Podcast

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?

Simply restoring the status quo is never a strong motivation. In real life, as a general rule, our crises are not just temporary accidents that must be undone but crucial opportunities to fix long-standing problems. It may be a myth that the Chinese use the same character for crisis and opportunity, but that myth persists because it rings true. 

To build sympathy, the opportunity should be obviously intimidating. This shouldn’t be a no-brainer decision, but to avoid losing empathy, the full size of the potential conflict should not be immediately apparent, as we’ll see in the next three steps.
  • Many intimidating opportunities, such as the shark in Jaws and the runaway train in Unstoppable, are disasters for everyone except the heroes, each of whom needs a chance to prove his continued usefulness. A classic positive intimidating opportunity can be found in Superbad: While the characters get to go to a real party and become heroes to their crushes by providing the beer, it’s illegal and they’ve never tried it before. It’s clearly intimidating, but they don’t yet know how bad it’ll be because they don’t imagine they’ll get mugged. 
  • Some intimidating opportunities exist only in the hero’s mixed-up mind. In both positive and tragic ways, the hero’s volatile chemistry gets unexpectedly set off by the sight of his daughter’s cheerleader friend in American Beauty. 
  • Others are only intimidating because of the hero’s flaw, as with Andy’s terror in The 40-Year-Old Virgin when his co-workers offer to help him get laid.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES. They offer to help him get laid.

Alien

YES, when things start going wrong, her status improves.

An Education

YES. She gets hit on by a rich guy who can make Elgar jokes.

The Babadook

NO. she knows she must do something, but sees no opportunity to do anything.   In retrospect, the book is the (very roundabout) opportunity to fix her problem, but she can’t see it that way, understandably enough (not can we, until the very end.)

Blazing Saddles

YES. He’s appointed sheriff due to a land grab scheme.

Blue Velvet

YES. In his own twisted way: he finds an ear, which represents a chance to find the hidden truth about his town.

The Bourne Identity

YES. the Swiss bank account embedded in his hip. 

Bridesmaids

YES. Gets offered the job of maid of honor, a chance to secure her friendship.

Casablanca

YES. he gets the letters of transit, but will he use them to escape alone, to help them escape, or to steal her and escape together?

Chinatown

YES. He decides to follow up.

Donnie Brasco

YES.  Lefty now feels bonded to him.

Do the Right Thing

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. 

The Farewell

YES. She finds out that she can to visit China and her grandma, but only on the condition that her hide her grandma’s cancer. 

The Fighter

YES. He meets Charlene.

Frozen

YES. She then hits it off with him and decides to marry him right away.  The intimidating part is that her sister refuses her blessing. 

The Fugitive

YES. his bus wrecks and he has a chance to escape.

Get Out

YES. It seems so: Rose defends him from the cop, implying that his relationship with her will give him access to her privilege.  

Groundhog Day

YES. He ends up stuck in a loop, though he doesn’t see it as an opportunity for a long time. 

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. He finds that he’s downed a night dragon, but doesn’t know what to do with him. (This is where he has his spiritual crisis as well, very early!)

In a Lonely Place

YES. In a roundabout way: a girl’s death brings his old cop friend and a new girlfriend into his life, both of whom will offer him compassion while challenging him on his anger issues.

Iron Man

YES. He builds the armor. 

Lady Bird

YES. Sort of.  She pusues the real solution (applying for an east coast school) slowly in the background for most of the movie, but in the foreground she pursues other ways to be sophisticated and happy: Theater and boys she perceives as smarter than her.  

Raising Arizona

YES. They hear about the Arizona quintuplets.

Rushmore

YES. The opportunity is obvious: study, but he refuses to consider it until very late in the movie.  Instead he pursues an imaginary opporunity for romance.

Selma

YES. He realizes that the sheriff in Selma is the villain he needs.

The Shining

YES. Jack: Yes, offered a job that will allow him to dry out in a liquor-free hotel.  Danny: yes, meets Halloran.

Sideways

YES. His friend promises to get him laid. 

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. Thinks Lecter knows more than he lets on.

Star Wars

YES. His new robot has a message for the rebellion, and leads him to a friend of his father who proposes a “damn fool crusade”

Sunset Boulevard

YES. he finds an aging actress who needs a screenwriter.