Genre: Drama
Premise: When 30-something Milo tries to commit suicide, his estranged sister, Maggie, invites him into her home, where the two start the process of healing old wounds.
About: Writer/director Craig Johnson graduated from NYU film school a decade ago, where he originally conceived of this idea with fellow student Mark Heyman (who wrote Black Swan). The two eventually went their separate ways, coming back to the script only recently, where they re-focused it on its best asset, the brother-sister relationship. Johnson has one other movie under his belt, the little seen True Adolescents, which starred Mark Duplass. He’d been trying to get Skeleton Twins made for awhile with different packages, but it wasn’t until Kristin Wiig came on that he finally believed the movie would get made. And it did!
Writers: Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson
Details: 93 minute runtime

skeleton-twins-article

I actually saw two movies this weekend. The Skeleton Twins and The Maze Runner. For The Maze Runner, I tried to bring a little of that “opening day enthusiasm” typically reserved for movies like The Avengers and Star Wars.  So I lugged in a big block of cheese. ‘Cause it was a maze? Like rats in a maze? The theater ushers didn’t understand the joke and told me I either needed to eat the cheese, throw it away, or not see the movie. I sighed and threw it away.

The cheese turned out to be relevant in a different way in that most of Maze Runner was cheesy as hell. Even worse, it employed the classic screenwriting mistake of making the main character ask 60 million questions: “What is this place?” “Where are those guys going?” “What happens in there?” “What’s a runner?” “What’s that noise?” “What happens if they don’t come back?” “What’s a Griever?” Word to the wise – if your main character is always asking questions, he doesn’t have any time to, actually, you know, do stuff.

The movie really wasn’t that bad. It was just generic. I hate giving that note to writers cause it sounds so vague but it’s so often the problem.  Every choice feels like the first choice the writer came up with. A maze that changes. Seen it before. Spiders inside the maze? That must’ve taken a while to come up with. The lovable underdog fat kid. Oh, and let’s not forget the dialogue (Mopey character who thinks he’s going to die: “Take this [trinket] and give it to my parents when you get out of here.” Hero gives the trinket back to mopey character. “No. You’re going to give it to them yourself.”).

But the biggest faux pas is something you just can’t screw up as a screenwriter. You have to give them the promise of the premise. If you’re writing a script about a giant maze, that maze better be fucking a-maze-ing. And this one wasn’t. It basically amounted to tall ivy-covered walls with giant spiders running around in them. That’s it?? Your maze boils down to Wrigley Field meets Harry Potter?

Lucky for me, I also got my suicide on this weekend. But before I get to Skeleton Twins, I have to do some name-dropping. It was Friday night at the Arclight in Hollywood. As Miss Scriptshadow and I were heading to our theater we saw none other than KEVIN SMITH barge through the lobby (he was moving like a cannonball). I remembered that his movie Tusk was opening and figured he was going to watch his own movie. Which is kind of strange but also kind of cool at the same time.

The funniest part was as he walked through, every single person turned (around 100) and whispered, “That’s Kevin Smith. Hey, that’s Kevin Smith. That’s Kevin Smith.” I guess if there’s one place Kevin Smith is going to be a mega-celebrity, it would be at a cinema-loving theater like Arclight in Hollywood.

Anyway, we rode that excitement wave right into our suicide film, which I was only seeing because it got such a high score on Rotten Tomatoes (I’ll see anything above 90%). Usually I despise films like this. Depressed indie people being depressed, trying to commit suicide, then being more depressed. Count me out. But lo and behold, this ended up being one of my favorite films of the year!

30-something siblings Maggie and Milo haven’t seen each other for ten years. Coincidentally, on the exact same day, they both try to commit suicide. Maggie gets the call about Milo being at the hospital before she can off herself, so she goes there and asks Milo to come live with her and her husband, man-child but sincerely lovable Lance, until he feels better.

Over the next few weeks, Milo, who’s gay, reconnects with an older man whom we find out was his teacher in high school. In the meantime, we find out that Maggie, who’s trying to have a baby with Lance, is secretly taking birth control so she doesn’t have a child. She’s also banging her scuba instructor, which I guess makes the birth control a “kill two birds with one stone” type of deal.

