find:
Bonus, I’ve finally started using Google Docs not SendSpace for the downloads, so hopefully the links won’t constantly die.

And hey, good news: The book seems to be doing well!  I’m happy to report that I’m up to 25 reviews on Amazon: 24 five-stars and one four-star. And remember, you can also get the book on audio on Amazon or at this link!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moving Days

Hey guys, we bought a house!  (Directly across the street from the house we’ve been renting, so it’s a short move, distance wise, but I’m sure it’ll be a long move.)  I’ll be back soon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Many Ironies of Casablanca

As I update the old checklists, I thought it would also be good to take some time along the way to look deeper into irony. As we did with Blazing Saddles, let’s run through fourteen ironies you can find in Casablanca:

Your story will be more meaningful if you present a fundamentally ironic concept (which will sometimes be encapsulated by an ironic title).
  • The least patriotic American has to save the Allied cause. (The title is not ironic.)
There are three big ways to have ironic characterization: Your heroes will be more compelling if they have an ironic backstory…
  • Rick the cynic used to be an idealist
…an ironic contrast between their exterior and interior…
  • Rick the cynic is filled with tender heartache
…and a great flaw that’s the ironic flip side of a great strength.
  • He’s too cold-blooded, but the flip side is that he’s very cool.
Structure centers around another great irony: Though your heroes might initially perceive this challenge as an unwelcome crisis, it will often prove to be a crisis that ironically provides just the opportunity your heroes need, directly or indirectly, to address their longstanding social problems and/or internal flaws.
  • Rick finds heroic fulfillment by being placed in a deadly situation and having his heart ripped up again.
Each scene will be more meaningful if the hero encounters a turn of events that upsets some pre-established ironic presumptions about what would happen.
  • Rick has made it clear he doesn’t care if Victor makes it out of Casablanca.
Likewise, the conclusion of each scene will be more meaningful if the character’s actions result in an ironic scene outcome, in which the events of the scene ironically flip the original intention, even if things turn out well for the hero.
  • When Rick discovers that Victor is with Ilsa, he suddenly has to care.
There are several types of ironic dialogue: On the one hand, there’s intentionally ironic dialogue, such as sarcasm.
  • Rick is insulted, but says, “I stay up late at night crying about it.”
On the other hand, there’s unintentionally ironic dialogue, such as when there’s an ironic contrast between word and deed…
  •  Strasser thinks he’s very much in control, but we can see otherwise.
…or an ironic contrast between what the character says and what the audience knows.
  • Ilsa says she’ll meet Rick at the train station, but we know that she won’t have the chance.
There are the pros and (potentially big) cons of having an ironic tone, which is the one type of irony that most stories shouldn’t have, although it can be a useful tool for certain very specific types of stories.
  • It’s tempting to say this movie has an ironic tone, because it’s full of cool, jaded sarcasm, but that’s not the way I use the term. This movie does not take a sarcastic attitude towards storytelling itself (as Blazing Saddles does, for instance) so I would say that it doesn’t have an ironic tone.
Finally, there are the thematic ironies that every story should have: The story’s ironic thematic dilemma, in which the story’s overall dilemma comes down to a choice of good vs. good (or bad vs. bad)…
  • Romantic love vs. love of country
…as well as several smaller ironic dilemmas along the way, in which your characters must consistently choose between goods, or between evils throughout your story.
  • It’s important to fight for freedom, but do you have any right to endanger someone’s life by asking them to come to a resistance meeting?
This will culminate in an ironic final outcome, separate from the ironic concept and the thematic dilemma.
  • Rick finds fulfillment by sending away the woman he loves.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Bourne Identity: The Archive (and Updated Checklist)

 A wonderful movie:
Here’s another example of one I had to cut because it’s no longer on the checklist, but which got an interesting answer:
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Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
 We’re shown very early on that the Americans are so frustrated that they’re looking up everywhere Marie has ever lived.  When this pays off for them an hour later, it doesn’t seem dubious.