Archive for September, 2010

Save The Cat! Video Tribute 5: True Lies

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos with tags , , , , , on September 17, 2010 by mediajuicestudios


True Lies proves that James Cameron can do comedy.  Maybe its just that Tom Arnold and Arnold Schwartzenneger have great chemistry but a movie with this kind of action AND comedy mixture doesn’t come around too often.  It is definitely one of my “guilty pleasure” movies.  Heck, not really even guilty…I just love watching it when I need to veg out and relax.  It delivers every time (in my opinion.)

As far as “Blake Snyder” beats goes, the first thing you notice after watching it the first time through is how precisely the OPENING IMAGE & FINAL IMAGE follow the Save The Cat! structure.  The location is identical but the characters (Harry & his wife) have arc’d significantly, and are happier off for it.  The setup for this movie is especially fun because as the audience we know what Helen (Harry’s wife) doesn’t know, which is that Harry is a secret agent.  It’s alot of fun to sit back and wonder how long this can go on and just when she will find out.  The CATALYST is fairly obvious…the introduction of the terrorist that Arnold Schwartzenneger and Tom Arnold will be pursuing throughout the movie.  The DEBATE & BREAK INTO TWO then fall nicely in line to reveal who the terrorists are, what their goals are and just how they plan to get away with their plans.

Again, the novelty of this movie is how well the action sequences setup and payoff with consistent doses of comedy throughout.  Bill Paxton’s “car salesman” character is absolutely hilarious and a nice distraction from all the seriousness of chasing terrorists (as is Charlton Heston’s chameo as the chief of Harry’s division).  The THEME of the movie surprisingly has nothing to do with terrorists but everything to do with Harry’s relationship with his wife.  The chases and explosions are just eye candy to take us through the journey of Harry & Helen’s transformation as characters and the transformation and “re-invention” of their marriage.  It comes in at 1 hour 9 minutes in when Helen tells who she thinks are two secret covert agents (Shwartzenneger & Arnold) that she still loves her husband but needs some “adventure” in her life…which is exactly what they give her.

Backing up slightly, the FUN & GAMES of True Lies is truly FUN & GAMES.  We are introduced to several new characters, plot twists and see how Harry uses secret agent techniques (from his job) to spy on his wife.  Again, its just a whole lot of fun.  Beyond being “FUN” the fun & games sections sets up everything in the third act with clockwork precision.  Each beat sets up the next one and pays off perfectly.  One thing I’ve always admired about James Cameron’s films is how cleanly structured they are.  Not necessarily “predictable” but always an enjoyable non-stressed movie watching experience.  STRUCTURE does that and structure is what True Lies does really well.

Now, for the BAD GUYS CLOSE IN beat.  Its unexpected but really the only thing that could bring the two main characters together.  Helen & Harry are captured by the terrorists.  What will happen to them?  How will they escape?  Will their marriage surive this, even if they do?  All those questions are raised with this beat and are answered in the BREAK INTO THREE, FINALE & FINAL IMAGE.  Once again, there’s that Cameron structure.

Now, similarly to the SETUP where we as the audience knew what Helen didn’t know (that her husband was a secret agent) we now once again know something she doesn’t know in the ALL IS LOST beat.  Helen thinks Harry has been killed but he hasn’t.  The next few minutes of the film are tense with this belief that he is dead as well as Harry knowing Helen has been captured.  DARK KNIGHT OF THE SOUL is similar in that we see that Helen is captured and the terrorists have the Nukes.  Seems hopeless until the BREAK INTO THREE when Harry and his partner begin pursuit of the terrorists and Helen.  They get Helen back in the FINALE but that’s not the end. You may have noticed in alot of these tribute videos we have added a non Blake Snyder beat, i.e. the FINAL FIGHT.  Blake mentioned this to me in an email exchange we had while discussing a script I was working on.  Many times after the FINALE, there is still unresolved business that has to be wrapped up…this is the “final fight”.  In True Les its Harry getting his daughter back, who has been captured by the terrorists.  This provides even MORE action & comedy fun.

All in all, True Lies is just a real pleasure to watch…and even more fun to break down the screenplay in Blake Snyder “Save The Cat!” style.


all my best,



Save The Cat! Video Tribute 5: The Shawshank Redemption

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos with tags , , , , , on September 9, 2010 by mediajuicestudios


Ironically I had the pleasure of meeting Frank Darabont (The Director) a couple of months ago at the Dallas AFI film festival.  He came and showed a screening of his  personal 35MM print of Shawshank.  It was stunning.  When we met I complimented his work and he took a good 5 to 8 minutes to talk to me about film-making, screenwriting and Drew Struzan (a man we both admire.)

