How to read a film
Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen
© Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen 2009. All Rights Reserved.
HOW TO
read A FILM
Act 1:Ten-Step Process
Act II: Practical Advice
Act 1:
Ten-step Process
Determine the Genre
1
Genres
Historical Drama
Crime
Love Story
Redemption
Action/Adventure
Mockumentary
ScienceFiction
DramaDrama
Comedy
Horror
...
SubGenres: Comedy
• Parody
• Satire
• Romantic
• Screwball
• Farce
• Black Comedy
SubGenres: Comedy
• Parody
• Satire
• Romantic
1. Focus of
attack
2. Degree of
ridicule
Education Entertainment
Fantasy
Realism
The range of Cinema
identify the protagonist(s) Quest
and Character Arc
2
Protagonist/Antagonist
• Protagonist: The leading character, hero, or heroine
• Antagonist: The adversary of the protagoni...
Protagonist/Antagonist
• Protagonist: The leading character, hero, or heroine
• Antagonist: The adversary of the protagoni...
Character and Pressure
Frodo, Lord of the Rings-
Return of the King (2003)
• True character is revealed
in the choices a h...
Risk
Desire
The measure of the value of a
character’s desire is in direct
proportion to the risk he’s willing
to take to a...
The Quest
• Protagonist’s quest to
achieve his or her object
of desire
• What does he/she want?
Frodo, Lord of the Rings-
...
Cast Design
Protagonist
Character A
Character B
Character A
Character C
Character D
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Character Arc
• The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but
arcs or changes that inner nature, for bette...
Point ofView
Character A
1. Omniscient
2. Over-the-shoulder
3. First person narration
3
IDENTIFY THE INCITING INCIDENT
Story Design
beginning middle end
“Once upon a time.........And they lived happily ever after”
Story Design
INCITING
INCIDENT
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
CRISIS RESOLUTIONCLIMAX
Inciting
Incident
• Crucial event setting the story into
action
• Radically upsets the balance of forces
in the protagonis...
The Quest (Spine)
INCITING
INCIDENT
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
CRISIS RESOLUTIONCLIMAX
Conscious
Objects
of
Desire
Unconsci...
The Quest (Spine)
INCITING
INCIDENT
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
CRISIS RESOLUTIONCLIMAX
Conscious
Objects
of
Desire
Unconsci...
4
IDENTIFY THE PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
Progressive
complications
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
• To make life difficult for characters
• To generate more and more co...
THE LAW OF
CONFLICT
• Nothing moves forward in a story
except through conflict
• Conflict is the soul of a story;
it mirro...
Conflict Changes
Value Charge
Desire
achieved
Desire
blocked
Braveheart, 1995Toy Story, 1995
• Builds pressure
• Creates d...
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
LEVELS OF
CONFLICT
Antagonism
Source
Genre Example
Inner Conflict
Stream of
Consciousness
Person...
The Gap Object
of
Desire
Conflict+Risk+Jeopardy
Protagonist
First
Action
GAP
betweenexpectationandresult
GAP
GAP
GAP
Inner...
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
Object
of
Desire
Risk+Jeopardy+Conflict
Protagonist
First
Action
GAP
betweenexpectationandresult...
Identify the crisis
5
Crisis
• Protagonist is forced to make the ultimate decision
• Moment of dangerous opportunity
• Point of greatest tension...
CrisisCRISIS
Object
of
Desire
The Crisis
Decision
CRISIS
• Story’s primary (most important) value comes to light as
the protagonist makes the Crisis Dec...
True
Dilemma
CRISIS
Object
of
Desire
• Crisis must be true dilemma:
• Choice between irreconcilable goods
• Choice between...
Identify the Climax
6
ClimaxCLIMAX
Conflict
Climax
RisingAction
FallingActionResolution
Turning Points
•Turning Point is centered on the
choice a character makes under
pressure to take one action or
another in ...
Turning Points
•Minor, moderate, or major reversals
•Effects: surprise, increased curiosity,
insight, and new direction
Climax
• Crowning Turning Point (major reversal)
• Climax: a value swing at maximum charge that’s
absolute and irreversibl...
Identify the Resolution
7
Resolution
• Resolution: Any material left after
Climax
• Three uses:
• To climax a subplot
• To show the spread of climac...
determine the plot Type
8
Elements of Story
• Character-driven
• Plot-driven
• Atmosphere-driven
• Tone-driven (point-of-
view)
Plot
• Plot: The plan, scheme, or
interrelated pattern of events
moving through time to
shape the storyline
• Quest
• Adve...
Archplot
Miniplot Antiplot
Classical Design
AntistructureMinimalism
Multiplot
Life as thought about
Life as lived
Life bri...
Archplot
Archplot: A story built around an active protagonist who
struggles against primarily external forces of antagonis...
Antiplot
Anitplot: A story format intended to break the rules of the
Archplot. It is full of randomness and coincidence, s...
Miniplot
Miniplot: A story built around one or more passive
protagonists who struggle against primarily internal forces
of...
Multiplot
Multiplot: A story built around multiple protagonists
who struggles against primarily external forces of
antagon...
Archplot
AntiplotMiniplot
Multiplot
change
Nonplot
stasis
story
no story
verisimilitude or absurdity/satire
Archplot
AntiplotMiniplot
Multiplot
change
Nonplot
stasis
story
no story
verisimilitude or absurdity/satire
(2000)
(2001)
(1994)
(1941)
PROGRESSIVE
COMPLICATIONS
SubplotS’ Relationship with the
Central Plot
May be used to contradict the Controlling Idea of t...
Identify the Controlling Idea
9
StoryValues
• Values are the universal qualities of human experience that
may shift from positive to negative, or negative...
Value Charge
Desire achieved Desire blocked
Controlling Idea
• Describes a story’s root or central
idea. Should be expressed in a
single sentence describing how and
w...
Controlling idea
Progressions
Premise
Premise
LAST ACT
CLIMAX
Idealistic
Pessimistic
Up Ending
Down Ending
LAST ACT
CLIMAX
Controlling idea
Progressions
Premise
Premise
LAST ACT
CLIMAX
Idealistic
Pessimistic
Up Ending
Down Ending
LAST ACT
CLIMAX
Controlling idea
Progressions
Ironic
Down Ending
Up Ending
Premise
LAST ACT
CLIMAX
Up/Down
Ending
Controlling idea
Progressions
Ironic
Down Ending
Up Ending
Premise
LAST ACT
CLIMAX
Up/Down
Ending
Determine the worldview
10
“What does this film say about:”
Worldview God Man Origin Purpose Destiny
Theism
God is
personal
Basically
Evil
Personal
C...
“What does this film say about:”
Worldview God Man Origin Purpose Destiny
Theism
God is
personal
Basically
Evil
Personal
C...
Kinds of Redemption
1. Humanism
• Self-actualization or self-
righteousness
1. Existentialism
• Acceptance of responsibili...
Kinds of Redemption
3. Mysticism
• Dualism or monism
4. Christian
• Substitutionary sacrifice, faith,
repentance, and forg...
Act 1I:
Practical Tips
Was it a good movie?
• Technically? (cinematography, editing, sound,
special effects, composition, lighting, sequence)
• A...
Film’s Influence
• Tension between cultural engagement and holiness
• Assess flesh signature, emotional, spiritual maturit...