We eventually learn that the siblings’ self-destructive ways stem from their own father jumping off a bridge when they were just kids. It seems, for all intents and purposes, that they’re just following the script, doing what daddy did. So the question becomes, can they put the past behind them and move forward? Or are they on a collision course with fate, one they have no control over?

skeleton_twins.jpg.size.xxlarge.promo

First I lauded a script about two cancer-stricken teenagers earlier this year. Now I’m touting suicide entertainment. What’s wrong with me???

Not only was The Skeleton Twins good, but it succeeded where many other an indie film have failed. You see, when you don’t have a clear plot (like The Maze Runner – “Get out of the maze”), the story can easily get away from you. Without that big plot-centric protagonist goal, it’s not always clear where you’re supposed to take the story.

Well, in character-driven screenplays, like this one, the point shifts from achieving a goal to resolving relationships. That’s it. That is what’s going to drive the reader’s interest or not drive it. You create 3-5 unresolved relationships – characters with a big problem between them – and then you use your story to explore those problems. If the problems are interesting and you explore them in an interesting way, we’ll stick around to see what happens. Here are the four main relationships in The Skeleton Twins…

1) Maggie and Lance – she’s not sure if she wants to be with him.
2) Maggie and her scuba instructor – she’s trying to end the affair but can’t.
3) Milo and the old high school instructor – their relationship was cut off when they started it in high school.  They have to figure out where it is now.
4) Milo and Maggie – they still have a few things from the past to resolve.

The other big thing you want to do with these non-plot-heavy indie movies is throw a lot of plot points at the story. Remember, we don’t have that big goal at the end to drive the film (Win the Hunger Games!), so you have to, sort of, distract us from that.

The Skeleton Twins does a great job of this. Maggie and Milo’s mom (whom they both hate) shows up unexpectedly. We find out Maggie’s hiding birth control. Maggie has an affair. We find out Milo had a relationship with his high school teacher. Lance finds out Maggie’s been on birth control this whole time they’ve been trying for a baby. Maggie ironically forgets to take the pill, discovers she’s late for that time of the month. I mean, for a tiny indie movie, there’s a lot of shit happening here. And that’s the way you have to do it with these indies.

I think lots of writers believe that because it’s an “indie” they need to show 20 minute shots of characters forlornly looking out at the sunrise set to an 8 minute Iron and Wine song set on repeat. There are a few of those shots in here, for sure. But the reason The Skeleton Twins succeeds where all these other indies fail is because it really packs a lot of plotting into its 90 page run time. There’s never something not happening.

On the non-screenwriting front, it was genius to cast comedians in these roles. This movie would’ve crumbled under the weight of two dramatic actors playing ultra-dramatic roles. The reason the film never falls too far into depression-ville is because of the dry offbeat humor Wiig and Hader keep slipping into their performances. Even Luke Wilson was great as the husband. Both funny and sympathetic.

This was a hell of good film. I should’ve saved my block of cheese for it.

THE MAZE RUNNER

[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

SKELETON TWINS

[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the price of admission
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Small indie movies need a lot of PLOT POINTS. You need to keep throwing things at the characters or revealing secrets to keep the story moving and alive. Go too long without anything significant happening and your script gets pulled into that “indie boring void” that so often dooms an indie film. Don’t become another one of those indie films.

  • klmn

    Does anything happen other than talk? Like a gunfight, an explosion, someone boxing a kangaroo? Anything?

    • carsonreeves1

      Hmm, I think someone talks about a gun at one point.

      • klmn

        Carson, Carson, Carson. The word “movies” means moving pictures. Like motion, get it?

        They’re not called “statics” or “still lifes.” Or “stationaries.”

        • pmlove

          They were called ‘talkies’ though.

          • klmn

            Not originally.

    • brenkilco

      An Indie movie where somebody fights a kangaroo? C’mon. Well, actually, I just recently caught on Netflix this old Australian movie called Wake in Fright which apparently has a big cult rep down under. And one of the key scenes is a very disturbing fight to the death between the protagonist and ….well, you know.

      • klmn

        Wow.

        Just wow.

