For the foreseeable future, every Tuesday will be a Scriptshadow Secrets type breakdown of a great movie, giving you 10-12 screenwriting lessons from some of the best movies of all time. Today will be the first entry, “The Graduate.” Next week will be The Big Lewbowski. And going forward from there, I’ll be taking suggestions. Feel free to offer potential films in the comments section, and if you like what someone’s suggested, make sure to “like” their comment so I know what the most popular requests are.



Logline: A college graduate comes back home, where he’s pursued by one of his mother’s friends, a relationship that is tested when he falls in love with the woman’s daughter.

Writers: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry (based on the novel by Charles Webb)

The Graduate allllllmost made it into my book but, to be honest, I was a little scared of it. The movie is based around the one thing every single screenwriting book tells you not to do – include a passive protagonist. I thought, “What if I can’t figure out why it works? It’ll fly in the face of everything I’ve learned.” The good news is, I DID figure it out. What I realized was that the 3-Act structure is basically built around the idea of an active protagonist. Someone wants something (Act 1), they go after it, encountering obstacles along the way (Act 2), and they either get it or don’t (Act 3). If someone isn’t going after something, the 3 Act structure isn’t as relevant, which is why so many scripts that don’t have a goal-oriented hero fall apart. The solution then, is to offset this lack of action somehow. And you do it with one of the most common tools in the craft: CONFLICT – a central focus of this breakdown.  Read on!

1) To quickly convey who your protagonist is, introduce them around people who are the opposite – This is an age-old trick and it never fails. If your hero is crazy, introduce him around a bunch of normal people. If your hero’s too nice, introduce him around a bunch of assholes. The opposing characteristics of these characters will work to highlight your own hero’s traits. So in The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock is introverted and quiet. The writers then THRUST him into his graduation party, where everyone is loud and excited. We wouldn’t have captured Benjamin’s mood nearly as well if all the other characters were just as introverted and quiet as he was.

2) If your hero’s passive, one of the other main characters must be active – If all you have is passive people in your screenplay, then nobody’s going after anything, which means there will be ZERO happening in your script. Someone has to drive the story. In this case, because Ben isn’t active, Mrs. Robinson is. She’s the one who wants Ben, who wants the affair, who pursues Ben. This is why, even though Ben is such a reactive person, stuff is still happening in the story. We have someone pursuing a strong goal.

3) The Power Of Conflict – I realized that the main reason this story works despite its main character being so passive, is that every single scene is STUFFED with conflict. Every scene in The Graduate has either a) two characters who want completely different things, or b) One character keeping/hiding important information from another character.  There is just so much resistance in The Graduate.  Since each individual scene is so good (due to the intense amount of conflict), it distracts us from the fact that there’s no goal driving the story forward (until later, when Ben falls for Elaine).

4) Easiest Scene to Write – One of the easiest ways to make a scene fun is to give one character a SUPER STRONG GOAL and give another character the EXACT OPPOSITE GOAL. This creates conflict in its most potent form, which leads to a high level of drama. It’s no coincidence that this approach created one of the best scenes of all time, Mrs. Robinson trying to keep Ben at the house and seduce him (her goal) while Ben is trying desperately to escape and avoid her seduction (his goal).

5) STAKES ALERT – Notice how when Mr. Robinson invites Ben to a nightcap, he says, “How long have your dad and I been partners?” This is a HUGE piece of information as it raises the stakes in Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s relationship considerably. If the only thing at stake in this affair is Ben’s pride or emotions, that wouldn’t be enough to drive an entire movie. But screwing up his father’s business, that’s a whole different ballgame. You want to make sure the consequences for your characters’ actions are as big as they can possibly be.

6) MID-POINT SHIFT ALERT – The Graduate has one of the best mid-point shifts I’ve ever seen. Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, comes back from school. She and Ben are then set up. The whole second half of the movie now moves to Ben’s relationship with Elaine while he tries to fend off a scorned Mrs. Robinson. Like all good mid-point shifts, it adds a new wrinkle to the story that keeps it fresh. Had they stretched Ben’s relationship with Mrs. Robinson across the entire story all on its own, the movie likely would’ve run out of steam.

7) Cheating/Infidelity scripts must be PACKED with dramatic irony – When you have a character cheating or a couple hiding a relationship from others, you want to put them in as many situations as possible where there’s dramatic irony. For example, when Ben first meets Elaine before their date, Mrs. Robinson is in the room, leering at them from the corner. Same with an early scene where Mr. Robinson invites Ben for a nightcap and Mrs. Robinson (who just tried to seduce Ben moments ago) enters the room. We feel the tension because of the secrets Ben and Mrs. R share. These situations also lead to some great line opportunities, such as when Mr. Robinson says to his wife, “Doesn’t he look like he has to beat the girls off with a stick?” “Yes,” she replies. He does.

8) The “Bad Date” Scene – The Graduate did something really cool that I’ve never noticed before. The story needed to show Ben and Elaine fall in love quickly because Elaine had to go back to college and we had to believe Ben had fallen in love with her enough to chase her there. Normally, I see writers writing these “lovey-dovey” scenes to prove their leads’ love to the audience (see Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones). For whatever reason, these scenes often have the opposite effect, making us nauseous and annoyed by the couple. So The Graduate takes the COMPLETE OPPOSITE approach. Ben’s only going on a date with Elaine because his parents make him. In order not to piss off Mrs. Robinson, he’s a total bitch to Elaine all night, taking her to a strip club and embarrassing her on stage. It gets so bad that Elaine starts crying, making Ben realize how much of a jerk he’s been. He apologizes, which leads to their first kiss. Experiencing a traumatic night instead of an ideal one thrust them much deeper into their relationship, adding the kind of weight to their experience a “happy” date just wouldn’t have been able to achieve. So the next time you write a first-date scene or need to accelerate a relationship, consider your characters NOT getting along instead of getting along.

9) SCENE AGITATOR ALERT – Remember, you should always look for ways to make it difficult on your hero in a scene, especially when they want something badly. So when Ben finally gets to Elaine’s college and spots her getting on a bus, he follows her on in an attempt to win her back. Except Ben isn’t able to sit next to Elaine because someone’s already sitting there. He’s forced, instead, to sit diagonally behind her, meaning he has to lean forward at a weird angle to make his case. It’s awkward. It makes his task difficult. And that’s exactly what you want to do to your character. If it’s too easy, you probably aren’t getting enough drama out of the situation.

10) “Crash the Party” moment – Whenever something’s going too good for too long for your protagonist, “crash the party.” In other words, bring them back down to earth. So later in the movie, after Ben’s chased Elaine to her college and the two have spent multiple scenes having the time of their lives together, Ben arrives back at his hotel to find Mr. Robinson waiting for him. He crashes the party, informing Ben that he knows about the affair, and that there’s no way he’s letting Ben anywhere near his family from this point forward.