CAPACITY
Low High
Language
Violence
Nudity/Sex
Drugs
Explicit
Implied
CAPACITY
“The faith which you have, have as your own
conviction before God. Happy is he who does not
condemn himself in wh...
avoidance caution dialogue appropriation divine
encounter
Earliest More Recent
Theological approaches to film
criticism
avoidance
caution
dialogue
appropriation
divine encounter
Moral Artistic
From Theology to Film
From Film to Theology
Hollywood Agenda?
• $ (American appetite)
• Artistic Expression
• Awards
• Authenticity
• Descriptive vs. prescriptive
• P...
These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses, and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and a...
Theology And Real Life
The Newspaper
BOTH
Helpful Insights
• Films are like food: they range from junk to
gourmet. Choose wisely.
• Be aware of Subtext:The true tho...
Resources
• www.yahoomovies.com
• www.breakpoint.org
• www.imdb.com
• Story, Robert McKee;
• Reel Spirituality, Robert Joh...
THE
END
Reflections Ministries Resources
Reflections - A free monthly teaching letter
KenBoa.org website - Daily Growth email and ...
- Audio/visual presentations of crucial topics
- $20 each
- Call 800-DRAW NEAR (800-372-9632)
DVD Series
How to Read a Film
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How to Read a Film

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Learn the secrets of story and how to read a film by Dr. Ken Boa.

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  • Have you ever left the movie theatre brimming with emotion over what you’ve just seen and experienced, then tried to describe to a friend just how great a film it was, but been at a complete loss as to being able to describe its quality and value in anything other than vague generalities? Or, perhaps more frustrating, have you ever left a movie theatre confused and conflicted, not really understanding what you just saw, and wondering if it was a complete waste of $10 and 2 hours of your life? Or, have you seen what you intuitively know was a fine film and a story well told, but were nagged by the fact that you know there were more insights and meaning to glean, but you just didn’t have the right tools to figure it all out, but wish you did? If so, then you’ve come to the right place. We modestly(!) hope that your investment of this single hour will enhance the way you see and understand film for the rest of your life. Let’s get started.
  • We’ll approach how to read a film from two angles: in Act I, we’ll look at a ten-step process, and then in Act II, we’ll delve into some practical advice.
    Image: http://www.arm-film.com/Armfilm-Pics/dniezby_Film_Strip.png
  • So let’s look at a ten-step process we’ve developed to help you “see more” in a film. And while this ten-step process may not be exactly sequential, i.e., you may perform one or more steps out of sequence or even simultaneously, each is essential in grasping the story and message of the film.
  • The first step is to determine the film’s genre. If possible, try to find this out prior to viewing the movie to help frame proper expectations.
  • Today, screenwriters have evolved a list of about 25 major genres, plus a variety of subgenres. See your attached list with explanations of each genre.
    Genre conventions are specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their subgenres. Genres are simply windows on reality. But genre conventions are not carved in stone; they evolve, grow, adapt, modify, and break apace with changes in society. p. 93 Story
    (By the way, if you’re a fan of the Love Story genre, the question to ask is “What’s to stop them?” That’s where the story will be found. Who are the “Blocking Characters” or “the force opposed to love” in the story?)
    Image: http://www.arm-film.com/Armfilm-Pics/dniezby_Film_Strip%203.png
  • Just as in the automotive industry, where we don’t just have only the single category of “cars,” we now have compact cars, sub-compact cars, which can be further divided into sports cars, economy cars, etc., so also in the film industry do the major categories of film subdivide into multiple subcategories. For example, Comedy subgenres range from Parody AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997), which is a parody of James Bond films; to Satire O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000), which is a satire of Homer’s epic poem Ulysses; to Romantic MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (2002); to Screwball as in the crazy antics of Rowan Atkinson in MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY (2007); to Farce in THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975) and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975); to Black Comedy (a darkly comical look) as in Danny DeVito’s THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989). All these comedies differ by just two factors: 1) the focus of the comic attack (whether it be an attack against bureaucratic folly, upper-class manners, teenage courtship, etc.) and 2) the degree of ridicule (gentle, caustic, lethal). (p. 82 Story)They are all Comedy - but Black Comedy is far different than Screwball Comedy or Romantic Comedy. Oddly enough, you may love one form of comedy and yet find another form of comedy repugnant.
  • Just as in the automotive industry, where we don’t just have only the single category of “cars,” we now have compact cars, sub-compact cars, which can be further divided into sports cars, economy cars, etc., so also in the film industry do the major categories of film subdivide into multiple subcategories. For example, Comedy subgenres range from Parody AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997), which is a parody of James Bond films; to Satire O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000), which is a satire of Homer’s epic poem Ulysses; to Romantic MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (2002); to Screwball as in the crazy antics of Rowan Atkinson in MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY (2007); to Farce in THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975) and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975); to Black Comedy (a darkly comical look) as in Danny DeVito’s THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989). All these comedies differ by just two factors: 1) the focus of the comic attack (whether it be an attack against bureaucratic folly, upper-class manners, teenage courtship, etc.) and 2) the degree of ridicule (gentle, caustic, lethal). (p. 82 Story)They are all Comedy - but Black Comedy is far different than Screwball Comedy or Romantic Comedy. Oddly enough, you may love one form of comedy and yet find another form of comedy repugnant.
  • Film is a hybrid, along with other creative and performing arts. Each movie can be placed at a particular location on this matrix whose one axis runs from realism to fantasy, and whose other matrix is a continuum between education and entertainment. To the degree that a film appeals to popular culture, it is entertaining. (Ace Ventura, Pet Detective). To the degree that it seeks to portray some aspect of truth, beauty, and/or goodness, it is educating. (The Blue Planet) p. 89 Reel Spirituality
    To the degree that film is simply escapist entertainment, it should be viewed as such, and there will be little, if any, need for theological dialogue with it... but to the degree that a film, whether through fantasy or realism, and even when primarily entertainment, succeeds in artistically depicting life, it engages our lives. As it does, it educates, inviting our response as whole persons, including our religious convictions. p. 90 Reel Spirituality
    Popular movies need not be trivial or tabloid in their storytelling. They need not be- in fact, often are not - mindless entertainment. p. 88 Reel Spirituality
  • The second step involves identifying the protagonist or protagonists (there may be 2 or more in some types of film) quest, as well as what is known as a character arc, which we’ll explain in a moment.
  • All films have a protagonist, though some types of film tell a story using multiple protagonists. The protagonist is the most important character, so let’s continue our ten-step process by identifying them.The Protagonist is the leading character, hero, or heroine that wants something. The Antagonist, however, being the adversary of the protagonist, will try to prevent him from getting what he wants. Antagonists, too, can be represented by one or by multiple characters.So, for example in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), which incidentally was Heath Ledger’s final and best performance, he played the Joker; he was the antagonist or adversary of the protagonist - the leading character in the story, Batman. In a completely different genre, Tom Hanks played Forrest Gump, the protagonist, who fought against multiple forces of antagonism, such as physical disability in his legs, being mentally challenged, the challenges of war, and the deep disappointment of unrequited love.
  • All films have a protagonist, though some types of film tell a story using multiple protagonists. The protagonist is the most important character, so let’s continue our ten-step process by identifying them.The Protagonist is the leading character, hero, or heroine that wants something. The Antagonist, however, being the adversary of the protagonist, will try to prevent him from getting what he wants. Antagonists, too, can be represented by one or by multiple characters.So, for example in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), which incidentally was Heath Ledger’s final and best performance, he played the Joker; he was the antagonist or adversary of the protagonist - the leading character in the story, Batman. In a completely different genre, Tom Hanks played Forrest Gump, the protagonist, who fought against multiple forces of antagonism, such as physical disability in his legs, being mentally challenged, the challenges of war, and the deep disappointment of unrequited love.