  • charliesb

    Perhaps the poor quality of this year’s “YA book” movies will get the studios to ease off a bit and make their way back to the spec script piles (I know I know, but I can hope right?). Divergent, The Giver, The Maze Runner all trying to repeat the (strange) success of the Hunger Games and none of them quite reaching the bar.

    The problem I have with these movies is that they seem to be just dumb downed versions of recognizable “adult” work. I think you can tell a story featuring teens or children’s and still have a level of complexity that makes the work accessible to them and us old folks.

    Then again maybe I’m out of touch… being an old folk and all.

    • Scott Strybos

      Divergent made $286,347,895 from a $85 million budget.

      The Giver made $53,980,918 from a $25 million budget (not a lot but the studio still doubled their money)

      The Hunger Games has made 1.5 billion dollars

      The Maze Runner has made $81,500,000 (foreign and domestic) in its opening weekend from a $34 million budget.

      The studios wont stop adapting YA anytime soon.

      • Casper Chris

        The Giver made $53,980,918 from a $25 million budget (not a lot but the studio still doubled their money)

        It did? Once you factor in advertising costs….

        • Scott Strybos

          Aren’t advertising costs already included in the budget?

          • Casper Chris

            Nah, it’s production budgets. The cost of producing the film.

          • Paul Clarke

            Not to mention that’s gross box office. The distributor only gets about half the ticket price.

            Basic rule of thumb is that most big movies will spend as much on marketing as they do on the film. Therefore to make money they need to take 4 times the budget at the box office.

          • Casper Chris

            I always heard the rule of thumb as 50% of production budget on marketing. But maybe that’s only for the really big blockbusters.

      • charliesb
    • Scott Strybos

      I think studios adapting YA novels promotes young adults to read more which is obviously a good thing. When the trailers for these films are released they also act as trailers for the books… How many kids are reading today compared to how many were reading before the studios went crazy with adapting YA—I am interested in those numbers.

      • Dale T

        Kids today are reading more than ever, but that has more to do with the introduction of ebooks because they’re cheaper and they don’t clutter around your house.

  • Dale T

    I snorted in the theater at some of the lines that were being said in The Maze Runner. It’s like all of these YA books took after Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen on dialogue 101.

  • brenkilco

    “if your main character is always asking questions, he doesn’t have any time to, actually, you know, do stuff.”

    In one of Goldman’s books he talks about something he heard Steve Mcqueen say that he thinks is fundamental to the way most movie stars think. “I don’t want to be the guy who asks. I want to be the guy who knows.”

    • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

      But if the guy knows too much stuff things may become too easy for him. Better to don’t know squat and still do something. It worked well enough for Lost for almost 6 years, didn’t it?

    • Eric

      I think a good rule of thumb is to have your protagonist become “the guy who knows” no later than the midpoint. A protagonist who knows everything and just what to do about it from Step 1 is going to make for a boring story. We need the excitement of seeing someone thrust into a situation before they’ve had a chance to get a handle on it. Also the rules of the character’s ‘new world’ need to be established (perhaps The Maze Runner did this with too much tell and not enough show).

      But once we reach the midpoint we should know the rules of the movie/world and we should know a majority of the characters. At that point it’s time for the hero to stop having stuff explained to him and to start doing something with the information. Usually it’s his experience previous to entering the movie/world that allows him to process and act on this information in a way that no one else can. So in a way, he’s always been the guy who knows. He just can’t understand what exactly it is he knows until he understands the situation he’s in.

    • RO

      There is nothing wrong in screenwriting to have your main character ask questions. It’s not the questions that are the problem, it’s the way the answers are given. Not only that, what if the questions the main character is asking aren’t things your audience is initially thinking about, and then you open up to them a whole new perspective of your story?
      If you have a character ask: “What’s that sound?” and then another one says, “It’s a giant spider”, I’m going to be underwhelmed. But if there isn’t another character to say it’s a giant spider and instead we see a giant spider after the question is asked, then we have a very different scene and something far more memorable.

      Having a character ask a questions with another character giving a response can be boring for the most part. But why not work with a formula of a character asking a question and the progression of the story answering said question or questions? Deduction is more entertaining and a better character attribute than instantly knowing everything or being instantly told everything. Shared discovery is an essential part of story telling, otherwise it’s not a story it’s an instruction manual.

