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Save The Cat! Video Tribute 5: The Shawshank Redemption

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

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT ))

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.

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH ‘THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION’ TRIBUTE VIDEO ))

cheers,
Jeremy

Save The Cat! Video Tribute 3: Hoosiers

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by mediajuicestudios

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT! ))

I apologize as I accidentally said last week that this week’s tribute video was going to be “The Shawshank Redemption” when that video is actually coming week after next.  Sorry about that!  OK, on to this week’s ACTUAL video tribute, Hoosiers.  One of my all time favorites, and a real joy to break down using the Blake Snyder beat sheet.  Right off the bat I noticed that the “Bad Guys Close in” beat for Hoosiers not only comes in sooner than in most movies, it is noticeably longer than usual.  Remember that the “Bad Guys Close In” beat is the place in the movie where real and tangible pressure is applied, both internally (problems inside the hero’s team) and externally (as actual bad guys tighten their grip).  Almost from the beginning of the movie the Coach is unwelcome in his new surroundings.  The actual “beat” that we see it most strongly articulated is at minute 18 when his fellow teacher and would be love interest tells him straight out to “…Stay away from Jimmy…” the reluctant all-star player in the small town.

Which leads me to our hero, Mr. Gene Hackman.  Its hard not to take sides immediately with Coach Norman Dale (Hackman), irregardless of what his shady past may (or may not) be, simply because…well, he’s Gene Hackman.  That’s the only part of the structure that could be criticized in my opninion.  I would never say its bad casting because Gene Hackman is amazing in the role, but if you consider the roles Hackman had been playing right up until this film (French Connection, Superman, Uncommon Valor, etc), you’d be hard pressed to find any viewer who didn’t love him as a leading man when the film premiered.  All that to say, I believe the screenplay wants us to “wonder” what this new coach is all about (sort of like the local townspeople do) but I’m on Hackman’s side from the beginning…as I think most people are. The film still works structurally despite this but its the one “loose end” that I think wasn’t considered during casting.  Gene Hackman is just too darn likable. But that pays rich dividends when “his way of coaching” proves to yield championship results, which some would argue was the point all along.  I’m still of the opinion that the filmmakers want us to “wonder” about Coach Norman Dale in the 1st Act more than we actually do.  I think most people are thinking “…Yeah, he’s a good guy, and he’s going to prove everyone wrong in the end..”  There is never a thought that he might fail.  This makes the “Save The Cat” moment (or moments) almost unnecessary, but then I had to remind myself that, as the great Cecil B. Demille said, “…pain is temporary, but film is forever…”  Generations to come don’t hold the same place in their disposition for Mr. Hackman that those who saw the film when it premiered do, so these beats are very necessary to preserver the integrity of the film…to keep it relevant, no matter the audience watching it, which Hoosiers does very well.

Quick note: OH THE CHARACTER ARCS!  This movie has some of the strongest character arcs I’ve ever seen!  If you look at where Ms. Fleener (coach’s love interest) starts in the beginning of the film, which is basically hating his guts, to where she ends up (in LOVE with him) its amazing, and totally believable!  And that’s just one example!  Almost all the characters, save Ms. Fleener’s grandma arc significantly!  OK, that was a sort of “sidebar” rant not specifically related to Save The Cat! or the Beat Sheet.  🙂

Their is SO much more I could say about the structure of this great film, but the last thing I’ll talk about today is the “theme stated” moment in the film, which arrives somewhat later than most around minute 52, almost half way through the movie (midpoint coming!)  The theme of Hoosiers is “Everyone deserves a chance” which Coach Norman tells Dennis Hoppers son when he questions his decision to help out his dad.  This theme ABSOLUTELY DRIVES THE ENTIRE MOVIE.  And its not just Denniss Hopper’s alcohlic character that needs a chance, its almost EVERY major character that the theme applies to.  Coach Norman needs a chance because of his shady past.  The dean of the college (Coach Norman’s old friend) needs a chance, in that he needs someone to turn his athletic program around.  Ms. Fleener (Hackman’s love interest) needs a chance because she’s so emotionally closed off that no one EXCEPT Coach Norman would have the wherewithal to get through to her.  The town itself needs a chance, because before Coach Norman arrived everyone just thinks there is no hope without Jimmy, the all-star player who isn’t even playing.  I could go on and on.

I hope you enjoy this weeks tribute and as always, please let me know what you think!  I love hearing feedback, even if its disagreement.  🙂

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE ‘HOOSIERS’ TRIBUTE VIDEO! ))

all the best,
Jeremy

Save The Cat! Video Tribute 3: Aliens

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos with tags , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2010 by mediajuicestudios

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT! ))

Like most people I’m a product of my generation.  I was born in 1977 and had the privilege of experiencing the “blockbusters and sequels revolution” of the 1980’s, Aliens being at the top of that list. Of my list of 10 best movies we are breaking down using Blake Snyder’s beat sheet method, I realize that only 3 of them are not from the 1980’s.  All that to say, I’m now aware of how easily and subconsciously I am drawn to movies between 1979 and 1994. Funny how that just “happens”. It also occurred to me that the 1980’s and early nineties are a great period of films to use the Save The Cat! method on because most of them are very well structured.

OK, on to this week’s film, Aliens.  1st of all, let me say that I LOVE Ridley Scott’s Alien but I think most people would agree that James Cameron’s Aliens is a somewhat superior film in structure, payoff and overall appeal.  But Ridely Scott did a terrific job (along with HR Giger) in establishing the world of the Alien in the 1st movie which allowed for less composition and setup in the 2nd film.  After beating out Aliens with the BS2, the most notable beats to me were the Opening Image and the Final Image, which perfectly reflect Blake Snyder’s beat sheet definition, i.e. they very often are a “mirror” of one another.