  • Below the surface, who really is this character? At his true heart of hearts, what will we find? Is he loving or cruel? Generous or selfish? Strong or weak? Truthful or a liar? Courageous or cowardly? The only way we know the truth is to witness him make choices under pressure to take one action or another in the pursuit of his desire. As he chooses, so he is.
    Pressure is essential. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little. p. 101
    For instance, Frodo, the protagonist of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003), is a tiny, quiet Hobbit who agrees to take the Ring of Power on a treacherous journey to destroy it in the fires of Mordor in order to save the kingdom from the corrupt, power-hungry Sauruman and his legions. The tremendous pressures Frodo must face, not the least of which is his own internal attraction to the omnipotent power of the Ring, which corrupted the menacing Gollum, reveal the true character of this little Hobbit. Can the weak and tiny Hobbit endure the intense onslaught of Sauruman’s bred-to-kill armies? And though everyone considers Hobbits pure-hearted, is Frodo an exception? Will he risk all his friends and his very life on his quest to destroy the Ring? His choices under this intense pressure reveal the true answers to these questions.
    Image: http://img1.jurko.net/wall/paper/rotk_frodo_1280.jpg
    Image: http://sammyray.com/wp-content/images/2009/01/gollum.jpg
  • The measure of the value of a character’s desire is in direct proportion to the risk he’s willing to take to achieve it; the greater the value, the greater the risk. (p. 150 Story)
  • We noted earlier that all protagonists want something- love, justice, victory, revenge, freedom, etc. The journey to attain their object of desire is called their “quest.” As you watch the film, you must identify the protagonist’s quest to understand the story. Want to know what his/her quest is? Just ask the simple question: What does he/she want? Determine that, and you’ll establish the object of desire, and thus the direction of the protagonist’s quest.So in THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2003), the protagonist, Frodo, is on a quest to destroy the ring of power in order to save the world. In TITANIC (1997), protagonist Rose tells her story of her quest to save her ill-fated lover Jack Dawson during the sinking of the Titanic.
  • In essence, the protagonist creates the rest of the cast. All other characters are in a story first and foremost because of the relationship they strike to the protagonist and the way each helps to delineate the dimensions of the protagonist's complex nature. The cast’s primary purpose is to expose the protagonist’s character qualities.
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling. We see the Character Arc in Dr. Seuss’s 1966 film for TV HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966). Bitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village of Whoville having a joyous time celebrating Christmas. And having a heart two sizes too small didn’t help matters. So the Grinch makes a plan to stop Christmas. He commands his little dog to pull a sled down into Whoville to steal all the Christmas presents and decorations the night before Christmas, which he successfully does. But after leaving Whoville on the trip back up to his mountain lair, the Grinch witnesses that the Whos carry on with their Christmas worship and cheer without any material trappings. Their joy is not about the gifts, but about something or Someone greater. Suddenly, the Grinch’s sled, overburdened with stolen Whoville presents and decorations, teeters on a high precipice, and endangers the life of his dog – as well as risking losing the sled and the presents. In a flash of enlightenment, the Grinch’s heart grows and grows, and his newfound realization about Christmas produces an inner strength which gives him the physical strength to save his dog and all the presents, which he then promptly returns to the Whos, and enjoys Christmas with them. His character arcs from a cold-hearted, Christmas-hating hermit, to a warm-hearted, Christmas-loving friend of the Whos.
    Grinch Images: http://www.animationusa.com/mgm09.html
    http://gadgetsteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/grinch.jpg
  • In viewing a movie, we must decide which  point of view dominates this movie. For our purposes, a movie is told from one of the choices below, never two or more.
     1. Omnipotent: can go anywhere, see anything, at any time; allows us to see multiple events and characters who are not at the moment interacting with each other.2. Over-the-shoulder of one character; can only see what the character sees.3. First person narration; sometimes this point of view is used to justify cutting to someone or some event the character can't see right now. Our main character is then either speculating about that event or character(s) or else he learned later about some event that happened and is reporting what he heard. Frequently used in comedies.
    Source: http://www.rickwisedp.com/St%20Marys/January%20Class%202005/film_structure.htm
  • In the first two steps, we’ve hopefully determined the film’s genre, identified the protagonist(s) and his quest, and will watch for character arc as the story progresses.
  • Every story, regardless of the medium, will have three basic parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. (“Once upon a time...And they lived happily ever after”). (p. 105 Reel Spirituality)
    Did you notice the Up-Ending in this little story, by the way?
  • While story can be simplified to three major parts, I think it is more helpful to consider this five part design:
    1. Inciting Incident, the first major event of the telling, is the primary cause for all that follows, putting into motion the other four elements- Progressive Complications; Crisis; Climax, and Resolution. (p. 181 Story)
  • An Inciting Incident is a crucial event that sets the story into action. Further, it radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life. (p. 189 Story)
    As a story begins, the protagonist is living a life that’s more or less in balance. He has successes and failures, ups and downs. Who doesn’t? But life is in relative control. Then, perhaps suddenly but in any case decisively, an event occurs that radically upsets the balance, swinging the value-charge of the protagonist’s reality to either the negative or to the positive. (p. 190 Story)
    Take the 1975 movie Jaws, for example. In the setup of the Inciting Incident, a great white shark eats a swimmer, and her body washes onto the beach. Fortunately, the sheriff (Roy Sheider) discovers the corpse, and wants to hunt down and kill the creature. A film’s Inciting Incident provokes to mind the film’s Major Dramatic Question, a variation on “How will this turn out?.” Jaws: Will the sheriff kill the shark, or will the shark kill the sheriff? p. 198 In Hollywood jargon, the Central Plot’s Inciting Incident is the “big hook.” This event incites and captures the audience’s curiosity. Hunger for the answer to the Major Dramatic Question grips the audience’s interest, holding it to the last act’s climax. (p. 198 Story)
    Image: http://roddysrockinreviews.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/jaws.jpg
  • From the point of view of the writer looking from the Inciting Incident “down the Spine” to the last act’s Climax, in spite of all we’ve said about genres and the various shapes from Archplot to Antiplot, in truth there’s only one story. In essence, we have told one another the same tale, one way or another, since the dawn of humanity, and that story could be usefully called the Quest. All stories take the form of a Quest.
    For better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or conscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extra-personal). He may or may not achieve it. This is story in a nutshell. pp. 196-197
    By the way, to understand the protagonist’s Quest, you need only identify his Object of Desire - what does he want? His desire to restore the balance to life is the spine that connects the the story together. p. 288
    Nutshell Image: http://www.adventbirmingham.org/articles.asp?ID=3620
  • From the point of view of the writer looking from the Inciting Incident “down the Spine” to the last act’s Climax, in spite of all we’ve said about genres and the various shapes from Archplot to Antiplot, in truth there’s only one story. In essence, we have told one another the same tale, one way or another, since the dawn of humanity, and that story could be usefully called the Quest. All stories take the form of a Quest.
    For better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or conscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extra-personal). He may or may not achieve it. This is story in a nutshell. pp. 196-197
    By the way, to understand the protagonist’s Quest, you need only identify his Object of Desire - what does he want? His desire to restore the balance to life is the spine that connects the the story together. p. 288
    Nutshell Image: http://www.adventbirmingham.org/articles.asp?ID=3620
  • Now that we’ve picked out the film’s inciting incident, we can watch for the progressive complications in the protagonist’s quest for the object of his desire.
