It’s here! Mitosis, the short film which I helped on last summer, has been released:
And here’s the behind-the-scenes documentary I created as a companion to the film:
Lately when we’ve watched a movie, I’ve been paying particular attention to story structure. This is probably due to my focusing on screenwriting and how to construct a great story, which I’ve found to be quite fascinating. It’s something that, through learning and practicing, I feel like I’m getting a bit better at it, though I still have a long road of learning ahead of me…. I still need years and decades of learning and experience!
We watched the well-known film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington last Friday night, so I decided that I would chart the Story Structure on a Paradigm. I’ve already done this with a couple of films (the Toy Story movies, to be exact), but only within the context of three acts. There’s a whole lot more to the Three-Act Story Structure than I had thought about three or four months ago. Hence, I used Syd Field’s Paradigm method of structure, which goes into the smaller details of the three-act structure.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: the Story Structure
The setup: Congressman dies and a new one is needed; inklings of the sinister “Machine,” Jefferson Smith’s introduction and character development as a normal U.S. citizen who loves his country and fellow citizens.
Plot Point I: Jeff Smith reveals his desire to build a boy’s camp in his state.
Dramatic Context (first half of Act II): Smith starts his Senate job, begins working.
Pinch I: Run in with the press, discussion about Truth.
Midpoint: Smith proposes his bill (for the building of the camp) in the senate.
Dramatic Context (second half of Act II): The Machine (political corruption vs. truth)
Pinch II: Paine’s pushing Smith to compromise truth, attacks Smith’s character.
Plot Point II: Smith is accused of corruption, deceit, etc., by Paine and the Machine.
Dramatic Context: The last battle for truth
Resolution: Paine confesses to corruption, Smith wins the victory.
So that, in a nutshell, is the story structure of the film. What do you think? I might be wrong about my identification of some of the elements (I’m not totally sure about the two Pinches in Act II…); feel free to discuss this in the comment section below!
As far as some of the other elements of the story goes:
Protagonists: Jeff Smith, Clarissa Saunders
Antagonists: The Machine, the Press, Senator Paine
Jeff Smith stands strong in his principles, Senator Paine finally changes in the last five minutes, Clarissa Saunders changes from helping the Machine in the first half (up until the midpoint of Act II) to helping Smith in the last half, some of the Press changes, the Machine never changes (it remains corrupt and evil).
The MacGuffin: Smith’s Senate Bill
Pretty interesting stuff, isn’t it?
The other night whilst my dear mother was enjoying some sort of “Snowman Party,” us guys (Dad, Tyler, an I) were at home (boys night in!). I was elated that a couple XLR cables had arrived that day, and after doing a test with my shotgun mic (which, before this, I had been unable to use due to my lack of a cable) which went extremely well, Tyler suggested that we do a “Toy Story” marathon. That means watching Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back to back.
Though I wasn’t particularly excited at the chance to sit in front of a TV for four hours doing practically nothing, I did. But just before we started, I had an idea.
So I got my trusty pad of paper and a pen, and sat poised and ready to write as the first movie began.
Instead of a wasted four hours, it was perhaps a little beneficial, as I was learning about story structure by taking notes (and watching camera moves… BTW, did you ever notice that there’s absolutely no depth-of-field in the first movie, except for where there’s a matte painting behind the 3D animation?) on it.
I thought that I would share my findings with you. So here they are:
— Inciting Event — “Bank Robbery” introduces the setting, main toys (characters), Andy, Andy’s room.
— Introduction of Settings
NOTE: It’s kinda hard to tell whether or not this movie is in a standard 3-act story structure, or a 5-act. The conflict is different from that which is in the first movie, and there are several “false fronts” that lead into the actual plot. For the sake of simplicity and not exploding or imploding my own brain, I’ve organized this into the 3-act story structure.
Inciting incident (supposed)– Buzz in space, actually a video game
Setup for plot:
Inciting event (actual) — Woody is stolen (leads into the actual plot)
And now for a few thoughts on the McGuffins from each movie. If you don’t know what a McGuffin is, read about it here.
Toy Story’s McGuffin
What’s the first movie’s McGuffin? I believe that it’s RC. Yep, the little remote control car. Why?
1) RC is used to enter the main plot in Act II with Woody’s conspiracy
2) RC brings everyone back together again at the resolution (well, except for Mr. Potato Head, who ends up being spread all over the floor of the moving truck by RC)
Toy Story 2’s McGuffin
Woody. He’s the second movie’s McGuffin, at least, that’s what I think. Perhaps I’m wrong (the video game element could be it, but I tend to think of this element as a secondary McGuffin that simply helps the plot along a bit).
But think about it: Woody is what’s stolen (and thus brings in the plot), he’s the one who is crucial to the Roundup Gang (without him, they go back into storage), and he’s crucial to the Andy’s Room toys as well (in their rescue operation, which is the main plot).
Woody brings all the characters together (except for the second Buzz and Zurg; I tend to think that the video game element is a whole different side-story), tears them apart (not literally; only in that the Rounup Gang’s hopes and dreams are torn between Woody’s desire for Andy, and to keep the Gang together), and finally brings the movie to it’s climactic resolution (he rescues Jessie).
So those are my thoughts on the movies. What do you think?
I’ll also say that, for some reason (perhaps it being simply because it’s been so long since I’ve watched them, or perhaps because the Lord opened my eyes to it), there seemed to be a hint of mockery going on at Christianity. It was extremely subtle (and perhaps I’m wrong, don’t take my word for it), but I could see it there. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d have to watch it again and specifically take notes for that (I can’t remember exactly what the elements where at the moment)… So I’ll just leave it at that.
So anyways, I feel like I learned a little bit from charting the story structure!