Needless to say, breaking down this film using the Blake Snyder beat sheet was alot of fun.  Many in the film world have called Shawshank Redeption a “..near perfect film..”  Its a masterpiece in my opinion.  Visually, structurally and “cinematically” its just amazing.  And the performances are so spot on you feel transported into that world…a world of “hopelessness” and “fear”.  Incidentally the tag line of the movie is exactly what the THEME of the movie is, i.e. “Hope Can Set you Free”.  The THEME STATED beat of Shawshank comes precisely at 1 hour and 12 minutes into the movie when Andy talks to the guys about not losing hope.  It seems that all the dialogue, all the actions of the characters and even the cinematography reinforce this theme of hope & fear.  Even the “Save The Cat!” moment when Andy asks what the murdered inmates name was, the reply he gets is full of “hopelessness”.  The man says “…It doesn’t  F%$cking matter what his name is…he’s dead…”  Its exactly what a person who has given themselves over to institutionalization would say.  Most all of the inmates have been desensitized from hope and become full of fear. In fact Morgan Freeman’s character (Red) even says “Hope is a dangerous thing inside here”.  These are the very things that Tim Robbins character battles against.  The brilliant thing about Andy Dufrane’s (Robbins) character ARC is how secretive and subtle it seems until his escape.  You think he too has given up hope, become desensitized, become an “institutional man”.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Dufrane’s character has been FULL of hope the whole time, evidenced by the tunnel he dug for 15+ years to get out.  Alas the tag-line of the movie is absolutely perfect, “Hope can set you free”.  In Andy’s case (and later Red’s) it does just that.

Now to the MIDPOINT beat in Shawshank.  It comes precisely at the middle of the film (1 hour and 13 minutes in) and it reveals alot about Morgan Freemans’ character (Red) ARC.  Red is up for parole in the beginning of the film, the middle of the film and at the end. Each time you see him in front of the parole board he seems to care less and less.  By the end (after his best friend Andy has escaped) he has given himself over to the reality of dying in prison, but he has a wisdom about him now that he didn’t have at the beginning of the film.  He’s not “feeding the parole board a line”, rather he’s honestly telling them the truths of his life and what he’s learned.  Because of his character arc, he’s set free and HOPE springs anew in him (there’s that THEME again.) 😉

And now a word about the BAD GUYS CLOSE IN beats of Shawshank.  They say your “hero” character is only as strong (to the audience) as his opposing “villain” and that dynamic couldn’t be more true in Shawshank.  The Warden is PURE EVIL and our disdain for him as the movie progresses seems to reach boiling points, which makes us empathize and “root for” our Hero, Andy all the more.  The “Bad Guys Close in” beat starts with the Warden’s disbelief of the new evidence that could prove Andy’s innocence, which make us as an audience absolutely hate The Warden.  It plays perfectly into the ALL IS LOST, DARK KNIGHT OF THE SOUL AND FINALE beats.  By the final shot of Andy and Red together on the beach, we’ve been taken on a whirlwind of emotion and character arcs.  I try to watch Shawshank Redemption at least once or twice a year just to reinvigorate my passion for film-making, storytelling and just to ground me as a person.  Keeping your hopes alive (no matter where you are in life) is not only a powerful theme for a movie its a TRUE THEME to live our lives by.



Save The Cat! Video Tribute 4: Annie

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos on September 2, 2010 by mediajuicestudios


This week’s Save The Cat! tribute video holds a very special place in my heart.  I saw this film as a young kid with family and it was then and is now THE definition of family fun entertainment.  I was 5 or 6 when I first saw it and remember it VIVIDLY.  We saw it as a family at the Winchester theater in Lubbock, TX (one of the last true “CinemaScope ready” theaters in TX).  I remember as a kid absolutely loving the relationship between Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie.  It seemed so unconventional and unpredictable…but at the same time, irresistible.  Here was Oliver Warbucks, a seemingly all powerful billionaire in need of no one and nothing, in contrast to little orphan Annie; a “seemingly” destitute, helpless and needy orphan…in need of everything.  The power in their relationship with one another is found in their individual “character arcs”.  After watching the 1st two acts of the film, we discover Mr. Warbucks is in fact in GREAT need of someone to love, someone to pour himself and all his resources INTO, while little helpless orphan Annie is actually a very confident little girl who knows EXACTLY what she wants…her real parents.  When these two character arcs “cross” in the 3rd act, it is emotional and powerful (for kids & adults.)

The beats of this movie fall perfectly in line with the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

And….(drum-roll please)…you guessed it, my favorite part of the movie is the FUN & GAMES section.  This is where we really get to know the characters and start to see how their relationships and individual story-lines will collide with one another.  And may I say, Mr. John Huston does it masterfully with his camera, his direction and overall production value.  In Hollywood, they say kids and animals are the toughest things to direct…apparently not for John Huston.  The reason I love the FUN & GAMES section so much is because of all it does to support the “theme” of the movie…or as Blake Snyder would put it, “the promise of the premise”.  The “BREAK INTO TWO” beat (which leads us into the fun & games beat) is one of the strongest beats of the entire film.  In Annie, the BREAK INTO TWO beat takes us from the dingy, run-down orphanage to the huge and vastly wealthy Warbucks estate…a whole new and brilliant world for our hero to inhabit….or as Blake would put it “The upside down version of Act 1”.

And let me also take a minute to stress the importance of GOOD ACTORS!  I whole heartedly agree with Blake Snyder & all screenwriter structure teachers who say “acting and production value are NOTHING without a good story and structure”.  BUT, even a great story can be soured by bad acting or bad actors.  Not the case with Annie.  Not only is the story sound structurally and emotionally. the actors in this movie bring the experience to a whole new level.  Carol Burnett, Tim Currie, Bernadette Peters, Albert Finney…WOW!

Finally, (no pun intended) there is the FINALE, which in Annie is just a heck of alot of fun to watch.  Cop cars, auto-copters, a last minute rescue by Punjab and a truly larger than life Warbucks style party complete with elephants, circus performers and fireworks that actually spell out the word ANNIE!  For my money, that’s the kind of finale I’m looking for and this movie delivers it!