  • The second element of the five-part design of story is Progressive Complications, which simply means to make life difficult for characters. To complicate progressively means to generate more and more conflict as they face greater and greater forces of antagonism, creating a succession of events that passes the points of no return. p. 208 Story
    For example, in THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2003), the innocent, powerless hobbit Frodo in his quest face fierce Orcs, the advanced breed Uruk-Hai killers, ghastly Nazgûl warriors, the corrupted hobbit Gollum, and a whole host of forces masterminded by the power-hungry Saruman.
  • Conflict is to storytelling what sound is to music. The music of story is conflict. As long as conflict engages our thoughts and emotions, we travel through the hours unaware of the voyage of watching the film. But when conflict disappears, so do we. Conflict holds our interest. This is where the Law of Conflict comes into play: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. It is the soul of a story. Story is a metaphor for life, and to be alive is to be in seemingly perpetual conflict. Conflict engages our thoughts and emotions. Ask yourself, how is the film creating conflict and resistance to the goal(s) of the protagonist?
    pp. 210-211 Story
  • So how does a filmmaker change the value charge of a scene or act or climax? In a word: conflict. Conflict builds pressure, creates dilemmas, and demands more difficult risk-taking choices from the protagonist.
    Image: http://mymoviebanners.com/pics/braveheart/braveheart-5.jpg
  • Conflict may come from any one, two, or all three levels of antagonism. Films with all three levels of antagonism offer a rich complexity. But from the Horror Film to Action/Adventure to Farce, action heroes face conflict only on the extra-personal level. James Bond, for example, has no inner conflicts, nor would we mistake his encounters with women as personal -they’re recreational. (p. 213 Story)
    Image: http://iphonetoolbox.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/pirates-of-the-caribbean-3-04-f.jpg
  • Screenwriters create progressive complications often by creating gaps. A gap is the difference between expectation and result. Perhaps one of the most famous film gaps is when STAR WARS (1980) villain Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker during their light saber duel “Luke, I am your father.” The protagonist seeks an object of desire. Therefore, his first action arouses forces of antagonism that block his desire and spring open a gap between anticipation and result, disconfirming his notions of reality, putting him in greater conflict with his world, at even greater risk. But the resilient human mind quickly remakes reality into a larger pattern that incorporates this disconfirmation, this unexpected reaction. Now he takes a second, more difficult and risk-taking action, an action consistent with his revised vision of reality, an action based on his new expectations of the world. But again his action provokes forces of antagonism, splitting open a gap in his reality. Over and over again in a progression, rather than cooperation, his actions provoke forces of antagonism, opening gaps in his reality. This pattern repeats on various levels to the end of the line, to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another. (pp. 151-152)The gap between expectation and result creates dramatic tension begging for some sort of resolution.
    Image: http://www.aflinsider.net/images/luke-afl1.jpg
  • Each gap presents a point of no return; he cannot turn back. He must put himself in greater jeopardy, take more risk, and endure more conflict to continue his quest to attain the object of his desire.
  • OK, as far as the storyline goes, we’ve identified the inciting incident, and watched for progressive complications that are coming to a head in the form of a crisis, which is the next element we should identify.
  • Crisis is the third of the five-part design of story. It means decision- to take one action, and not another. This, not that. But Crisis with a capital C is the ultimate decision.
    The protagonist’s quest has carried him through the Progressive Complications until he’s exhausted all actions to achieve his desire, save one. He now finds himself at the end of the line. His next action is his last. No tomorrow. No second chance. This moment of dangerous opportunity is the point of greatest tension in the story as both protagonist and audience sense that the question “How will this turn out?” will be answered out of the next action.
    The Crisis is the story’s Obligatory Scene. From the Inciting Incident on, the audience has been anticipating with growing vividness the scene in which the protagonist will be face to face with the most focused, powerful forces of antagonism in his existence. p. 303 Story
  • This is the dragon, so to speak, that guards the Object of Desire: be it the literal creature of JAWS (1975) or the metaphorical dragon of meaninglessness in TENDER MERCIES (1983). (pp. 303-304 Story)
    Image: http://www.hollywoodstories.com/Jaws.jpg
    Image: Jaws on Boat: http://blogs.amctv.com/monsterfest/2008/06/how-jaws-lost-its-bite.php
    When Jaws hit the theaters in 1975, it scared the collective living crap out of an entire country. The movie defined a new genre, set a new standard for cinematic terror, and even introduced the concept that, yes, two notes from a tuba could make your stomach clench. The movie made people afraid to swim, even in areas that don't have sharks. You know, places like lakes, ponds and bathtubs.
  • This scene reveals the story’s most important value. If there’s been any doubt about which value is central to the story, as the protagonist makes the Crisis Decision, the primary value comes to the fore. It is in this moment that the protagonist’s willpower is most severely tested and thus, his true character revealed. (p. 304 Story)Story Values include love, freedom, truth, courage, justice, loyalty, wisdom, strength, excitement, or hate, slavery, lie, cowardice, betrayal, etc.
  • The Crisis must be true dilemma- a choice between irreconcilable goods, the lesser of two evils, or the two at once that places the protagonist under the maximum pressure of his life.
  • Story Climax is the fourth of the five-part structure.
  • Think of the storyline of a film as beginning with some type of conflict, followed by rising action (progressive complications plus a crisis), culminating into a story climax, which is followed more briefly by falling action and resolution.
    Freytag’s Pyramid
    Image:http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/070731/gallery/ordinary_l.jpg
  • Before we define climax, we need to quickly look at turning points. Who doesn’t love unpredictable twists and turns in story? Turning Points in a film are one of the most important elements in story. A Turning Point is centered on the choice a character makes under pressure to take one action or another in the pursuit of desire. (p. 248 Story)Turning Points causes the values at stake to turn + to -, or - to +. (p. 217 Story)Turning Points twist, build, and turn again. (p. 74 Story)In fact, a good film scene can be defined as a story in miniature - an action through conflict in a unity or continuity of time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life. (p. 233 Story)
  • Turning points may be a minor reversal, as within a scene, or moderate reversal, as within an Act, or a major reversal, as in the Climax of the film. (p. 234 Story)
    The effects of Turning Points are fourfold: surprise, increased curiosity, insight, and new direction. (p. 234 Story)
  • Story Climax is the fourth of the five-part structure. This crowning Major Reversal is not necessarily full of noise and violence- but it should be full of meaning. It is meaning that produces emotion- not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography. (p. 308 Story)
    Climax: A revolution in values from positive to negative or negative to positive with or without irony - a value swing at maximum charge that’s absolute and irreversible. The meaning of that change moves the heart of the audience.
    The Climax should be appropriate to the needs of the story. It may be catastrophic: The sublime battle sequence that climaxes GLORY, or outwardly trivial: A woman rises from a quiet talk with her husband, packs a suitcase, and goes out the door. That action, in the context of ORDINARY PEOPLE, is overwhelming. At Crisis, the values of family love and unity tip toward the positive as the husband desperately exposes his family’s bitter secret. But at Climax, the moment his wife walks out, they swing to an absolute, irreversible negative. If, on the other hand, she were to stay, her hatred of her son might finally drive the boy to suicide. So her leaving is then toned with a positive counterpoint that ends the film on a painful, but overall negative irony. (p. 309 Story)
    William Goldman argues that the key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not the way it expects. p. 320. In Aristotle’s words, an ending must be both “inevitable and unexpected.” The Climax must be inevitable, emotionally satisfying, yet unexpected, happening in a way the audience could not have anticipated. (p. 311 Story)
    Image:http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/070731/gallery/ordinary_l.jpg
  • Resolution represents the fifth of our five-part story structure, and the seventh step in our ten-step process.
