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Save The Cat! Video Tribute 10: Top Gun

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2010 by mediajuicestudios

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT ))

I would be lying if I said we weren’t saving the best for last.  This, the 10th tribute video we have produced, will be our last video tribute to the late Blake Snyder and his book Save The Cat!..and its a great one!  Top Gun.  It has been a real pleasure to put these video tributes together.  If any of you reading this blog and watching our tribute videos ever have any questions about these videos or about Mediajuice in general, you can always reach us through our website at www.mediajuicestudios.com or you can email me directly at jeremy@mediajuicestudios.com And of course you can always find Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! book on his website.

OK, on to TOP GUN!  Aside from being one of the best 80’s movies of all time, Top Gun’s story beats are the strongest we have seen from any of the movies we have broken down using Blake Snyder’s beat sheet.  FYI; I do have some thoughts about the story beats in Top Gun but I am going to blog in less detail about Top Gun’s beats and let you all see them for what they are…well written, well structured story beats that reinforce the characters, the plot and the overall movie’s experience.  Top Gun is an example of a story well told with tight structure that cleanly sets up and pays off each section of the movie.  It’s great fun to watch; both as a fan and a writer / filmmaker.

The first beat I must mention is the SAVE THE CAT beat.  It is so strong and does exactly what the STC! beat should do.  It makes us like and respect Maverick (Tom Cruise’s character.)  He risks his own life to save a fellow pilot, who gets spooked during an unexpected combat flight.  Granted, he also risked the life of his co-pilot Goose, which conveniently setups the fact that he is also reckless and a loner (a key part of his character arc).  The STC! moment also sets up the CATALYST of the film nicely.  The only pilot better than Maverick (the pilot who was just spooked / saved by Maverick) quits because he’s “lost his edge”, leaving Maverick as the next choice for Top Gun flight academy.  But, is Maverick truly ready?  This question is posed in the DEBATE.  Maverick’s captain, with no other options, sends Maverick & Goose to Miramar, the Top Gun flight school.  BREAK INTO TWO is just that, Maverick and Goose travel into Act 2 when they head to Top Gun…and the FUN & GAMES are about to get started!

Just as Maverick & Goose arrive, naturally, a lady catches Maverick’s eye.  This is our B STORY and its a great one. As Blake Snyder teaches, the B-story is a nice way for the intensity of the plot to cool down, to give the audience a break from everything that’s suppose to be happening to make the story move forward.  The B-story (& b story characters) are also a useful tool in screenwriting to expose parts of the story that cannot be exposed by the A-characters.  This is sometimes called “exposition” and its rarely tolerated by audiences if its delivered by an “A-story” character (without coming off as melodramatic that is.)  So having a B-story to give exposition to what the main character or characters are going through is a useful tool for the screenwriter.  Its well done in Top Gun.

And with those opening beats laid out, I’m going to leave you to watch the full Top Gun tribute video and see how the rest of the beats fall into place.  If you have watched the previous 9 Save The Cat! tribute videos you should be at a point where you can loosely follow the story beats in a film and have them make sense to you. After “realizing” the way beats are used in all movies and how setups and payoffs are an essential part of storytelling, you’ll find watching movies a whole new experience.  So with this, our last STC! tribute video, for any of you interested in screenwriting or just knowing more about how movies are really written, I leave you with this challenge – Read Save The Cat! and start looking for the beats in your favorite movies (new and old.)  I do it all the time and it not only makes me a better filmmaker, its just a heck of alot of fun.  May Blake Snyder rest in peace and may his innovative teachings in Save The Cat! live on and on and on…

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE TOP GUN TRIBUTE VIDEO! ))

all the best,

Jeremy

Save The Cat! Video Tribute 9: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

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

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT ))

FYI; anyone wanting to learn the “Save The Cat!” method of screenwriting, be sure to get the book called (surprisingly) “Save The Cat!” It is what inspired me to become a screenwriter / filmmaker and has only improved my craft as a commercial director.

OK, on to this week’s tribute video!  Without a doubt, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the most FUN movies to watch and to break down the story structure.  Roger Rabbit is and has always been one of my all time favorite films.  I remember seeing it as an 11 year old and just thinking, “This is amazing!” along with “how’d they do that?!” every 5 or 10 minutes of the film. Not to mention, I think this was the 1st movie that made grown men drool over a cartoon vixen.  Now that’s an accomplishment!  Also, if I’m not mistaken Roger Rabbit is the ONLY film that features both Disney and Warner cartoons in the same movie, an amazing feat of persuasion by the films producers & Robert Zemeckis no doubt.  You would never see that now-a-days since Disney and Warner are major (competing) studios in both live-action and animation categories. Granted, Disney and Warner were also major competing studios at the time WFRR was released but my guess is that the novelty of the “live action meets cartoons” concept presented by Zemeckis was so interesting and unique it got pushed through both studios.  Cool stuff.