These are 10 tips from the movie “The Graduate.” To get 500 more tips from movies as varied as “Inception,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” check out my book, Scriptshadow Secrets, on Amazon!

  • Steex

    Another great article.

    I can’t even say how much I’ve learned from you and all your incite.
    I’ll have to watch The Graduate tonight and see how it all works on screen.

    Thanks again, Carson!

    • carsonreeves1

      It’s a great movie to study. Just really good all around. And it still holds up too. It doesn’t feel dated outside of the film stock.

      • Steex

        Definitely. The Graduate was one of the movies that made me want to write. It’s a prime example of good ‘ol fashion writing.

        ps. I can’t believe I misspelled “insight” so horribly :)

        • sweetvita

          hey steex – as to “incite”, don’t sweat it. i bet it’s because you’re in the heat of your exciting inciting incident in your screenplay ;)

  • Sanjay

    Hi Carson
    Great points!
    The Graduate is a masterpiece. One can watch it so many times and yet find it intriguing and interesting.
    I have a strong liking to the “passive protagonist”, like in this movie.
    Although purists would say that the protagonist has to be active, real life teaches us the almost opposite. Most of us react, rather than act. :)
    Having said that, we need characters like Mrs. Robinson to heat up the floor, if you know what I mean. :)
    I also like dramatic irony. In fact feel that’s the key in all masterpiece scripts.
    Crash the party moment is so true for so many great screenplays . All goes well and BAM, you get a completely opposite event, which triggers a roller coaster of emotions.
    Thanks for the post.
    Most important point.
    Those legs in the picture. That’s what a script needs. :D

  • IgorWasTaken

    Yes, yes, yes. Ben is PASSIVE. Yes. Mrs. Robinson is ACTIVE.

    I have never seen anyone say that the protag can be passive as long as the antagonist is active.

    It’s like saying that it would be alright if John McClane were passive in “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” because all of his antagonists are active.

    And so, I have a different take on The Graduate.

    Ben is passive. The movie works. Full stop.

    That’s it.

    In other words, a passive protag can work.

    To your credit, Carson, you don’t try to argue (as many others do) that Ben is active.

    It’s the same deal with Notting Hill.Hugh Grant’s character is passive. Everyone around him is active. He’s like a pinball for most of the film. And yet, people try to argue that his character is active.

    Why? Because “the rule” is – protags must be active. Bull-poop.

    • FD

      what Ben and Hugh have in common though, is an arc. The tension is that you keep wanting to kick them in the head all film to do something, and then finally, the turnaround does come, with Ben at the church and Hugh doing his floppy speech about “could you imagine not spending your life with me”, which I think was a really nice twist. But if that is your main story, the others definitely have to be active, or it’s just watching grass grow.

      • IgorWasTaken

        Exactly. Which is the essence of the PASSIVE protag. Lots of passive characters have arcs. But they “should” never be the protag. That is, any movie that works supposedly doesn’t actually have a passive protag. I’ve read so-called “considered analyses” of Notting Hill by film experts and they argue that Hugh Grant’s character is active.

        In any event FD, it seems like you say you’re taking exception to my post, but I don’t know that you are.

        • FD

          Oh no, I liked what you said. I was just shooting the breeze. Sorry if it came across anti.

          • IgorWasTaken


    • Keith Popely

      I agree that a passive main character can work, but I’d add that what we’re really talking about is degree of difficulty.

      It’s just so much easier as a viewer to be engaged in a story about Luke trying to save the princess while overcoming obstacles than it is in a story about a directionless young man dispassionately trying to figure out what he wants to do in life. Similarly, it’s easier to write an active, more straightforward narrative.

      When people give advice to writers, they’re not speaking to David Koepp. They’re talking to new writers or, put another way, writers who are still learning the craft and don’t have 10 or 20 spec sales under their belts. Aaron Sorkin is not taking time out from the script he’s writing to read “how to” articles.

      So when we’re talking to a new writer, or about studying the craft, the advice is “Learn the basics first. Don’t start out by writing one of the most difficult narrative structures. Start by using the writing approaches that are more reliable, i.e. easier to do.”

      You don’t advise a kid picking up a baseball for the first time to throw a curve ball. You tell him or her to throw it straight and fast. Once you get that down, then you can put some spin on it.

      So yeah, I agree that a passive main character can work. But I’m not going to be trying it any time soon.

      • IgorWasTaken


    • garrett_h

      I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to say…

      Maybe that’s because you didn’t fully understand what Carson said?

      The way I took it is, if your Protag is passive, somebody better be active.

      That could be the Antag. It could be the Contag. Whoever. But if all your characters are passive, there are no goals and there is no story. At least, not an interesting one.

      Someone has to drive the action. And while it’s better (IMO) that your main character drive the action, it’s possible for a story to work with a secondary character driving it. So I don’t think “Yeh, there’s this exception, passive protag, active antag,” is necessarily the “rule” so to speak. More importantly, what I gathered was, make someone in your story active (doesn’t even have to be the Protag). It sounds simple, but I read script after script after script where every character is passive and essentially nothing happens. So it’s definitely good advice to keep in mind.

      • IgorWasTaken

        I am saying that if your protag is passive, then your protag is passive.

        And a passive protag means you probably won’t be able to sell your script.

        Write an Indiana Jones script – with him being active and the girl passive, as usual – and make the girl the protag. I don’t think you’re gonna be able to sell it.

        I am saying that while Carson’s analysis is right that Ben is passive and Mrs. R is active, I disagree with any notion that that sort of story is a good/OK/acceptable template for wannabe writers.

        • garrett_h

          But look at what you’re comparing it to…

          You’re talking about putting passive protagonists in Die Hard and Indiana Jones. Those are popcorn flicks. Action and Adventure. I really don’t see how you can compare them to The Graduate.

          So yeah, I guess you’re right. If you want to write the next big budget action series (like Die Hard or Indiana Jones or The Grad– oh, wait…), your protagonist probably shouldn’t be passive.

          • IgorWasTaken

            How about – Stranger Than Fiction. The protag is, at first blush, the epitome of passive. He is a puppet. Literally a character in a story that someone else is writing.

            And yet, he is active. He is not merely reactive.

            I could see someone writing that story with the protag as passive throughout, with Dustin Hoffman’s character or Maggie G’s character being the active character, and only at the end would the protag become active. Nope. he was active from very early on.

            I am saying that a good, successful movie can have a passive protag. I am also saying that trying to sell such a spec as a newbie is not a good thing to try – no matter how active the people around the protag may be. Action movie, drama, whatever.

    • StoryMapsDan

      Igor, pump the brakes. Benjamin is not passive for the ENTIRE FILM. He eventually takes action, pursuing the WORST thing he can (in terms of conflict): Elaine, the daughter of his lover and his dad’s business partner. This may not happen until later in the film, but it DOES happen. Carson’s not arguing that Ben is passive for the whole film; in fact, other than some very arty films, like a Terence Malick or Kubrick film, which exist in a different commercial universe than ours, what’s an example of a passive protag for the whole film?