  • The Resolution, the fifth of the five-part structure, is any material left after Climax and has three possible uses:
    1. To climax a subplot
    2. To show the spread of climactic effects, i.e. how lives were changed by the climactic action.
    3. Audience courtesy (slow curtain). This helps the audience catch its breath, gather its thoughts, and leave the cinema with dignity. (pp. 312-314 Story)
  • As we continue on in our ten-step process of how to read a film, we need to determine the kind of plot the screenwriter employed to tell his story.
  • One way to look at story is to consider that the narrative may be driven by one or another of these four aspects. That is, they will be emphasized, or given precedence. Determining which one of these four is being emphasized provides a key into the heart of the story.
    Stories that emphasize character portray issues of human need or potential. They deal with the question of human nature by offering paradigms of possibility. What is it to be human? Ex. Shine (1996)
    There are also movie stories that are plot-driven.
    Third, movies can find their center of power and meaning in the story’s atmosphere, the unalterable given(s) against which the story is told and the characters developed. Atmosphere is more than just the prevailing mood, or emotional element, of a story. It is the unchanging backdrop against which the story is played out. Jurassic Park (1993) is not just a dinosaur movie, but a story about the existence of lost worlds.
    Lastly, stories are told with a certain point of view, the implied narrator’s attitude toward the story’s subject and audience. Achieved at many times by voice-overs or by monologues, it can also be conveyed through the movie’s language - its editing, photography, composition, music, pace, and lighting. A movie’s point of view is is the way a story is given value. There is a narrator to each story, even if his or her presence is only implied or submerged in the storytelling process itself. Example: Broadway Danny Rose. pp. 106-107 Reel Spirituality
  • What do we mean by the word “plot?” Plot can be defined as the overall plan, scheme, or interrelated pattern of events moving through time to shape the storyline. We won’t take time to define these, but here are 20 of the most common plot types:
    #1 QUEST - the plot involves the Protagonist's search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible (but must be quantifiable, so think of this as a noun; i.e., immortality). #2 ADVENTURE - this plot involves the Protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, the Protagonist goes to search for it somewhere over the rainbow. #3 PURSUIT - this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another. #4 RESCUE - this plot involves the Protagonist searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters - the Protagonist, the Victim & the Antagonist. #5 ESCAPE - plot involves a Protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include some one trying to escape their personal demons). #6 REVENGE - retaliation by Protagonist or Antagonist against the other for real or imagined injury. #7 THE RIDDLE - plot involves the Protagonist's search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous. #8 RIVALRY - plot involves Protagonist competing for same object or goal as another person (their rival). #9 UNDERDOG - plot involves a Protagonist competing for an object or goal that is at a great disadvantage and is faced with overwhelming odds. #10 TEMPTATION - plot involves a Protagonist that for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong or immoral. #11 METAMORPHOSIS - this plot involves the physical characteristics of the Protagonist actually changing from one form to another (reflecting their inner psychological identity). #12 TRANSFORMATION - plot involves the process of change in the Protagonist as they journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another. #13 MATURATION - plot involves the Protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerging into a state of adulthood (going from innocence to experience). #14 LOVE - plot involves the Protagonist overcoming the obstacles to love that keeps them from consummating (engaging in) true love. #15 FORBIDDEN LOVE - plot involves Protagonist(s) overcoming obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship (and sometimes finding it at too high a price to live with). #16 SACRIFICE - plot involves the Protagonist taking action(s) that is motivated by a higher purpose (concept) such as love, honor, charity or for the sake of humanity. #17 DISCOVERY - plot that is the most character-centered of all, involves the Protagonist having to overcome an upheavel(s) in their life, and thereby discovering something important (and buried) within them a better understanding of life (i.e., better appreciation of their life, a clearer purpose in their life, etc.) #18 WRETCHED EXCESS - plot involves a Protagonist who, either by choice or by accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences (generally deals with the psychological decline of the character). #19 ASCENSION - rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of Protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed. #20 DECISION - riches-to-rags plot deals with the fall (destruction) of Protagonist due to dominating character trait that eventually destroys their success.
    Source: http://www.tennscreen.com/plots.htm
  • To help you map the universe of all storytelling possibilities, consider this Story Triangle. The most common type of story is the Archplot, which is expressed through Classical Story Design and plot. We’ll dive into its characteristics in a minute. The other major types of stories are Antiplot and Miniplot. Antiplot is also called Anti-Structure, and as you might guess from its name, is the direct opposite of the structured Archplot. Miniplot, or little plot, is characterized by minimalism, or a reductive style of minimal complexity. Basically, these types of stories differ by the type and number of protagonists or plots, by how they present the flow of time, and how they portray reality. Each of the three major types of storytelling intentionally presents a different message about reality and life. In the Archplot, for example, the screenwriter and director are trying to show the audience “life as lived.” But in Antiplot, the writer is expressing that “life is absurd, and that change is random and therefore meaningless;” whereas the writer using the Miniplot convention is relating that “life brings little or no change.” The Archplot shows that “life brings positive change,” that reality has meaning, and that life is good and will end well. Writers using the Antiplot device, on the other hand, present life not in actuality, but more as “life as thought about.” Minimalism, the Miniplot, just brings the audience a mini or micro slice of life.By the way, there’s one more storytelling possibility, which falls between the Archplot and the Miniplot: the Multiplot. This storytelling device uses multiple plots, rather than a single plot, as in the Archplot.
    Story p. 44
  • In the Archplot, which, as we noted is the Classical Story Design, a story is built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change. (p.45 Story)To illustrate Classical Story Design, let’s take IMDb’s #1 movie in their September, 2009 list of top 250 movies, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). This story is built around an active protagonist, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism, such as the cruel chief guard Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown), in addition to a group of sadistic sexual predators known as the “Sisters,” to pursue his desire, namely, to be free from the Shawshank prison. This occurs in continuous time (time happens normally in this movie, not helter-skelter, as in some other films). Andy’s imprisonment occurs within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality of the Shawshank prison from 1947 to 1966. He continues to pursue his desire for freedom to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change by escaping from prison and living in freedom along the beautiful coast of Mexico. This film was nominated for 7 Oscars, had another 11 wins and 13 nominations, and perfectly follows the Classical Story Design.
  • In direct opposition to the Archplot, Antiplot is a story format specifically intended to break the rules of Archplot. Think of it as sort of a satire or parody of the Archplot. It is full of randomness and coincidence, skipping helter-skelter through time, (rather than linearly, as in the archplot), within an inconsistent and disconnected fictional reality. Films like MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) with its farcical portrayal of King Arthur and his knights in search of the holy grail used by Jesus at the last supper typifies antiplot with its random events and inconsistent realities. WAYNE’S WORLD (1992) does the same, with its three fictional endings.
  • On the other hand, miniplot is a story built around one or more passive protagonists who struggle against primarily internal forces of antagonism to pursue their desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causually connected fictional reality, to an open ending of unanswered questions. So a miniplot is much like the archplot, except it may have multiple protagonists with internal rather than external struggles, and they often end leaving the audience with unanswered questions about life or the film’s story.TENDER MERCIES is a good example of miniplot, where former country singer Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) struggles against alcoholism and despair as he befriends a young widow and her son and finds inspiration again. FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) starring Clint Eastwood is another example of a miniplot film.