      • brenkilco

        I think Goldman’s point had more to do with star ego than story construction. But it’s still instructive. Of course the lead character in say an action movie can’t know everything or else there would be no story. But he should generally know more than everyone else, and certainly be more capable. Exposition is handled by subordinate characters.They explain the situation or have it explained to them. Then the hero solves it. Yes, Sherlock Holmes asks questions, but only those that no one less brilliant would think to ask.

        • RO

          “Of course the lead character in say an action movie can’t know everything or else there would be no story. But he should generally know more than everyone else, and certainly be more capable.”

          Being more capable than everyone else… for entertainment purposes… I’d say to a degree the main character should. People tend to like underdogs and there is more conflict and reward, the greater the obstacles and odds stacked against your hero.

          As for your main character knowing more than everyone else. I respectfully disagree. They can be clever, more intelligent, but when it comes to the story, the character should be learning it along side your reader/audience. As the story progresses you can have your character gain a few steps ahead of the plot and/or the antagonist, but if you end up having your main character know more than all the others, then they’re just going through the motions.

          When it comes to Sherlock Holmes and when he approaches a case, he doesn’t know more than anyone else does of that particular case. He discovers it, and we are taken along for the ride. There are snags, twists, new evidence. The questions he asks are important as are the set up to those questions and their eventual payoff. If he knew all that before hand, it’d be boring, and I don’t think that should occur for a hero in a script. In fact I’ll direct you to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2 episode 3: Elementary, Dear Data. It has a few scenes addressing when a main character knows more about the story than anyone else.

          I’d also suggest watching Die Hard. For two reasons. 1. It’s Die Hard. 2. I’m sure you and countless others here have seen it (and love it, and why not? It’s freakin’ Die Hard!). But it’s a great example of a main character who is smart, but has no idea what’s really going on and is learning it as the story progresses. Exposition is delivered creatively (at least for the time it was made and released it was), it doesn’t feel too on the nose, but it is specific and it doesn’t ever stop the pace of the film.

          This is what I have discovered when it comes to screenwriting. Main characters that know more than everyone else tends to lead to a dull story and thusly a dull character more often than it doesn’t.

          • brenkilco

            Oh, I’m not arguing one size fits all. Underdog, everyman, fish out of water protagonists can work perfectly well in certain stories. In Die Hard as you point out. And in theory a more monolithic hero, whom you don’t worry for, would seem less interesting. But somehow the more conventionally heroic law enforcement leads in Dirty Harry, Bullit and Rio Bravo seem to work well enough. As for Holmes, check out some of the stories. He almost immediately knows more than everybody else, generally figures out what is going on long before the final solution is presented. The audience is permitted to see what he sees but not to know what he knows till the end.

          • RO

            I didn’t think you were arguing a one size fits all aspect.

            However Dirty Harry, Bullit and Rio Bravo have a great deal of knowledge and are intelligent, but they do not know more than all the other characters in the movie. And while they are monolithic they still have flaws and they make mistakes. What their stories interesting is that they don’t know more than their antagonist, if they did, we’d see the conflict resolved in the first act and there would be no movie. Same goes for Sherlock Holmes: He has a great deal of knowledge, but his character trait isn’t just knowing a lot, he sees things others don’t, discovers evidence and processes it faster than the other characters around him.

            “The audience is permitted to see what he sees but not to know what he knows till the end.”

            True, but in all of his stories, he doesn’t know the information revealed at the end within the first 5 pages of the book, or first 5 minutes of the movie. We are taken for the ride with him. He may have solved the crime long before anyone else, but take note of the important element of that action. He still had to solve it. Meaning he had to learn something; something he did not know before. If he knew it, there would be nothing for him to solve and there would be no story to tell.

            Heck, Sherlock’s greatest motivation is to figure out how the crime was done and who did it. If he knew more than everyone else, he wouldn’t be interested in any of the cases he took because there would be no challenge.

  • bruckey
    • Brainiac138

      Odd racists are on the list as some of my only experience with overt racism was during conversations with very high-level agents.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Great WIL. If you think about every indie movie you liked, it’s because of what Carson mentions here. Holland, Michigan, my fav indie script as of lately comes to mind.