      One can have a passive “protagonist as observer,” or a “passive for the first half or so” protagonist, but a “passive the entire run of the script” protagonist is a death sentence. Unless everything else in the script is just friggin’ GENIUS. But what are the odds of that?

      • IgorWasTaken

        Yes. For Ben, there is a burst of activity. Then as soon as they get on the bus, he’s back to where he started – lost and passive.

        And it’s not just me saying he ends up where he started. The song lyrics say the same as they sit on the bus and ride off.

        • StoryMapsDan

          What about when Ben jumps in his car and drives up to Berkeley to win back Elaine? You’re focusing on the very end, which was mostly a directorial choice — Nichols wanted to end on an ambiguous moment. Two scared kids, rather than two romantic, triumphant young lovers. Yes, Ben ends up kind of lost and confused, as he was at the beginning, but that doesn’t negate that he took action at certain points in the story, thus is not a “totally passive” protagonist.

          I haven’t seen Notting Hill, but assuming that you’re correct in your assessment, I’ll be so bold as to say that one mildly successful romantic comedy does not shatter a pillar of dramatic storytelling that has stood for centuries. :-)

      • courlo

        i wonder if a weekend at bernie’s wouldn’t qualify as a film with a completely passive protagonist. (?) i’ve not seen the flick, but, for some reason, it popped into my thinking. also, you’ve got some very nice interviews on your site, dan. a little bit of insight right from the face of the horse who’s speaking is always a cool bag ‘o beans. thank you.

  • FD

    It’s amazing how The Graduate hasn’t dated. Most films from that era, if you watch them now, are as slow as a wet week, but this film, although inherently slow, is somehow just captivating. But would it get made today? If someone wrote this as a spec, would they get ignored out of town?
    What do you think, Carson?

    • Steex

      I agree. That’s the problem nowadays. If it has big action, big stars and quick cuts, that’s all that matters. They’re so determined to make “big budget” movies, that they’re forgetting to make film.

    • carsonreeves1

      It would definitely get made. It’s too good of a script. AT the very least it would land on the top of the Black List, which means someone would have to buy it.

    • Brainiac138

      I agree with Carson. We tend to also forget that even though it may be inherently slow, it is still a funny sex comedy, to a point. One of the reasons why it doesn’t feel dated is because the comedy is based around relationships and conflict and irony, which will always be funny.

  • peisley

    There’s also the biting, very funny social commentary and fantastic look of the film that strikes the viewer from the very beginning. I never thought of Ben as passive, more like he’s in a state of shock over just graduating college and, unlike a lot of people, spoiled for choice over what to do next. He’s seeing all that Mad Men conformity around him and is desperate to let out that rebel yell but doesn’t even know what to do with that until he meets Elaine. Damn, how can I forget the music? Where have you gone, great soundtracks?

  • FD

    wow, really. I would have thought that Joe Average Reader wouldn’t get past page 5

  • Post

    Ps. Yesterday I watched GOODFELLAS – that would be a movie I’d love to learn 10 lessons from.

    • carsonreeves1

      Ooh, yeah, that would be.

    • Steex

      If we’re throwing out suggestions, how about 10 lessons from Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2?

      Just a thought.

      • John Bradley

        hahahaha please God no!=)

        • Avishai

          I’d like to see a lesson based on something horrible- like Birdemic!

          • John Bradley

            That’s a good idea, lets be mean to Carson and vote on the worst movie possible and force him to sit through it and take notes!

          • Steex

            I wonder if there’s actually anything positive to be learned from Birdemic?

    • garrett_h

      Great suggestion. Especially in the wake of this Gangster Squad fiasco.

      The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential would be great as well.

    • DD

      I also would LOVE to see Goodfellas. The main character is such a shit head. He changes, but only because he gets busted and so many bad things happen he’s almost forced to. But such a sprawling, messy, amazing movie. Great pick.

      PS I love these articles. So much information!

      • Shaun

        Oh, yah. I gotta ditto the request on Goodfellas. It’s one of those movies I keep watching, but where I always ask myself—what IS it exactly that keeps drawing me in. I’m definitely interested in the subconscious emotional pulls that draw us into movies and the techniques of the story.

    • LV-426

      Goodfellas and Casino, both great flicks. I have a hard time choosing a favorite between the two. Goodfellas is more intimate, but Casino just has such an epic scope to it. I’d love to see Carson do an article on either or both.

      In relation to this article, Goodfellas uses the bad date tactic. The first dates between Henry and Karen Hill, culminating in her getting pissed at being stood leading to her berating Henry in front of his mob buddies.

  • James Inez

    Are you trying to seduce me Mrs. Robinson

  • Avishai

    Not a movie, but you can learn a lot about screenwriting from Breaking Bad.

  • Sanket

    Thanks for the invaluable tips, Carson.

    Could you please dissect one of below movies?
    “Blue Velvet”, “Sideways”, “Trainspotting”

  • JWF

    The Graduate is probably my all time favourite film, everything about it is damn near perfect, the script, the direction, the acting, editing, everything! The soundtrack has got to be one of the most memorable of all time as well.

    If this was a spec script that was sent out tomorrow it would 100% get made.

    Liking this new format mate, think Goodfellas is a great suggestion for a future post.

  • Jovan Jevtic

    Great article.

  • Nate

    Goodfella’s is definitely a movie you should do an article on. Another one you could do is Shooter starring Mark Wahlberg. I always felt like that had everything (flawed hero, conflict, passive character turns active). It’s basically The Fugitive meets Bourne.

  • ernstdegeer

    Great article.

    Can’t wait for next tuesday now, will be really interesting to hear your thoughts on The Big Lebowski.

    • New_E

      Didn’t even see that next week’s article is going to be on THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

      Used to have a Ph.D on that movie. Seen it so many times. Love the Dude and Jesus Quintana and that crazy dance sequence.

      The 90s are so over.


  • John Bradley

    The best advice I got from this article is to make the “first date” scene as uncomfortable as possible. It is so obvious yet goes against your first reaction when you are outlining the scene. I am going to rewatch The Graduate to help me with a “first date” scene in one of my screenplays! Thanks Carson!

  • John Bradley

    My movie suggestion is Donnie Darko.

    • New_E



  • Guest

    With all the Voice Over in Goodfellas, I’m not sure that would be a good choice as far as screenwriting is concerned. But who knows…

  • Poe_Serling

    An appreciation for Buck Henry…

    He’s the living definition of a Hollywood hyphenate. I’ve always admired people whose talent allow them to do a variety of things… and to do all them successfully.

    Actor – The Man Who Fell to Earth, Gloria, To Die For, and a slew of other small/big roles in both film/TV.

    Director – Heaven Can Wait, The First Family

    TV – co-creator of the Get Smart with some slacker named Mel Brooks.

    Comedy Host – a regular fixture on SNL during the late 70s.