  • Resting between the Archplot and Miniplot in the story triangle is the Multiplot. It is essentially an archplot with multiple protagonists. You see this multi-protagonist feature in the Oscar-winning film CRASH (2004), where within a two-day period in Los Angeles multiple protagonists of different races and nationalities face pain from racial stereotyping. Woody Allen’s 1986 film, which, like Crash also won three Oscars, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) features three protagonists who are all sisters and traces their twisting and turning relationships.
  • In an effort to be original, unique, and creative, some scriptwriters push on all traditional boundaries. Since there is structure and anti-structure in storytelling, you can also imagine that there might also be story and anti-story conventions. Indeed there are. Whereas within the Story Triangle a story is actually told, in the Nonplot realm of film, there is no story. Further, since in storytelling change occurs as the plot progresses, in a Nonplot film, no change occurs; there is only stasis. These writers/directors are consciously presenting a mere verisimilitude (appearing to be true) of life in their attempt to show the absurdity of life, or to present a satire of life. Nonplot film examples include LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961); MASCULIN FEMININ (1966); UMBERTO D (1952); and LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995) starring Nicolas Cage. (Story, p. 59)
  • In an effort to be original, unique, and creative, some scriptwriters push on all traditional boundaries. Since there is structure and anti-structure in storytelling, you can also imagine that there might also be story and anti-story conventions. Indeed there are. Whereas within the Story Triangle a story is actually told, in the Nonplot realm of film, there is no story. Further, since in storytelling change occurs as the plot progresses, in a Nonplot film, no change occurs; there is only stasis. These writers/directors are consciously presenting a mere verisimilitude (appearing to be true) of life in their attempt to show the absurdity of life, or to present a satire of life. Nonplot film examples include LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961); MASCULIN FEMININ (1966); UMBERTO D (1952); and LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995) starring Nicolas Cage. (Story, p. 59)
  • One exception to the Story Triangle are the current Film Noir movies. Film Noir means dark film or black film to describe the hard-boiled detective stories shot in high contrasting, black and white shadows. This genre exploded in the wake of World War II with movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941). Philosophically, film noir reflects existential angst- not even the bad guys win. It presents a hopeless universe, devoid of feelings other than lust, revenge, and the will to power. Noir characters have an attitude of “kill or be killed.” p. 63-64 Into the Dark.
    The finest of contemporary film noir doesn’t revel in evil but haunts our souls by acknowledging our failings and exposing our calculated cover-ups. p. 63 Into the Dark. These dark films present the dark side of humanity, graphically portraying the unpleasant truths of the human condition as detailed in Romans 1-3.
    There is a growing genre of films that may be called Neo-Noir, which are a reimagination of film noir. They transcend a coherent story, and weave-in postmodern relativism and suspicion about truth. Movies such as Pulp Fiction (1994)(IMDb #5/250), and particularly Memento (2000) (IMDb #29/250) and Donnie Darko (2001) (IMDb #130/250), in which there is an enigmatic pseudo-plot quality.
  • One exception to the Story Triangle are the current Film Noir movies. Film Noir means dark film or black film to describe the hard-boiled detective stories shot in high contrasting, black and white shadows. This genre exploded in the wake of World War II with movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941). Philosophically, film noir reflects existential angst- not even the bad guys win. It presents a hopeless universe, devoid of feelings other than lust, revenge, and the will to power. Noir characters have an attitude of “kill or be killed.” p. 63-64 Into the Dark.
    The finest of contemporary film noir doesn’t revel in evil but haunts our souls by acknowledging our failings and exposing our calculated cover-ups. p. 63 Into the Dark. These dark films present the dark side of humanity, graphically portraying the unpleasant truths of the human condition as detailed in Romans 1-3.
    There is a growing genre of films that may be called Neo-Noir, which are a reimagination of film noir. They transcend a coherent story, and weave-in postmodern relativism and suspicion about truth. Movies such as Pulp Fiction (1994)(IMDb #5/250), and particularly Memento (2000) (IMDb #29/250) and Donnie Darko (2001) (IMDb #130/250), in which there is an enigmatic pseudo-plot quality.
  • Subplots may be used to contradict the Controlling Idea of the Central Plot and thus enrich the film with irony.Subplots may be used to resonate the Controlling Idea of the Central Plot and enrich the film with variations on a theme.Subplots may be used to complicate the Central Plot. This third relationship is the most important, as it uses the subplot as an additional source of antagonism. For example, the Love Story typically found inside Crime Stories: In SEA OF LOVE Frank Keller (Al Pacino) falls in love with Helen (Ellen Barkin). While hunting down her psychotic ex-husband, he risks his life to protect the woman he loves. In THE VERDICT, a Courtroom Drama, Frank (Paul Newman) falls in love with Laura (Charlotte Rampling), a spy from the opposing law firm. These subplots add dimension to characters, create comic or romantic relief from the tensions or violence of the Central Plot, but their primary purpose is to make life difficult for the protagonist. (pp. 226-229 Story)
  • The controlling idea is the film’s main idea or message that it is attempting to convey. Before we unpack the controlling idea, let’s first look at the values that the film conveys.
  • Values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next. For example: alive/dead (positive/negative) is a story value, as are love/hate, freedom/slavery, truth/lie, courage/cowardice, loyalty/betrayal, wisdom/stupidity, strength/weakness, excitement/boredom, and so on. All such binary qualities can reverse their charge at any moment are Story Values. (Story, p. 34)
    Image: http://www.paccc.ca/AGM/stage%20lights.jpg
  • In every good film, each scene should turn a value at stake in a character’s life from the positive to the negative, or the negative to the positive. If the value-charged condition of the character’s life stays unchanged from one end of a scene to the other, nothing meaningful happens. It is a non-event. p. 16 Story
    The character must want something - if he or she wants nothing, then nothing is at stake; nothing is ventured and nothing is gained. In story, this triviality creates boredom, and frankly isn’t worth watching.
    Good story involves changing value charges. If the character’s desire is achieved, we consider the event to be positive. If it is blocked, we consider it to be negative.
    Image: http://www.paccc.ca/AGM/stage%20lights.jpg
  • Another important element of story to understand is its Controlling Idea, which simply names a story’s root or central idea. The Controlling Idea should be expressed in a single sentence describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end (i.e. positive or negative). The story or film should be molded around one idea. This is not to say that a story can be reduced to a rubric. Far more is captured within the web of a story that can ever be stated in words- subtleties, subtexts, conceits, double-meanings, richness of all kinds. A story becomes a kind of living philosophy that the audience members grasp as a whole, in a flash, without conscious thought - a perception married to their life experiences. (Story, p. 115)For example, the Controlling Idea for the film TITANIC (1997), as well as others within the Love Story genre is “Love triumphs because the lovers sacrifice their needs for each other.” Alternately, a more complex and ironic Controlling Idea within this genre could be “Love cuts two ways: we possess it when we give it freedom, but destroy it with possessiveness.” (Story, p. 227)
    Image: http://www.drinkstuff.com/productimg/18904_large.jpg
  • Writers and the stories they tell can be usefully divided into three grand categories, according to the emotional charge of their Controlling Idea. We’re showing a positive emotional charge as a green smiley face and a “plus sign” indicating a positive scene, sequence, or act climax. Likewise, we’re using a red sad face and a “negative sign” to indicate a negative scene, sequence, or act climax.