  • Scott Strybos

    The Maze Runner is a good lesson in how effective a tantalizing mystery can be. The first time I saw the trailer I could tell the film was going to be a lame-duck, but dammit if I still don’t want to know who built the maze, who put those kids inside, and why.

    • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

      But after seeing so many shows that hinged on great mysteries (Lost, Battlestar Galactica to an extent) churning out answers that even a third-grader could have topped, I now simply go to the wikipedia page and look for the answers there. Most times, it wasn’t worth it. Can’t speak for this one, though, so who knows? This might be the one that breaks the mold.

      • Scott Strybos

        Lost was and is still an amazing and satisfying show (yes, I am including the finale) and I will go to the mat to defend it.

  • Logic Ninja

    I won’t disagree with Carson’s review of Maze Runner. It was cheesy. It was trite. It was generic. It was the farthest thing from great cinema…

    But dammit it was interesting. It presented the most massive, right-there-in-your-face-screaming-at-you mystery box I’ve seen in a while. And despite all the triteness, even despite the two couples in my theater with FLASHLIGHTS ON THEIR PHONES DURING THE MOVIE (makes me want to believe in hell), I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

    Anyone else feel this way? ….Anyone?…..No?…. Ok, fine then.

    • jw

      I feel you, but when this is the case, doesn’t your entire thinking on the film hinge on what the answer is to that very question? This is what I find really fascinating about JJ Abrams — so very good at asking the mystery box question, so very, very bad at actually answering it. Lost is genius for about 2 seasons and then starts to dissipate because the questions aren’t being answered and when they are it’s like a 5-year old said, “hey daddy, you should do this.” When the mystery box is put out there for the audience, and most, if not all, of your anticipation is around that very topic, then it has to be something that is AMAZING, or everything falls apart. Whereas, if you just had a great plot, with great characters, and you made us connect with them, then we’d be far more invested in more than just the “rabbit in the hat”.

    • BSBurton

      I’m gonna watch it this weekend for 5 bucks (cheap cinema). So no loss if “Maze” isn’t amazing. I already saw “A Walk Among the Tombstones” it was really great. I had a few thoughts about improving the ending but otherwise it was a great thriller.

      ANd people with phones in cinemas… they are dumb. I think they should be kicked out or have their phones broken.

      • jw

        AHAHAHHA! “or have their phones broken.” Now I would PAY to see that! In fact, I might even fund that initiative! ahahah

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        I would prefer the “silent ninja move in the dark” method ^^

      • Logic Ninja

        There should really be some device, some kind of wafflebox or interference generator, inside every theater. Something that would block cell signal and wifi. Once the movie’s started, the wafflebox gets turned on and your phone’s a lump of worthless plastic until FADE OUT.

  • jw

    I think there’s also something about The Skeleton Twins that makes it different than many Hollywood films and that is that it makes you legitimately care about these characters. Hollywood has this “formula” for caring about characters. I caught Madam Secretary on TV last night and wow, was that formula-and-a-half. Woman works as a professor, has the husband, two kids (one of which is HILARIOUS), the house, white picket fence, oh by the way, she used to work for the CIA as an analyst, ahahahah! blah, blah, blah… I mean, it’ll work for its target audience coming off the back of 60 Minutes, but in terms of truly caring about the character, it doesn’t come from these formulas everyone works so hard to put together and cram in the first 5 minutes of a pilot, so the audience immediately falls under its spell. Where The Skeleton Twins, in my opinion, shines is that there’s somewhat of a legitimate connection with these people, and I’ve never even tried to off myself, so that’s saying something. What Hollywood never really gets is that this legitimacy can actually be a huge strength for a film or TV show, which is why so many edgier shows on TV are pushing movies to the side — because TV is now taking the risks that no one investing in film wants to. Surprise, the risks are paying off in more ways than one. What I learned: don’t be a chicken shit – take risks.

    • Andrew Parker

      I think caring for them comes from their realistic depiction. They are definitely flawed individuals, but in a very funny, relatable way. And outside of the fact that both the leads were about to commit suicide at the same time, virtually everything else that happens in the movie is completely believable and logical.