    Writer – The Graduate, Catch 22, The Owl and the Pussycat, What’s Up, Doc?, To Die For, and wait for it, folks – The Day of the Dolphin.

    No, you don’t need to clean your ears. You heard me right the first time – The Day of the Dolphin.

    Oh yeah, the dynamic duo from The Graduate – Mike Nichols and Buck Henry – teamed up once more to give us this sci-fi thriller in ’73.

    Logline: After teaching dolphins to speak, a scientist tries to keep them from being used in an assassination plot.

    When I first saw this as a kid, it blew my mind. And how could it not?

    You have freaking talking dolphins. You have Academy award winner George C. Scott shooting the breeze with Flipper. You have a plot to kill the president on his

    It was all pure entertainment gold to a young kid.

    • AJMockler

      Had never heard it before this Poe, and so went a-looking. Marvellous clip uploaded here:

      Perhaps a little too sensuous, though, if you know what I mean…

      • Poe_Serling

        Must’ve blocked out the scene from my young mind… but it does prove that George C. Scott is a helluva actor. ;-)

    • RayFinkleLacesOut

      Are you actually Quentin Tarantino? You know about every movie and love all the movies that most people don’t know.

      • Poe_Serling

        Shhh, not so loud… I don’t want Carson bugging me to do an in-depth interview.

    • denisniel

      Buck Henry is the man

      • Poe_Serling

        You’re preaching to the choir, brother. ;-))

    • sweetvita

      I’m going to start being a good girl now, so when Christmas rolls around Santa will bring me my very own walking, talking Movie Magic PoePedia Doll – hohoho ;)

      • Poe_Serling

        I think they’re going retail for $19.95 and sold exclusively online at the ScriptShadow store. ;-)

        • sweetvita

          what? santa’s not going to leave it under my tree? k… i’ll save my pennies and revert back to a bad girl – lol.

  • ThomasBrownen

    One of my favorite dialogue scenes in this is when Ben and Mrs. Robinson are starting to get bored in their relationship, and Ben starts off by saying that they should talk about something. But by the time the scene ends, he’s the one saying, “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s not talk at all.”

    The conversation really does a great job in gradually shifting their relationship, and then highlighting this change by the way it starts and ends with Ben’s contrasting statements.

  • shewrites

    Great choice of a movie to dissect. I think you hit it on the nail with the necessity of having an active antagonist to balance the passive protagonist. It makes complete sense and works.
    Suggestion: In Bruges.

  • grendl

    Benjamin Braddock’s passivity comes from a place of fear, much as Andy’s does in the “40 year Old Virgin”, much as Harry’s in “When Harry Met Sally”.
    But to misconstrue passivity as being inert is a mistake. Fearful people make decisions, they just make cowardly ones. Choosing not to go out on the playground to fight the bully who’s tormenting you is an active choice.
    Watching people react to situations predicated on fear will always be watchable. We the audience can empathize with Benjamin Braddocks nervous attempts to get a hotel room for him and Mrs. Robinson. When Buck Henry the hotel clerk bangs on the bell to have his bags brought to the room, and Benjamin in a panic slaps his hand on the bell under his, that’s funny. It’s also great character development.
    It’s important not to paint that as irrelevant. When Andy in the 40 year Old Virgin decides to play poker with the guys from Smart Tech, or attend the dating seminar, he’s attempting to solve the problem but is unsure how to do so. So he takes the bad advice of others, pays the consequences and ends up in a hotel room with a transvestite hooker.
    They learn from their mistakes, that’s what stories are about. And passivity is a no no in the narrative cosmos. Mrs. Robinson is an equally untrustworthy source of advice, suggesting they have an affair in the “Graduate”. But it’s only by his TAKING that advice that Benjamin finds his way.
    He does drive Mrs. Robinson home, btw. He does walk upstairs btw. He does do active things. If he were truly passive he would’ve told Mrs. Robinson he can’t drive her home. Making mistakes is an active thing.
    These are characters who don’t know what they want. They’re like mice in a maze. You throw a cat in there and they have purpose, surviving the attacks of the cat. But you place a piece of cheese in there, Elaine Robinson. or Catherine Keener, or Meg Ryan, suddenly they have purpose, suddenly they have not just fear but desire.
    They go from a place of reacting to proactivity. All three end up at the end running full bore through the last stretch of maze towards what they want, Benjamin to stop Elaines wedding, Andy bicycling to stop Catherine Keener from leaving, and Harry to make it to the New Years Ball to tell Sally he loves her.
    Passive doesn’t mean inert, it just means unsure. And it works in plenty of films.

  • Box Goblin

    Great post Carson. I’m liking this new direction.

    How about ten lessons from:



    • dkFrizzell

      Goonies was broken down in Scriptshadow Secrets. If you haven’t already picked up the book, I highly recommend it. 500 tips for about what you’d spend on lunch.

      Skip the lunch.. get the book.

    • Avishai

      Memento would be great. I see lots of scripts struggle with non-linear storytelling.

      • sweetvita

        yeah – that would be great to unpack Memento for that reason.

    • New_E



  • blogwalker


    Two of my favorites from the same writer Andrew Niccol who I feel doesn’t get celebrated enough.

    • crazedwritr

      Love Gattaca! That would be a great one to review!

      • New_E

        Love GATTACA too. And LORD OF WAR. Less keen on THE TRUMAN SHOW.

        Can’t believe Niccol wrote/directed IN TIME though. It’s like a step back from everything he had done before. Okay, so was S1M0NE.


        • Marija ZombiGirl

          I liked IN TIME a lot :-) What I liked less was the very polished feel about it and the cast. But storywise, I found it very interesting and thought-provoking.

          • LV-426

            Same here. IN TIME was good. I did also enjoy S1MONE, although not as much as Niccol’s other work.

  • denisniel

    I think one of the reasons for The Graduate to work so well is the fact that the passive protagonist becomes EXTREMELY ACTIVE in the third act. Although he spent the whole second act enrolled in conflict mainly created and established by the other characters around him, by the time we reach the third act, he has a clear goal (he even states verbally it in the first scene, when he tells his parents he’s getting married, however the bride doesn’t know it yet…) and from that point on, he does absolutely everything that’s in his power to get his objective.

    I don’t believe this film would have worked without that shift in the character’s motivation in the third act. And perhaps that’s a “rule” (although I know that’s the worst possible word to apply to screenwriting), or at least a very good lesson, to be taken out of a script with a passive protagonist. Somehow he MUST become active by the third act – as part of his arc, he needs to learn what he wants – and consequently fight for it.

    Buck Henry is the man!