    1. The first of three categories is an Idealistic Controlling Idea for the story. These are “Up-Ending” stories expressing the optimism, hopes, and dreams of mankind, a positively charged vision of the human spirit; life as we wish it to be. The emotional charge of the film’s premise starts negatively, moves positive, then makes increasingly more intense alternating positive and negative charges until the crescendo, the last act climax, which is positively charged. That is, it is a positive or happy ending, or an “Up Ending” as it is known in the industry. Here, the protagonist gets what he or she wants. At climax the protagonist’s object of desire becomes a trophy of sorts, depending on the value at stake- the lover of one’s dreams (love), the dead body of the villain (justice), a badge of achievement (fortune, victory), public recognition (power, fame) - and he won it. (p. 126 Story). Screenwriters here are expressing optimism, hope, and light with the Idealistic Controlling Idea for their story. They are saying, in effect, life has ups and downs, but in the end, it will all turn out well. Examples of Idealistic Controlling Ideas include Lord of the Rings, Chariots of Fire, and Jaws. The majority of movies employ this idealism, reflecting the hope of the majority that life will turn out well, in spite of its problems along the way.
    2. In direct contrast, the Pessimistic Controlling Idea premise begins with a positive emotional charge, but then moves negatively, then makes increasingly more intense alternating positive and negative charges until the crescendo of the Last Act Climax, which is negatively charged. That is, it is a negative or sad ending. Screenwriters here are expressing cynicism, despair, a sense of loss or misfortune, and dark dimensions of life with the Pessimistic Controlling Idea. They are making a statement, in effect, that life has ups and downs, but it is filled with disappointment, and just doesn’t turn out quite like we had hoped- that’s just the way life IS. This is an accurate portrait of reality, they feel. Pain is a part of life, so why be Polly-Anna-ish about what’s really real? It is life as we dread it to be but know it so often is. Examples include Dance with a Stranger, where passion turns to violence and destroys our lives when we use people as objects of pleasure. Chinatown expresses the pessimistic controlling idea that “evil triumphs because it is a part of human nature.” On a superficial level, Chinatown suggests that the rich get away with murder. They do indeed. But more profoundly, the film express the ubiquity of evil. In reality, because good and evil are equal parts of human nature, evil vanquishes good as often as good conquers evil. pp. 124-125 Story
    The reason some people don’t like down-ending films is because they might give it an unpleasant experience. Generally their excuse is that they have enough tragedy in their lives. But if we were to look closely, we might discover that they not only avoid negative emotions in movies, they avoid them in life. Such people think that happiness never means suffering, so they never feel anything deeply. But the depth of our joy is often in direct proportion to what we’ve suffered. Holocaust survivors, for example, generally don’t avoid dark films. They go because such stories resonate with their past and are deeply cathartic. p. 310
  • Writers and the stories they tell can be usefully divided into three grand categories, according to the emotional charge of their Controlling Idea. We’re showing a positive emotional charge as a green smiley face and a “plus sign” indicating a positive scene, sequence, or act climax. Likewise, we’re using a red sad face and a “negative sign” to indicate a negative scene, sequence, or act climax.
    1. The first of three categories is an Idealistic Controlling Idea for the story. These are “Up-Ending” stories expressing the optimism, hopes, and dreams of mankind, a positively charged vision of the human spirit; life as we wish it to be. The emotional charge of the film’s premise starts negatively, moves positive, then makes increasingly more intense alternating positive and negative charges until the crescendo, the last act climax, which is positively charged. That is, it is a positive or happy ending, or an “Up Ending” as it is known in the industry. Here, the protagonist gets what he or she wants. At climax the protagonist’s object of desire becomes a trophy of sorts, depending on the value at stake- the lover of one’s dreams (love), the dead body of the villain (justice), a badge of achievement (fortune, victory), public recognition (power, fame) - and he won it. (p. 126 Story). Screenwriters here are expressing optimism, hope, and light with the Idealistic Controlling Idea for their story. They are saying, in effect, life has ups and downs, but in the end, it will all turn out well. Examples of Idealistic Controlling Ideas include Lord of the Rings, Chariots of Fire, and Jaws. The majority of movies employ this idealism, reflecting the hope of the majority that life will turn out well, in spite of its problems along the way.
    2. In direct contrast, the Pessimistic Controlling Idea premise begins with a positive emotional charge, but then moves negatively, then makes increasingly more intense alternating positive and negative charges until the crescendo of the Last Act Climax, which is negatively charged. That is, it is a negative or sad ending. Screenwriters here are expressing cynicism, despair, a sense of loss or misfortune, and dark dimensions of life with the Pessimistic Controlling Idea. They are making a statement, in effect, that life has ups and downs, but it is filled with disappointment, and just doesn’t turn out quite like we had hoped- that’s just the way life IS. This is an accurate portrait of reality, they feel. Pain is a part of life, so why be Polly-Anna-ish about what’s really real? It is life as we dread it to be but know it so often is. Examples include Dance with a Stranger, where passion turns to violence and destroys our lives when we use people as objects of pleasure. Chinatown expresses the pessimistic controlling idea that “evil triumphs because it is a part of human nature.” On a superficial level, Chinatown suggests that the rich get away with murder. They do indeed. But more profoundly, the film express the ubiquity of evil. In reality, because good and evil are equal parts of human nature, evil vanquishes good as often as good conquers evil. pp. 124-125 Story
    The reason some people don’t like down-ending films is because they might give it an unpleasant experience. Generally their excuse is that they have enough tragedy in their lives. But if we were to look closely, we might discover that they not only avoid negative emotions in movies, they avoid them in life. Such people think that happiness never means suffering, so they never feel anything deeply. But the depth of our joy is often in direct proportion to what we’ve suffered. Holocaust survivors, for example, generally don’t avoid dark films. They go because such stories resonate with their past and are deeply cathartic. p. 310
  • The last of the three grand categories of Controlling Ideas is called the Ironic Controlling Idea. Here optimism/idealism and pessimism/cynicism merge. Rather than voicing one extreme over the other, the story says both. “Up/down-ending stories express our sense of the complex, dual nature of existence, a simultaneously charged positive and negative vision; life at its most complete and realistic.
    The Idealistic “Love triumphs when we sacrifice our needs for others,” as in KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), melds with the Pessimistic “Love destroys when self-interest rules,” as in THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989), and results in an Ironic Controlling Idea: “Love is both pleasure and pain, a poignant anguish, a tender cruelty we pursue because without it life has no meaning, as in ANNIE HALL (1977), MANHATTAN (1979), ADDICTED TO LOVE (1997). (p. 125 Story)This pattern, particularly used in a Redemption Plot, gives rise to an ending rich in irony: At climax the protagonist sacrifices his dream (positive), a value that has become a soul-corrupting fixation (negative), to gain an honest, sane, balanced life (positive). THE DEER HUNTER (1978), RAIN MAN (1988), OUT OF AFRICA (1985), SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), and JERRY MAQUIRE (1996) all pivot around this irony, each expressing it in a unique and powerful way. As these titles indicate, this idea has been a magnet for Oscars. (p. 126 Story)
  • The last of the three grand categories of Controlling Ideas is called the Ironic Controlling Idea. Here optimism/idealism and pessimism/cynicism merge. Rather than voicing one extreme over the other, the story says both. “Up/down-ending stories express our sense of the complex, dual nature of existence, a simultaneously charged positive and negative vision; life at its most complete and realistic.