OK, on to the beats!  Right off the bat in the OPENING IMAGE and SETUP of the movie we are introduced to our main character Roger in his element, performing in a maroon cartoon. Its wacky, zany, cartoon fun and everything we would expect from a classic “Warner style” cartoon, but a bit exaggerated for effect. The real magic and the “promise of the premise” as Blake teaches is when we hear the director yell “CUT!” We then see Roger seamlessly walk from a cartoon world into the human world, discussing his performance with the director (nice cameo by Joel Silver btw.)  The “Promise of the Premise” as Blake teaches, is those parts of the movie that deliver on what the trailer promised.  Those parts that payoff the entire experience of seeing the film.  For example, in Roger Rabbit the promise of the premise is that you will see, for the 1st time ever, the amazing synchronization of live-action actors and cartoons on screen at the same time. If the movie failed to deliver that and deliver it well, audiences would be disappointed because the movie would be breaking its #1 promise.  It would be like Back to The Future without a time machine!  It would fail to deliver the premise of the movie!  Not to worry though, WFRR delivers in spades!

Next in the SETUP we meet the amazingly talented Bob Hoskins, who plays the character Eddie Valiant, the down on his luck, down and out private detective who does NOT like toons.  Side note – when I found out that Bob Hoskins was actually a British actor with a very thick english accent “playing” an American film noir era detective with a flawless American accent, my respect level for him went through the roof! OK, on to more Rabbit.  We don’t know why Eddie (Bob Hoskins character) doesn’t like toons, which is immediately interesting.  Who wouldn’t like a toon?  They are so lovable, funny and upbeat…right?  The plot thickens before we’ve even get to minute 10 of the movie.  Brilliant, and simple!

The THEME STATED beat(s) of the film are interesting and surprisingly complex and well thought out.  Usually a movie only has 1 “theme stated” moment, but because we as an audience don’t understand the logic of the toon universe, that logic has to be explained or “stated” to us a couple of times.  This happens in 2 parts of the film, the 1st of which is one of my favorite parts of the movie, and pretty hilarious as well.  R.K. Maroon explains to Eddie Valiant why Roger Rabbit is cracking up and stressed out when he says “…You can drop anything you want on a toon’s head, but you break his heart and he goes to pieces just like you and me…” The 2nd “theme stated” beat is right in the middle of the FUN & GAMES or Act 2 section of the movie and happens at minute 45 when Roger tells Eddie that he couldn’t have taken the handcuffs off at any time…he could only take them off “….when it was funny…” and that “…if you don’t have a good sense of humor, you’re better off dead…” More than anything else these 2 THEME STATED moments explain to us that the logic of a toon is the opposite to that of a human, in fact its counter-intuitive to a human but at the same time makes sense.  Why is playing patty cake considered infidelity?  Why wouldn’t you take off handcuffs you were trapped in?  There are lots of reasons we could come up with, but the main reason, which supports the theme of the movie is because they are toons!

The rest of the setup tells us who Eddie is, why he is the way he is and introduces us to some key characters that will come back in the 2nd & 3rd act.  Oh and lets not forget the SAVE THE CAT! moment…We “like” Eddie because he’s nice to kids (he helps a kid sneak on the trolley car.)  Now for THE most important part of the movie.  The part that launches the movie into the plot, the part that we have to have if we are going to have a story.  The CATALYST in WFRR is one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.  Just when you think something scandalous is going on, the upside down world of “toon logic” is introduced.  Its the opposite of human logic, but it has very definite rules and consequences, as we soon find out in the DEBATE. Who would have thought playing patty cake would have such dire consequences?  Hilarious, AND it works! The BREAK INTO TWO seems to fit with the evidence the Catalyst presented, but we know something’s not quite right, which draws us in even more.  Classic detective storytelling. 

The FUN & GAMES beats in act 2 play out in similarly simple and straight forward ways; we.  But don’t confuse the delivery of simple as easy.  Simple storytelling that resonates with a large audience is often the most difficult, because it requires discipline and selflessness.  You can’t be precious about dialogue or the action of a scene.  This simple, straight forward delivery of story is what makes WFRR such a joy to watch.

At minute 49 the MIDPOINT of the movie we see a “ticking clock” added which increases the stakes and new information re-directs Eddies chase for Marvin Acme’s murderer.  The BAD BUYS CLOSE IN, ALL IS LOST, & DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL all fall in line perfectly from around minute 50 to the 1 hour & 10 minute mark.  Side note – Christopher Lloyd is brilliantly hilarious as Judge Doom. The BREAK INTO ACT 3 (Eddie overcoming his fears of toon town & getting past his brother’s death) leads seamlessly into the FINALE where Eddie solves the mystery of Marvin Acme’s death, reveals Judge Doom is a toon AND finds Marvin Acme’s will thus saving toon town!  All the setups have been paid off and all of the loose ends have been tied up.  And the FINAL IMAGE (very similar to the opening image) is good ole’ Porky signing off…with a little help from Tinkerbell.  😉

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE ROGER RABBIT TRIBUTE VIDEO! ))

all the best,
Jeremy

Save The Cat! Video Tribute 5: True Lies

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

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT ))

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.

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE “TRUE LIES” TRIBUTE VIDEO ))

all my best,

Jeremy