    As for suggestions, I’d LOVE to read about some all time favorite movies, like:

    – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
    – Almost Famous
    – Adaptation (or any Charlie kauffman script, for that matter…)
    – Airplane! (or any other of those nonsense Zucker-Abrahams groundbreaking comedies from the early 80’s)
    – Classics like Pete Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon, or What’s up Doc…

    I also think we would benefit from tips from recent foreign movies that have made a buzz in Hollywood and with the American public, like for example:

    – City of God
    – Any of the Vengeance trilogy movies from Chan-wook Park
    – The Host (from Joon-ho Bong)
    – Amour
    – The Intouchables
    – The Secret In Their Eyes

    And so forth…
    (I’m sure I forgot a lot of really interesting options here, but that’s the general idea…)

  • SeekingSolace


    – Good lead character.
    – Great twist.
    – Limited locations.
    – Clear goal.
    – Good mix of drama and action.
    – Revenge. What studio doesn’t like a good revenge flick with a solid twist?

    • Avishai

      Man, what a perfect storm of weirdness that’s so hard to replicate successfully.

  • SeekingSolace

    “Woman in the Dunes”

    A superb film with a unique and interesting story line taking place in one location. If an aspiring writer were able to pull something like it off in today’s spec market he or she would be considered the next big thing.

  • SeekingSolace


    Limited locations. Intriguing antagonist. Phenomenal story line. Limited locations. Great suspense. Limited locations. Good Character development. Limited locations.

    • Malibo Jackk

      William Goldman tells an interesting story about the movie.
      They couldn’t find an actor to play the part of the bedridden author.
      No one wanted to do it. Finally came to James Caan — who had previous drug problems.
      He said he would pee in a cup every day if they gave him the part.

      Turns out Caan was a restless actor. Which worked perfect for the bedridden man.
      And one of the reasons why the movie really worked.

      • Poe_Serling

        One of my favorite Bill Goldman stories deals with the notion of inspiration and its enduring power. I guess as a kid he saw the film Gunga Din in ’39, and somewhere in there was a certain scene that always stuck in his brain.

        Fast forward 30 years…

        The Gunga Din scene now becomes the source of inspiration for the Butch/Sundance jump off the cliff scene… and the rest is cinematic history as they say.

    • snoozn

      Yes, I second Misery! I’ve even read the screenplay already.

  • SeekingSolace


    • sweetvita

      I concur – Chinatown needs to be a Tuesday SS Secrets Breakdown.

  • SeekingSolace


  • fragglewriter

    I haven’t seen The Graduate yet but it is definitely on my list of films to see.

    I’ll give you my list again of movies that Inwould like for you to review: The
    Apartment, A Streetcar Named Desire & Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

    • sweetvita

      Ahh – Blanch Dubois – a complex soul. I can feel those hot, muggy New Orleans’ evenings Tennessee Williams painted so well.

  • IgorWasTaken

    I know this is a movie review, not a script review, but you might want to note how the movie’s ending varies from the final version of the Buck Henry script.

    In the movie, after Ben and Elaine run from the church, there is no dialogue. In the script, there are a number lines and additional images once they get on the bus. Below I’ve bolded a couple of Ben’s line that are especially significant for their absence.

    Also, compare the first shot of Ben’s face in the movie and the last shot. He is as lost at the end as at the beginning. He was lost when coming home from college and he was just as lost when he was running away with Elaine. That is not an arc. It is a loop. And the emphasize, this, Mike Nichols wouldn’t even show Ben saying that he wanted to go “To the end” or “Let’s go. Let’s get this bus moving!” Ben had returned to passive. Or – at least – lost.

    From a political perspective, one can say that this is a commentary on the late 60s – people protesting, but (arguably) without any real idea as to where they wanted to go – or even that they wanted to get there.

    And when Ben runs away with Elaine, while many will say that this is Ben being active (as Hugh Grant’s character does truly become active at the end of Notting Hill), it can also be said that Ben simply uses Elaine as a way out… Again, on a way to nowhere. The song over that closing scene on the bus is “Sounds of Silence”. What is silence? It an absence. (Beautiful, at times; yet still, an absence.)

    As the lyrics say, “And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains” – Again, not an arc; a loop.

    And so again, I assert, that Ben is passive, at times reactive, but ultimately passive. He flies home on a plane with no idea what he wants to do with his life; he leaves on a bus with no idea what he wants to do with his life.

    Also note in the dialogue below that Elaine loses a line. In the script, she says,”Benjamin?” he replies “What?”, then she takes his hand.

    By deleting that, Nichols has both characters being lost (passive?) characters. Elaine now (in the movie version) doesn’t even have a question. All she knows is that she didn’t want to be married to that guy. She was running away with Ben, but there’s nothing (in the script, so much; and especially not in the movie) to say that she was t running away to be with Ben.

    By deleting the “Benjamin?” “What?” dialogue, as Ben and Elaine were shown running away, Nichols deleted the suggestion of them really engaging with each other as they set off “to the end”. Same as to his cutting the shot “She takes his hand.” Ass we see is her use her use her left hand (next to Ben) to push her hair aside. At one point, we see Ben look down – and I can imagine he is looking down at her hand on his; IOW, that there was a shot of her hand on his, but Nichols didn’t use it.
    Below is the script excerpt. As noted, I added some bolding.

    SHOT – BEN

    He bangs on the closed door of the bus. The door opens.
    Ben climbs the step into the bus and pulls Elaine up
    after him. The doors close.


    Ben holds out a dollar bill.

    How much?

    Where do you want to go?

    To the end.

    The driver takes the bill and gives Ben some change.
    Ben turns and pulls Elaine along to the back of the bus.
    He pushes her into one of the seats and sits beside
    her. Ben looks toward the front of the bus.

    281 BEN’S POV

    He sees the driver and the passengers, all turned around
    in their seats and looking back at them.

    282 SHOT – BEN

    Let’s go. Let’s get this bus


    He turns and starts the bus.


    They are breathing heavily.



    She takes his hand.


    Through the window in the back of the bus the church can
    be seen receding in the distance. There seem to be a
    number of men dressed in black running around in the
    street in front of it.


    • Malibo Jackk

      Great post.
      Great movie.
      At the end of the movie, the two look away from each other.
      She in her wedding dress. Ben in a rumpled suit?
      My take was that this represented marriage. But a marriage of two lost people.

      The movie works in part because there is an arc.
      From passive to active. And then back to passive. IMO.

    • snoozn

      Oh, now I’m going to have to re-watch the movie AND read the screenplay. Which seems like a damn fine idea for someone who wants to write and sell screenplays. I’d love to see Carson make a version of what you’ve done a regular feature of the column — comparing the screenplay with the movie and looking at how adding or removing even small details can make a big difference thematically.

  • grendl

    On an unrelated topic, does anyone know how Allan Durand, writer of “Belizaire the Cajun” qualified for the Nicholl Fellowship last year? Isn’t he technically a pro?

  • ff

    Dude awesome article. One tof the best movies ever made. Thanks as always!

  • CaptnChris

    Doesn’t Robert Mckee go over the Graduate in his book ‘Story’?