      That’s why I’m able to connect more with this movie than say This Is Where I Leave You, which goes for broader, more calculated laughs and plot points.

      • Kirk Diggler

        “”That’s why I’m able to connect more with this movie than say This Is Where I Leave You, which goes for broader, more calculated laughs and plot points.

        What do you expect from the director of “Night at the Museum”?

  • Brainiac138

    I wonder if as fewer and fewer studio movies get made, and more and more films are shot and distributed independently, if the whole “indie movie” tropes will pass.

  • klmn

    How is this different than the soap operas that have been on tv since the beginning of time?

  • DD

    I also LOVED The Skeleton Twins. An indie dramedy that’s actually hilarious at times. Great acting all around

  • Andrew Parker

    So much to love in The Skeleton Twins, beyond just the great performances and deadpan humor. I’ll cover three great strengths — theme, setups/payoffs, and subtext — in case anyone wants to read further.

    And here’s the plot synopsis, if you haven’t seen the movie yet: http://www.themoviespoiler.com/2014Spoilers/SkeletonTwins.html

    THEME – The theme is moving on from the past. Very universal. We have the father’s action (suicide) nearly repeating itself with the kids. But we also have Milo obsessed with the teacher who took his virginity, Maggie who used to have a lot of boyfriends when she was younger now deciding if she wants to settle down and have kids. We also have the crazy mother and whether they can move on from her. But most of all, it’s about brother and sister reuniting after a long time apart and recognizing they don’t have to be defined by their past. Best theme related scene: Milo talking about when he was a kid, he assumed the cool kid/bully would grow up screwed up, and everything would work out fine for Milo. But that’s not the way the world works.

    SETUPS/PAYOFFS – There’s a lot…
    1. Opening scene is them dressed up as kids to go out for Halloween -> Right before end of act two, they dress up for Halloween and have a great time bonding together
    2. Milo not wanting to leave his goldfish in LA -> Maggie buying him one in NY, then accidentally killing it when she’s angry at Milo, then buying him another one at end of movie to say he’s sorry
    3. Milo admits to a sexual act with a woman, then wants Maggie to tell a secret of hers -> She admits she’s on birth control and banging the scuba instructor
    4. Milo lying to Maggie that he’s going out for drinks with a friend named Kevin Clancy -> Pays off at the end of act two, when Maggie sees on Milo’s phone that it was the teacher (Rich) that molested that called him, and Kevin doesn’t even live in town anymore
    5. Rich brings up a copper whale that Milo says he still carries around with him -> After Rich gets angry at Milo for showing up at his house when his son is home, Milo throws the whale from the roof
    6. Rich gives Milo a script for a crappy romantic comedy -> Once Milo comes to peace with the fact that he’ll never have a real relationship with Rich, rather than be a dick and tell him the screenplay sucks, he says it is OK (showing some maturity in Milo)
    7. Lance worried he’s shooting blanks, so Milo insinuates maybe Maggie is taking medication, and tells Lance she used to hide stuff around the house as a kid -> Lance finding the birth control pills in the house
    8. Maggie taking scuba lessons -> trying to drown herself in the pool
    9. Maggie early in the movie not dying because of phone call to come get Milo -> Milo saving her again end of movie when she tries to drown herself

    SUBTEXT: There’s a lot of it. Much of it through show-not-tell. Many indie movies go with on-the-nose dialogue and plot points, but Heyman & Johnson do a much better job of integrating them naturally (though one review I saw correctly points out there is a crap ton of water imagery in this movie, perhaps a little too much).

    – Lance’s character says Maggie is always trying new things, like scuba diving classes in preparation for a late honeymoon in Hawaii (maybe they’re not such a great match, and lack a spark, as evidenced by a delayed honeymoon)

    – Milo buys Moby Dick from Rich’s character at the bookstore, saying a good teacher had given it to him a long time ago (There was some sort of relationship between Milo and Rich long ago, and Milo still has unresolved feelings)

    – Lance says when Maggie is upset, it’s like landmines, where all you can do is apologize and move on (Lance has no spine and doesn’t tell Maggie how he really feels)

    – Milo still carries a copper whale Rich gave him a long time ago (he really can’t let go of the past and move forward)

    – Even though Milo hates the script Rich gave him, he tells Rich it’s great even when he realizes there’s no hope of their relationship working out (Milo has grown-up a bit and can finally move on from Rich

    ————————————————

    Alright, that was way too clinical of a diagnosis. Best just to watch in the theater now or on VOD soon. But a lot of lessons to learn on how to do an indie right.