I have always admired the structure in James Cameron’s movies. I know that’s not the most popular thing among film critics or independent filmmakers, but that’s why I think Blake’s approach to screenwriting and the movie industry in general strongly appeals to me. It is a business and there are not many “breakout” art-house films. Its just reality.  What I noticed when breaking down this movie was the strength of the beats and how organized and methodical they were, in a good way. Each one dovetails into the next like clockwork.  Also, notice that the “Save The Cat!” moment is Ripley actually holding and comforting a cat. Great stuff and a real wink from the director to fellow screenwriters (or it was in my opinion.)

What makes Aliens “work” so well as a movie and why it pays off so strongly is because of the “Theme Stated” beat and how it is tied so directly to the plot and the main character’s emotional arc in this movie.  Not all movies do it this way or this well.  Not even ten minutes in and Ripley’s lost her only daughter and now doesn’t have the purpose of a mother like she once had, UNTIL she meets Newt, a lost little girl who has been living alone in the sub-levels of the Alien ravaged teraforming colony, desperately in need of a mother figure (whether she knows it or not, WE the audience know it and we root for their relationship.) Also, notice how the “B Story” (Newt) pays off the “Theme Stated” (Ripley losing her only daughter) and how.

Finally, notice how in almost all of James Cameron’s films the “Setup” and the “Fun & Games” are very similar.  The world we are inhabiting (whether Aliens, Terminator or The Abyss) is defined without question and the characters we are taking this journey with are introduced with boldness and style. Some people call it cliche’d exposition, but I appreciate a movie where I can sit back and be entertained and the story is told to me with little required on my part.

Am I saying I don’t enjoy things being left to my imaginationin in movies?  Not at all, I just know that when I want a great “popcorn” movie done with quality and style and that I could take my girlfriend, mother or grandmother to and they would understand it, I go to James Cameron 7 times out of 10.  The other 3 times I hit up Spielberg’s 80’s movies or Star Wars.  They never disappoint.  It will be interesting to see this tribute video in contrast to our 6th tribute video, The Shawshank Redemption, which is nothing like Aliens in structure, style or story.  Stay tuned for that one and hopefully this tribute video has served to inspire and equip any aspiring (or existing) screenwriters out there!

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE ‘ALIENS’ TRIBUTE VIDEO! ))

All the best,

Jeremy

Save The Cat! Video Tribute 2: ET (The Extra Terrestrial)

Posted in Save the Cat! Tribute Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2010 by mediajuicestudios

(Click here to watch it!)

I’ll admit that as we release our 2nd official tribute video I sure wish Blake were here to see his “beat sheet” put to work on all these great films.  I also can’t help but wonder if he would agree or disagree with the beats we have assigned to each movie.  Interesting to ponder.  Of course any of you reading this, please feel free to give me your opinion on the beats if you’ve read Save The Cat!

We had alot of fun putting the ET tribute video together.  Not only is ET  one of my favorite films of all time, Spielberg & Mathison’s timeless tale lines up flawlessly with Blake Snyder’s beat sheet. If your a fellow “Cat!” (meaning you have read the Save The Cat! book), you will feel right at home watching the Beat Sheet play out in this classic 80’s film.  If your an aspiring Cat! or just curious about the screenwriting & filmmaking process in general, this is an easy and digestable way to see how a great commercial movie works in terms of “story beats”.

Other than the overwhelming strength of each beat in ET, what stuck out the most while breaking down the beats was how long the “Fun and Games” & “Bad Guys Close in” sections are.  The “Fun & Games” section really gives us alot of time to bond with the characters in a positive way, but thanks to “Bad Guys Close In” we have an equal dose of suspense and worry of what will happen to them as we head towards the Finale in Act 3. The most difficult beat to capture in ET proved to be the “theme stated” beat.  After much deliberation and delving into the movie time and time again, we felt strongly that the “Theme Stated” moment of the film was at minute 11 when one of Elliot’s friends says “…its like life, you don’t win at life…”  If you consider what is actually happening in ET i.e. a young boy befriends an alien and then protects it from grown ups until it can go home; then the theme of “winning vs. living” is very relevant.  This theme also applies to Elliot’s family which, like Spielberg’s, is a broken one.  They aren’t trying to “win” they are just trying to live, to make it by with each other, which is what Elliott translates to ET as well.  I really saw the movie in a new light after making this discovery.  It seemed to take on more structure after I saw each beat and its significance to the overall plot.

So, break out your beat sheet, and maybe even a pad and paper for those who want to learn the true structure behind what makes an 80’s Spielberg film successful!  Without further ado, here it is, the Official Mediajuice Save The Cat! tribute to “ET” We are also posting all of our previous tribute videos to The Mediajuice Youtube Channel, as a way to archive these tribute videos for the public, as well as a way for those who don’t have Adobe Flash to watch them.

One final note for those of you wondering which version we used, YES we used the original version of the film.  I don’t have anything against the ET: 25th Anniversary edition but I just wanted to break down the original since its the version I know and love (just a personal preference.)  Tune in next week for James Cameron’s masterful take in the Sci Fi genre, ALIENS.  Oh and here’s the link to ET one more time (below) for quick reference:

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH “ET” TRIBUTE VIDEO! ))

Sincerely,

Jeremy