  • IgorWasTaken

    grendl wrote: “Ben Braddock does go to the hotel to bed Mrs. Robinson. He does continue the relationship. He does lie to his mother about it. That’s all pretty active in my book.

    I strongly disagree with your definition of “active”.

    By your definition, if I shoot at a deer and miss, and in response to being shot at, the deer runs away, that would be the deer being “active”.

    Again, I disagree.

    You seem to be setting up a dichotomy that is not the one that, by convention, involves the word “active”.

    By this convention, as best as I can tell, the two sides are “active” and “reactive”; and “reactive” (again, in this context/convention) is the equivalent of “passive”.

    Now, I might agree with you if there were no convention and we were talking every-day semantics. But IMO we aren’t. We are talking film/script semantics. And going to bed with Mrs. Robinson is “reactive” – i.e., “passive”.

    One might even say that Ben was the deer and Mrs. Robinson took a shot at him. And he just stood there. Then one day, Ben-the-deer ran away.

    • grendl

      The hunter didn’t shoot at the deer in this instance.
      She told him anytime he wanted to have sex, to meet her someplace and she would.
      He got into his deermobile and drove to the hotel, got a room, and after being taunted about his inadequacy, he screwed her.
      Driving to the hotel was an active act. It wasn’t inaction. It was decisive. Ben Braddock has free will, he’s not a slave to anyone.
      If you’re suggesting reacting to her offer is the same thing as doing what she commands, that’s not verifiably true.
      Ben has free will. He chose to have a tawdry affair. And if you see that as less proactive than Andy the 40 year Old virgin who lets his friends bring him to bars, and lets Leslie Mann entice him into her car, that’s find.
      It doesn’t take a lot of guts to do what they did. It was kinda the easy way to solve their problems which blew up in their faces.
      But it was still being proactive in trying to solve them. They didn’t curl up at home and suck their thumbs. That would’ve been passive.

      • IgorWasTaken

        In this context, you’re arguing the wrong/nonexistent dichotomy.

        The two sides of the coin here are NOT action and inaction.

        They are action and reaction.

        In scriptworld vernacular, reaction = passive.

        If you shoot at me and I duck, that’s reaction.

        If a hot babe asks me if I want to screw and then I get a hotel room, that’s reaction.

        If you shoot at me, I duck, then I crawl to get the gun from a dead deputy and shoot back, that is action.

        If I meet a hot babe and say, “Let’s go to a hotel”, that’s action. (Oh, baby!)

    • scouter119

      perhaps you should do a google search, mr. henry and mr. nichols have ton to say on the matter. all of which will prove you wrong.

      • IgorWasTaken

        How helpful. IOW, I posted my research here. If it exists, you should post yours.

        And so, for example, if you have a source for Buck Henry saying why Nichols cut the final shots and dialogue from the script – Please, I’d love to see that.

        (Oh yeh. And Reagan said afterwards that the money was not for hostages.)

        With The Graduate, it’s on the page and its on the screen.

  • IgorWasTaken

    As for The Graduate and The 40 year-Old Virgin – They are NOT the same.

    Ben starts out lost; ends up lost. He arrives on a plane from school; he departs on a bus to some destination unknown. Unknown to us, to him, and to Elaine. And there’s not even a sense that Ben wants to know.

    Andy start out not-lost. That is, he doesn’t think he’s lost. He feels happy. Aware he is missing something, yet happy. Even if you say he’s not happy, he is “resigned” – and that is not the same as “lost”. The story entails Andy trying to change, feeling lost, then finding his way.

    And at the end for 40-YOV, Andy ends up with a woman he specifically wants to be with. He picks a specific destination for his life, he struggles to get there, and he does get there.

    The only way in which the films are arguably the same is that they both involve male protags who are inexperienced in some ways and become more experiences during the movie. They lose their ignorance about certain things.

    But Ben runs away on a bus with some woman; Andy settles in with a specific woman he loves.

    • grendl

      They both start out needing love, and both end up getting it.
      What Ben chooses to do with it, given his angst ridden nature is a question for the ages. Despite the fade of his smile on the back of the bus, we don’t know the couple is doomed, we simply see that doubt never lingers. Common for movies in the late sixties to have that ambiguity. 40 year Old Virgin doesn’t have that ambiguity. But that doesn’t negate Ben’s efforts to get the girl, successful efforts at that.
      Andy and Catherine Keener seemingly find bliss, but the tone of the script is much lighter, much less rooted in reality and we presume they live happily ever after.
      Both men go go from reactive shlubs to proactive heroes. By taking wrong turns, by doing the wrong things, at least they’re trying which was more than you could say they were doing at the start of their respective stories.
      I see the similarities, you don’t. we”ll have to agree to disagree.

      • IgorWasTaken

        Ben does NOT end up getting love. See my post in this thread with an excerpt from the end of the script, comparing it to the end of the movie.

        Ben ends up running away on a bus with a girl. The script had them sharing a tiny bit of dialogue and had her putting her hand on his. The film has neither.

        Running away with a girl, who’s running away from the alter and a marriage to a guy she felt forced to marry, is not ending up getting love. It might mean he got laid that night, but nothing in the film says that he got love.

      • scouter119

        keep it up!!!!

  • gazrow

    Really looking forward to next week’s breakdown of the Big Lebowski – it’s one of my all time favorites!

  • Citizen M

    Bad Teacher

  • GraemeMcPhail

    The amount of claustrophobic conflict in the film is quite something when viewed today.

  • K_Sharp

    I teach this movie in a film class, so I’ve seen it… oh, 10 times in the past three years? It’s interesting to see a student audience reaction to that midpoint shift — the girls always find the newly-active Ben to be creepy & unrealistic.

    Personally, I enjoy the movie much more during the passive-Ben section. The Mrs. Robinson montage (including the pool scene jump cut) holds up for me every time. Brilliant.

    • K_Sharp

      And, Carson, I’m still beating the drum for a lessons-from-ELIZABETHTOWN article…

      • sweetvita

        i liked that movie!

  • scouter119

    great take and points!

  • Citizen M

    Disclaimer: I never saw the movie, but I did read the script.

    This is the ultimate character piece where most of the action takes place in the emotional sphere.

    It reminds me that not all life-threatening stakes are physical things like bullets and speeding cars.

    Just as important are threats to your self-respect like being true to your ideals, avoiding embarrassment, trying not to seem weak or indecisive, and of course, risking rejection.

    I thought the first two thirds of the script were the best, before Ben chases Elaine to Berkeley. Some of those scenes were so well done I was squirming in my seat. I could just imagine what Ben was going through.

    Note also none of the characters was particularly likeable. There was no save the cat moment. People were basically using each other and making selfish demands of each other. What made it work was Ben was continually put under stress and had to get himself out from under somehow, and it was done in a very realistic, believable way we could relate to.

  • IgorWasTaken

    I’m NOT saying that I know what happens to them. I NEVER said that I know that.

