Friday, May 20, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Does the hero have some fun and get excited about the possibility of success?

We are more likely to tackle a huge challenge if we think we might have some fun doing it. Of course, we only have fun when we’re doing it the easy way, and we’re not going to make real progress until we stop having fun and get down to real work. 

In this area, there’s a huge difference between horror and almost every other genre. Some call this step “fun and games,” and that’s true for every genre except horror, where our heroes have no fun at all in this section. Nevertheless, the audience has fun, because they experience the creeping dread that sends a tingle up their spines. In most genres, they totally identify with the hero’s ups and downs, but in horror, they identify only partially with the heroes, because they also want to see the heroes punished for their sins. As a result, they are able to enjoy both the characters' triumphs and suffering.

As Blake Snyder points out in Save the Cat, this section tends to provide the big moments that make it onto the booker cover or the movie poster. It’s where the hero does the thing the audience has come to see him do, and has fun doing it, right before the disaster hits and things get serious.
  • Picture the posters: The parents and their baby sunbathe together in Raising Arizona; the lovers have steamy sex in Body Heat. 
  • Think of the trailer: The Millennium Falcon jumps into light speed in Star Wars; the therapist and the prince practice rapid nonsense sounds in The King’s Speech. 
  • It’s not just in horror movies, such as The Shining and Alien, that we’re having more fun than the heroes are; it’s also true of some especially tense thrillers. The big trailer moment in The Fugitive happens when he leaps into the waterfall to save his life. Presumably, that’s a lot more fun to watch than it is to do.
Straying from the Party Line (Except for the Deleted Scenes): Chris Never Gets His Hopes Up in “Get Out”
As I watch movies for this blog, I find that most movies meet most steps of the structure I expect them to have. Sometimes, when they don’t, I find that they actually did at the script stage, and even in the shooting stage, but the scene got deleted from the final edit. Think of how Star Wars once started from Luke’s point of view, or The Terminator once had a shift to the proactive.

One beat that Get Out doesn’t have in its final version is the one I would expect to find right before the midpoint disaster: “the hero has a little fun and gets excited about the possibility of success.”

But if you look at the deleted scenes on the DVD you’ll see that such a scene did once happen in that spot. There is still a scene at that spot in the movie where Chris meets Jim the blind art dealer, who apologizes for the racism of the other guests and praises Chris’s photography. But originally the scene went further: As Rose’s brother Jeremy tried to call Chris away for badminton, Jim went so far as to offer Chris a show in his gallery in the coming weeks. Chris is very happy to hear that:

  • Jeremy: Yo Chris, can we borrow you? I need to kick someone’s ass in badminton.
  • Chris to Jim: Nice to meet you man
  • Jim: Stop by the gallery, it’s about time you had a solo show.
  • Chris: Really?
  • Jim: Mm-Hm
  • Chris: Wow, okay, that’d be…that’d be a gamechanger!
  • Jim: We’ll get together sometime.

Emotionally, for the audience, this is just the right beat: We want to go on an emotional rollercoaster with the hero. We want his efforts in “the easy way” to seemingly be rewarded. We want to get our hopes up, right along with him, and then share his agony when it all comes crashing down at the midpoint (more like the 2/3 point in this movie)

So why was this cut? In his commentary on the deleted scenes, Peele doesn’t address this dialogue exchange, because he’s already talking about how the unnecessary badminton sequence had to go. I got the impression that the only reason this exchange was cut was because it overlapped with that sequence.

But it can go. After all, why would Jim say this to Chris? Whether or not Jim wins the auction, he knows Chris isn’t going to live through the weekend. Possibly he would say it just to keep Chris happy until the auction is over and he can be seized, but that’s a bit of a stretch.

Ultimately, this beat just existed to increase the emotional gutpunch of the midpoint disaster for the audience, but once the movie was firing on cylinders, it wasn’t necessary. The movie was impactful enough without it. But it’s telling that Peele did feel it was necessary to hit this expected beat in the script stage, before he knew his movie wouldn’t need it.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES.  To a certain extent. He finds that it’s easy and fun to hit on Elizabeth Banks.


NO. we in the audience enjoy the gory deaths, the creeping dread and final reveal of the creature, so we’re having fun, but she isn’t.  This is typical for horror movies. 

An Education

YES.  Very much so. They have delightful trips to Oxford and Paris.

The Babadook

YES. Not fun so much, but she loves the sedatives, feels better briefly.

Blazing Saddles

YES. He enjoys bamboozling them, and makes a friend in the Waco Kid. He confidently predicts success: “Once you establish yourself, they got to accept you.”   “Good morning ma’am, and isn’t it a lovely morning.”

Blue Velvet

YES. he enjoys his voyeurism, and even gets to have sex with his target. He smiles big when he tells Sandy about some of it.

The Bourne Identity

YES. he discovers what a badass fighter and driver he is. He’s excited to discover his other name and thinks that will solve the mystery.


YES. Bridesmaids bond somewhat, she tries to get excited about Vegas trip.


YES. Not Rick, who’s miserable, but we do get a long flashback to happier times here, so the audience gets some relief from Rick’s misery. He does get excited about the possibility of success when he thinks he’s won her back.


YES. He’s certainly overcondient, and he enjoys running circles around the cops such as when he uses Yelburton’s card 

Donnie Brasco

YES.  Has a lot of amusing conversations, bonds with Lefty, feeds the lion. He tells his wife he’ll be out soon.

Do the Right Thing

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.

The Farewell

NO. Not really. She tries to relax at a spa, but without much success. 

The Fighter

YES. They have a strong relationship. They have a family dinner to celebrate an upcoming fight.


YES. they meet Olaf and the three of them develop a fun rapport.

The Fugitive

Just a little tiny bit, when he jokes with the cop in the first hospital “Every time I look in the mirror, pal”. When he’s in the ambulance, he seems to have gotten away clean.

Get Out

YES. Only in the deleted scenes, where Jim offers Chris a gallery show.   I think it was only cut because it overlapped with a long badmitton scene that wasn’t needed. 

Groundhog Day

YES. He gets in car chases, steals money, seduces his boss. He thinks he’s about to close the deal with her.

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. Loves first flight with the dragon. It looks like he’ll tame toothless and become the hero of the village.

In a Lonely Place

YES. he thinks he’s solved all of his personal problems and cleared his name.

Iron Man

YES. He loves flying around with the armor. He goes to the party, hits on Pepper, starts to boast again.

Lady Bird

YES. She’s in love, loving theater. 

Raising Arizona

NO. They love having the kid, but they never get excited about the possibility of success.  They’re pretty worried the whole time. 


YES. He has a lot of fun.  He thinks that the aquarium will win Miss Cross over.


NO. King doesn’t really, no, but some of the other activists do.  

The Shining

YES. In horror movies, it’s usually the villain who has fun at this point (which the audience enjoys and the heroes hate) but this is more like a standard movie: Jack seems to do well here, (but we later find out he was faking it all).  Danny definitely has fun here, big wheeling around and going through maze is fun for both he and Wendy. Jack seems to get excited about the possibility of success, and so does Wendy but Danny doesn’t: he’s getting scared.


YES. Not at this point, but it happens in the first and third quarter, with lots of beautiful driving and drinking montages. 

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. She flirts with moth guys, shows some people up, seems to get good value out of Lecter, brags to roommate that it’s going well.

Star Wars

YES. Fun lightspeed effect, actual fun and games with chess game, lightsaber practice. They all think they’re about to arrive in Alderaan and have it made.

Sunset Boulevard

YES. he gets away and finds that the reader, Betty, now wants to work with him.  He thinks he can have it both ways.  

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