  • pmlove

    I think all Carson is talking about is ‘make shit happen to move the story on’.

    Take a movie like Pacific Rim, for example. At the first PLOT POINT (SF definition), we basically get the idea that we’ll have to go and destroy the rift in the ocean floor/between galaxies. Mid-point, we get the first attack in pairs.

    But between those two, we get a lot of sitting around and nothing happening. Talky scenes and there appears to be no urgency to get to attacking the rift. Just waiting for these attacks to occur. There aren’t really many ‘PLOT POINTS’ (CR definition). Bit of back story, maybe. But nothing propelling the action forward.

    Granted, some may think in terms of SF’s work but I don’t think there is anything confusing in Carson’s usage, as it stands.

  • BSBurton

    Well written, I am very impressed and also happy to see Jaws mentioned. Good post, sir. (Being sincere in case it’s not clear)

  • BSBurton

    Looking forward to seeing TWINS soon. I’m sad I missed Fassbender’s “Frank.” That would have been a fun indie. If anyone gets a chance, they should see Tom Hardy in “The Drop.” That film is really well done. TWO THUMBS UP!!

    • Midnight Luck

      I’m going to see The Drop for Gandolfini. I have always loved him. From True Romance to Get Shorty, he has been a favorite of mine. Sad we won’t ever see him again.

      • Erica

        I know most don’t like the movie, but I love him in “Surviving Christmas”.

      • Kirk Diggler

        He seemed to have found his true calling as a character actor in indie style films post ‘Sopranos’. He was great in that Julia Louis Dreyfuss film last year.

        • Midnight Luck

          I loved ENOUGH SAID. I really thought it was well done, and he was great in it. As was Julia Louis Dreyfuss, of course.

          Fun movie.

          He really did so many great character and bit parts. His part as the Gay Hitman in THE MEXICAN was the best part of the movie. (his role was way more interesting than Brad Pitt’s or Julia Roberts’).

          He will be missed.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Yeah he was. Believe it or not I worked on that film for almost a month. A quiet, introspective kind of guy, nice to everyone.

          • Midnight Luck

            That is so awesome to hear. Need more people like that around.

            Wow, you worked on Enough Said for a month? That is so cool. It seemed like a great cast.

          • Kirk Diggler

            No, The Mexican.

  • Cfrancis1

    Cannot wait to see Skeleton Twins! Interesting about Maze Runner. I had heard some surprisingly good things about it. They say it bucks the YA movie trend by actually being really good. But maybe not… I’ll wait till Redbox.

  • klmn
  • Paul Clarke

    Like 95% of arguments on the internet I think it comes down to semantics rather than a genuine difference of opinion.

    I think Carson was referring more to simple story development. The revelation of new information that changes things (preferably irreversibly). Of course much of that could be character based and hence PLOT POINT would be an incorrect term to use.

    If screenwriting were a big I.T. company there would probably be a strict glossary of jargon terms to stick with. Unfortunately it’s not. The concepts of scene, sequences, beats, plot points, turning points, act breaks, mid-point – all mean different things to different people.

    Maybe it’s time someone wrote a new screenwriting bible.

  • brenkilco

    According to Syd Field, screenplays have two PLOT POINTS.

    Yes, dramatic works typically have three acts. Have since time immemorial. And if that’s true than than the plot needs to shift gears twice in the course of the story. Three acts means two plot points. It’s a tautology. And we need a guru to tell us this?

    Completely disagree with your Jaws analysis. The first act ends when the story begins. The situation has been set up and the characters are impelled to some kind of action. Jaws has a rather odd construction for a basically simple story but the story really doesn’t “begin” until Brody start to chase the shark. The first act break is the decision to hire Quint. We’re a long time getting there but everything proceeding this is setup. The second act break is the boat breaking down. It’s suddenly clear that either they kill the shark or it kills them. And we’re into the very brief third act. The fact that it takes three deaths to get Brody into the boat, that the first act is unnecessarily protracted, would probably be seen as a defect if Spielberg hadn’t made it all so riveting.