    I am saying that there is nothing presented in the film that supports an argument that “love” is any more likely an outcome than anything else.

    I am saying that there is nothing presented in the film that supports an argument that ANYTHING is any more likely an outcome than anything else. He’s simply running away.

    Indeed, I am saying that saying Ben and or Elaine “found love” is mere conjecture – at best.

  • IgorWasTaken

    grendl wrote “Reaction doesn’t equal passivity in any world, this imagined scriptworld of which you speak included.

    There’s the nub of this. I think in scriptworld people who read/judge/buy scripts do use passive and reactive as equivalents. Active is active, reactive is passive.

    At some level of granularity, they may distinguish them, but in general – they are equivalents.

  • Jake Gott

    Alright, I think Tuesday is my new favorite Scriptshadow day.

    I love the flow of the graduate. I like the pace it progresses at and how one scene leads to the next. It’s a pleasing equation.

    I don’t know if these are in your book, but I’d like to see 10 lessons from:

    – Double Indemnity
    – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
    -There Will Be Blood

    • DrMatt

      Double Indemnity just made me think that Carson should do more genre films from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Those used to be B-movies, and slow or epic character pieces and dramas were the A-films and prestige pictures. But now it’s flipped, and B-movies are what screenwriters get paid the big bucks for, so it’d be interesting to go back and look at older genre films made on the cheap, and see what can be mined from them.

    • New_E

      + 1 to all three, particularly DOUBLE INDEMNITY –

      Edgar G. Robinson / Barbara Stanwyck / Fred MacMurray + Billy Wilder = cannot lose. That double-crossing Phyllis Dietrichson! And I like Fred MacMurray here – always liked Fred MacMurray although a fellow cinephile calls him “a vacuum of charisma.” I think he’s one of those actors who can do the decent, straight man really well.

      Stanwyck and MacMurray have made two more films together REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) and THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956) – a Douglas Sirk weepie.

      It’s interesting to see them in sequence from REMEMBER THE NIGHT to DOUBLE INDEMNITY to THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW sixteen years after their first film together. There’s a strange continuity between these three films, from the young lovers who fall in love in 1940 to the older, wiser couple who meets again after having been lovers in the past and must separate because life and the prevailing morality of the past dictate it.


      Ruthless, unforgiving individuals on screen make for fascinating character studies and Daniel Plainview sure fits the bill. The downfall of a man who follows his own rules. A loner, a recluse, a madman, and a murderer… great film.

      A breakdown of that movie would be ace.


      • Poe_Serling

        Another memorable cast-against-type role for MacMurray – Lt. Keefer in The Caine Mutiny.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Love the ending.

          • Poe_Serling


  • Blake Hinton

    The Master, The protagonist is constantly passives and never changes.

    • New_E

      At first, I thought the protagonist didn’t change either, at least, not his fundamental nature. But at the end of it, you realize that he did indeed change. Whereas in the beginning, he was constanly horny and would hump whatever he could – incl. sand – at the end, his encounter with the English lass shows that he has been somewhat “pacified” and approaches sex and other people in a less frenetic way. He’s gentle and loving now.


  • JNave

    I absolutely love reading these lessons. I was sad when I finished the book because it was just so informative. I’m happy to see you make this a regular part of the week.

    As for suggestions, I’m a comedy guy, so I’ll just say go with more comedies. Sadly, most of them have been horrible and unfunny lately.
    I also like to see where otherwise good movies go wrong. An example from the comedy genre that comes to mind is The Other Guys, which I loved through the first half, but then it just went off the tracks and was almost unwatchable. And I can’t quite put my finger on why.

  • jjbillington

    The crazy part is this film made $104,901,839 and only had a budget of $3 million.

  • Pugsley

    Good points here, Carson. And good catch on the “bad date” scene. Another movie with a similar bad date set up is GOODFELLAS, where Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, goes on a double date with Tommy and his date. In every possible way, Henry ignores his date. Turns out Henry’s date is none other than Lorraine Bracco, who storms after him after he stands her up on a second double date. Which, of course, makes Henry interested in her and gets him to start chasing her. Yes, the reluctant love interest always works well.

  • MelanieWyvern

    “Scene agitator” is definitely a phrase that I learned from Carson’s book. I don’t know if it’s Carson’s original formulation, but I can’t recall coming across it anywhere else before reading SS Secrets. I’ve since used the idea to try to spice up scenes in my own scripts that otherwise felt a little too… easy.

    My submissions for a future Tuesday:

    – Braveheart
    – Gone with the Wind (still the top-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation)

  • r.w. hahn

    Great breakdown of why this movie worked going against the mainstream of script writing….I also think the story is the thing that drove this film….You are absorbed into it and can’t stop watching until you see it to the end…
    How about reviewing another Dustin Hoffman classic….”Little Big Man”……

  • Malibo Jackk

    The reluctant hero.

    • carsonreeves1

      I think the big difference is, the way it typically works is the hero becomes active by the end of the first act when they “actively” start pursuing their goal. So Ripley’s like, “Okay, I’m in,” and then she’s active from that point forward. In movies like Raiders, Indy is active from the first first frame (when he’s pursuing the golden monkey). Here, Benjamin doesn’t become active until the third act, when he finally starts pursuing his goal, Elaine.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Blake Snyder turning in his grave…

  • Will

    Ahh great call. Such a great movie.

  • carsonreeves1

    I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I’ve seen a lot of “older woman seduces younger guy” in the years since and none of them have come close to this movie. They did something extra right here. :)

  • Poe_Serling

    Time to toss some classic horror in the potential films to review on Tuesday ring:

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’56 version)
    Rosemary’s Baby
    The Thing (’82)
    The Thing from Another World (’56)
    The Shining
    The Haunting (’63 version)
    The Night of the Hunter

    • MelanieWyvern

      Another vote for The Thing 1982.

      • Steex

        I would definitely go ape shit if you posted anything about The Thing.
        One of my favorite horror movies.

        • Poe_Serling

          Are you keeping a tally, Carson??? Another innocent commenter assimilated by The Thing.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Add me. My Top 1 movie for the past 20 years so my post counts for 20 votes :-)

            And a Happy birthday to Big John <3

          • Poe_Serling

            Better check my inbox… I’m pretty sure that my invitation to his B-day celebration is sitting there.

            And, please, don’t be jealous – I’ll gobble down an extra piece of tasty goodness from the twisted appendage section of his Thing cake so you won’t feel left out. ;-)

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Gobble slowly so as to savour allllll the flavours and then report back to me ;-)

          • Poe_Serling

            Okay, I’m back from the Thing Shin-‘ding’…. it was a best B-day party ever in my opinion. Got to mingle with Kurt, Jamie Lee…and the rest of the ususal suspects.

            Big John did mention something about wanting to do a Most Dangerous Game-type film… with a monkey angle to it. I said, “It sounds like a winner.”

            Oh yeah, the cake was to die for. ;-)))

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Nice ! I’ll be expecting his call :-)

          • Poe_Serling

            Inquiring minds want to know….

            Does your novella have a title or release date yet? And oh, is it going to be an online download or a hard copy release or both?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Available in print only, in February :-)
            Here’s a link to the publisher’s website :

            My story is the first on the page : L’île aux Chimpanzés (Chimpanzee Island) :-) The cover illustration was done by a friend of mine.

          • Poe_Serling

            Wow. The cover is amazing.

            For me, it really captured the feel of those pulp books/magazines of the ’30s and ’40s. Is the story set in the present day or earlier?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Thank you :-) That’s exactly the feel the publisher is going for. Printed on paper that’s a little rough, too. I think they’re doing a good job and things are starting to go well for them. I might write another story for them set in the Himalayas. Since I’ve always been fascinated by survival stories (fiction or real life) set in the mountains or the poles, I really hope it’ll see the light of day.

            My story is set in the present, yes. I’m almost done with the bonus chapter, will translate soon and send it along ;-)

          • Poe_Serling

            When the official release date rolls around, you should mention it here on SS… I think more than a few people will be interested in it and all the positive vibes couldn’t hurt. ;-)

    • New_E



      • carsonreeves1

        Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist almost made the book. But I was putting too many older movies in there and not enough current ones, so I had to drop them. I see a comeback in their future.

        • New_E

          Hope they do! They’ll be most welcome!


    • Jake Gott

      Yes, Deliverance!

      • Poe_Serling

        It’s pretty much the granddaddy of all Urbanoia films.

  • snoozn

    Great idea for a weekly column! Now someone needs to write an app that will automatically add the next week’s movie to my Netflix queue so I can watch it the night before.

    I haven’t seen The Graduate for years and it looks like I missed a lot. I can’t say this makes me want to run out and write a passive character, but nice to know it can be done. But that mid-point shift thing is intriguing.

    I vote for an analysis of Network.

    • carsonreeves1

      I’ve always wanted a Scriptshadow App. I don’t know what it would do though. Allow bitter bloggers to complain about Scriptshadow all day long?

      • sweetvita


  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Carson-

    Before changing gears, you could’ve devoted an entire week to religious epics…. just noticed on the tracking boards a slew of new projects with a biblical slant.

    -spec script Ben-Hur by Keith Clarke… now set up at MGM.

    -a Pontius Pilate project with Brad Pitt possibly involved.

    -Redemption of Cain with Will Smith involved.

    -a Spielberg project about Moses.

    -Noah film coming soon from Darren Aronofsky.

    • Malibo Jackk

      It’s a 60 year cycle.
      (Sun spots or something.)
      The last great ones were in the 1950s.

      • LV-426

        What about Gladiator, Troy, 300? Not Biblical but that whole sword and sandal genre of Hollywood epics seem to be in the same wheelhouse.

        Either way though, they don’t make many of these kinds of movies die to the high cost of producing such an epic. Or for up and coming or newbie writers, it seems like a longshot to be able to sell biblical or sword and sandal fare on spec (Ben-Hur is basically a remake).

  • tom8883

    “Seven” script/movie analysis?

    • sweetvita

      one of my faves

  • C.J. Giltner

    Great article Carson.

    I’d like to recommend some classics:
    Annie Hall
    The Third Man
    The French Connection
    Anything from Hitchcock (Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest)

  • sweetvita

    Ahh – settling in for the night to read Carson’s latest and the wonderful insights from the good people in this community… I love this place ;)

    • carsonreeves1

      I love this post!

      • sweetvita

        cool. here reading and loving every word! love midpoint shifts – always exciting to see characters challenged and stretched by the unexpected – the twists and turns. and as a writer, love that moment when it unfolds in the story, bringing with it new possibilities and choices for the characters :)

  • Shaun Snyder

    Some suggestions for Tuesday movies: Casablanca (probably the greatest movie ever, in my opinion), Jaws, Kramer vs. Kramer, Field of Dreams, Unforgiven, Forrest Gump, Heat, Boogie Nights, Chasing Amy, and Before Sunrise/Before Sunset. I’m looking forward to reading next week’s article on The Big Lebowski. It’s one of my favorites.

  • New_E

    Agreed on both, although making sense of and analyzing David Lynch movies requires a Ph.D & preferably some alcohol.

    Cannot think of a single David Lynch movie I dislike, quite frankly. Okay, I have reservations about DUNE (“Stilgar, do we have wormsign? “And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!”) and THE STRAIGHT STORY – but other than that, love me some MULHOLLAND DRIVE and my very favorite LOST HIGHWAY.


  • Nicolas Simonin

    This is one of my favorite film. i saw it the first time during my film structure class at ucla. Impressive set of conflicts and scenes. A real masterpiece.

    Cool article to know how to create a great script with a passive character.
    Great Job!

  • sweetvita

    Thx 4 the 10 excellent Tips from The Graduate, Carson! You spoil us here ;)

  • Poe_Serling

    Yeah, it’s a must-own for any aspiring screenwriter.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Absolutely. I bought it about a year ago and have read it twice already. And right now, it’s staring at me from the shelf, begging me to open it again :-)

      • Poe_Serling

        The Adventures in the Screen Trade hits on all cylinders – chock-full of invaluale advice, concrete examples of technique in action, and a unique insider’s view at the inner workings of the industry.

  • sweetvita

    Okay, Carson… here’s my list for your consideration:


    • Jake Gott

      As Good As It Gets would be a good one.

    • John Bradley

      I’d like to see him do As Good As it Gets

  • Malibo Jackk

    The Graduate reminds me of my college roommate. The sports car. The Robinson-like episodes. A confused girlfriend. He was a smart guy but… We used to head out for some far off bar — we drive for an hour, he changes his mind, heads back for a local bar. If it only happened once, it would have been fun. And some was fun. But everything he attempted ended up being a bad, scatterbrained plan.

    And I didn’t know where it came from. Until I met his dad.

    Never had he said anything about his parents. Then one day, we stopped by his house. Nice custom home. Then I see the classic Mercedes sports car parked next to the family Mercedes. We go inside. I see the wall of football trophies.

    I see another room, another wall of business achievements, awards and honors. And then I meet his dad. I hadn’t realized who he was. And I only meet him for twenty minutes. But he used that twenty minutes to give me the speech — the speech on success…

    And I realized the hell my roommate had gone through.

    The Graduate is the only movie that I loved the first time I saw it but —
    for some reason, I don’t want to see it again.
    And I’m not sure why.

  • Jake Gott

    Another suggestion…

    “A Clockwork Orange”

    …if you’re into those unlikable protagonists. It can’t be THAT easy making us root for a violent rapist by the end of the movie.

  • elvisjw

    Great article. The film is already a masterpiece in my mind. These are 10 great ways to bring that genius into my own writing. I especially see the value in putting characters with different goals in the same room.

  • Ed Love

    Thanks for yet another interesting article!