  • Eric

    “Taking to his sea of troubles is the third act, extended as it is.”

    In the context of three act structure, I always took this to be the midpoint shift. As the 3rd act, it’s not merely extended. It’s half the freaking movie. No third act I ever heard of is as long as the first and second act combined.

    For me, the true 3rd act is when plan ‘let Quint handle it’ finally ends with the three of them stuck on a sinking boat with no radio or engine. Before this moment they could’ve always gone back to get “a bigger boat”. Now they can’t. They are stuck and they will die if they don’t kill the shark first. The stakes are jacked up and the stage is set for the final battle.

    That act break would come somewhere around Quint finally allowing Hooper to move forward with his shark cage plan. And the final battle consists of each character going mano-a-mano with the shark. First Hooper tries, but loses. The shark counterattacks by jumping on the boat and eating Quint. Finally Brody manages to blow it up at the last possible moment. This climatic battle is the final act as I see it.

    To be honest though, I always break down movies into four acts where it makes sense. I believe a good midpoint shift should be strong enough to constitute an act break unto itself. So in a sense I agree that Brody taking to the sea signals the beginning of the third act. But I also believe that JAWS adheres to a four act structure and that act three only lasts until the point when the shark effectively beats Quint’s plan.

    • grendl

      Steven Spielberg couldn’t wait to get to the sea hunt. He loved that aspect of the book by Peter Benchley, perhaps the most.

      He cut out the affair between Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper just so he could cut to the chase.

      But I still see the second plot point as the attack on Brody’s son. I understand pagewise that doesn’t jibe with Syd Field’s paradigm, but it just seems to me that that attack was the last straw, and when Quint says to Brody at the bait shop “Maybe I should go alone.” and Brody says “It’s my charter” that’s the most important line he utters.

      Because that’s the line that illustrates he’s going out to the playground to face the bully that’s been kicking sand in his face for half the movie.

      Is there a more important moment out on the boat? I don’t think in terms of Brody’s action there is. Getting onto the Orca was his big moment, like Rocky stepping into the ring with Apollo Creed. The end result doesn’t even matter, the fact is he faced his deepest fear ( hydrophobia and big sharks ) the moment he claimed it was his charter.

      IMHO. of course. You can view his actions on the boat as more heroic, but I don’t.

      • Eric

        I think you can still see him growing on the boat. Look at his face when he first sees the shark. He hasn’t faced it. Not really. Not yet. He tells Quint they’re gonna need a bigger boat, but he still defers the decision to Quint.

        Now in terms of Brody’s character, no there isn’t a bigger moment than his decision to act. He doesn’t, for example, say, “I’m getting in the shark cage, lower me into the water.” That could’ve been a pretty big moment, but it also would’ve been kinda weird with Hooper standing right there. At the end of the day you have to work with what you’ve got, so Brody ends up with the more subtle moment of simply keeping his wits about him and tossing the air tank into the shark’s mouth.

        That said, I believe a protagonist’s emotional arc (fear of water) and the main plot of the story (killer shark) can often develop as different threads and don’t necessarily need to peak, or even complete, at the same moment. It often makes for great moments when they do, but that doesn’t mean they need to. Sometimes the hero completes his arc before the final battle begins rather than during the heat of it. And that’s just fine with me.

        But how depressing would it be if Brody overcame his fear only to be eaten by the shark anyway? Simply seeing the protagonist grow into a new man isn’t always enough. Very often we want to see him prevail against the circumstances that spurred that growth in the first place. In situations like that, I don’t think the final act break needs to include character catharsis as long as we get a compelling resolution to the situation at hand. I think the realization of how useless Quint’s become (as well as the hunters becoming the hunted) is a good enough ‘all is lost moment’ for me to call it an act break.

  • klmn
    • Malibo Jackk

      Four is the limit.
      (five would be weird.)

      • Erica

        Some people will do anything for attention I guess.

    • Poe_Serling

      She should be a shoo-in for the next remake of Total Recall.

      • klmn

        Actually, she’d fit right into the Corridor of Freaks.