    The Idealistic “Love triumphs when we sacrifice our needs for others,” as in KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), melds with the Pessimistic “Love destroys when self-interest rules,” as in THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989), and results in an Ironic Controlling Idea: “Love is both pleasure and pain, a poignant anguish, a tender cruelty we pursue because without it life has no meaning, as in ANNIE HALL (1977), MANHATTAN (1979), ADDICTED TO LOVE (1997). (p. 125 Story)This pattern, particularly used in a Redemption Plot, gives rise to an ending rich in irony: At climax the protagonist sacrifices his dream (positive), a value that has become a soul-corrupting fixation (negative), to gain an honest, sane, balanced life (positive). THE DEER HUNTER (1978), RAIN MAN (1988), OUT OF AFRICA (1985), SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), and JERRY MAQUIRE (1996) all pivot around this irony, each expressing it in a unique and powerful way. As these titles indicate, this idea has been a magnet for Oscars. (p. 126 Story)
  • A worldview is simply the way that a person views truth and reality. It may seem odd to think that people completely disagree about what is true and real, but they do. While opinions abound, you may be glad to know that there are really only three major worldviews that you need to identify.
  • Different kinds of redemption:
    (1) humanism (self-actualization or self-righteousness; Dead Poets Society),
    (2) existentialism (acceptance of responsibility for creating ourselves through personal choice or commitment; FORREST GUMP, CRASH (2004)
    Robin Williams
    Existentialism and Humanism avoids the transcendent (lower-story)
  • (3) mysticism (dualism or monism), Upper-story perspective (good and evil merge together; all is one. its a New Age primer for kids). Film reaches us on a visceral level, capable of touching us in places we don’t rationally understand. ANGELS AND DEMONS (2009)
    (4) Christian (substitutionary sacrifice, faith, repentance, and forgiveness; Chariots of Fire, Tender Mercies; Les Miserables, and perhaps surprisingly, GRAN TORINO (2009) where the sacred emerges from the profane, as Clint Eastwood plays a cantankerous racist who will sacrifice his life in a surprising way for foreigners he initially despised).  There is sacrifice, pain, and loss, but there is redemption.
    Film, play, novel will have a redemptive element.
  • “Was it a good movie?” is the inevitable question asked of the moviegoer. But what we mean by “good” can vary immensely. The movie may have been superb technically, that is, in its cinematography, editing, sound, special effects, composition, lighting, and sequence, and superb artistically, meaning, for example, its cinematography, acting, music, screenwriting, clothing, decor, mood, lighting, and pace, but been disappointing morally, as in its portrayal of what is true, what is good, or not God or Christ honoring, in part or whole. Usually what people mean when they ask “Was it a good movie” is: did you feel emotionally positive after watching it, or emotionally negative? Or, they mean, “did you enjoy the film?” But as we’ve seen, some films have intentionally up or down or mixed endings, depending on the director’s intent. So, a film could have a down-ending or a mixed ending and be technically, artistically, and morally excellent. SCHINDLER’S LIST comes to mind as an example. So, “was it good?” Well, it depends on how you define “good.”
  • It is wise to realistically acknowledge the sheer power of film, since it can be helpful or harmful, (and maybe even both at the same time!). Each of us should assess our own personal limits as we further explore the world of film, specifically as it relates to the tension of cultural engagement vs. personal holiness. Our unique flesh signature (our unique proclivities towards certain sins), our own emotional maturity, and our own spiritual maturity at this point in our spiritual journey should regulate what we set before our eyes. The danger with film, like any form of media or communication, is to slip into only feeding our flesh rather than feeding our spirit. Cinema can enhance or erode our inner life.
    Image: http://www.yfiproductions.com/images/Cropped_Film_Strip.jpg
  • The Motion Association of America’s film rating system is based upon an age-appropriate amount of language, violence, nudity, sex, or drug use depicted in the film. All of us have a certain tolerance for these areas, and whether these areas are merely implied or graphically explicit. Some great films have a superb message, but are explicitly violent, like BRAVEHEART, which is rated R for “brutal medieval warfare.” Some Christians can tolerate the violence and see through to the overall message, but others cannot. The most modern film about Jesus, THE PASSION OF CHRIST (2004), has a patently Christian message, but is rated R due to “sequences of graphic violence” against Jesus. So whether a movie is “good” is not always clear-cut. Some believers loved that movie, and others couldn’t begin to stomach its intense violence. A large proportion of the film may be violent, as in THE PASSION OF CHRIST (2004), but its message overwhelmingly Christian.
    Image: http://www.yfiproductions.com/images/Cropped_Film_Strip.jpg
  • We must assess our individual capacity for what we place before our eyes, and for what we choose as entertainment. Romans 14:22-23 teaches “the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”
    Note that convictions are not the same thing as a commandment from Scripture; convictions are individual and subjective; commandments are corporate and objective. A conviction represents an area where I pull in my personal boundaries tighter than the Scripture allows, because of my own weakness and flesh signature. As such, I must never request, expect, or force any other believer to embrace my personal convictions on any Biblical subject- including, for example, whether I will see only, some, or none G, PG, PG13, NC17, or R rated movies.
    Image: http://www.yfiproductions.com/images/Cropped_Film_Strip.jpg
  • Traditionally humankind has searched for truth from the four wisdoms - philosophy, science, religion, and art - taking insight from each to bolt together a livable meaning. But today who reads Hegel or Kant without an exam to pass? Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who can listen without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our faith in traditional ideologies diminishes, we to to the source we still believe in: the art of story.
    The world now consumes films, novels, theatre, and television in such quantities and with such ravenous hunger that the story arts have become humanity’s prime source of inspiration...and truth. p. 12 Story.
    The storytelling of the entertainment industry has stepped into the hole created by the crash of our storied institutions. People’s hunger for shaping stories and moral role models arrived on the unlikely shores of the cineplex. p. 161 Into the Dark
    Science Image: http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/science-budget-boost-under-obama_1.jpg
  • But not everyone wants to watch movies- in fact, for some, watching any movie of any sort offends their Christian sensibilities.Since the invention of motion pictures a century ago, one can observe five different theological responses that the church has made to film...Although these approaches developed more or less chronologically over the last seventy-five years or so, once can still find good contemporary representatives of all five of these types of theologian/critic. (p. 41, Reel Spirituality) These range from the earliest positions to those taken more recently.Avoidance represents a boycott mentality to all film, while Caution represents a “hermeneutics of suspicion” mentality - they will actually view movies, but in a guarded, almost closed way. Dialogue, on the other hand, represents an openness to the possibility that certain movies afford deeper access to the hidden heart than many theologians and preachers have been able to penetrate, and have an appreciation of the fact that movies can invite spiritual dialogue. Thus, they watch a movie on its own terms first and let the images themselves suggest meaning and direction before entering into a theological dialogue with it. Moving through the spectrum of approaches, the appropriation mindset believes that film is capable of expanding the theologian’s understanding. They see this happening particularly with regard to a religious humanism that is embedded within film itself. They recognize that movies can and do perform religious functions in culture today as they communicate society’s myths, rituals, and symbols and provide a web of fundamental beliefs. They see that the contemporary arts are pleading the same questions the church is committed to holding before society: the question of essential meaning of the human experience. This approach is labeled as “appropriation” because they appropriate any new insights gleaned from the film into their lives. Lastly, the divine encounter approach considers itself to be the most fruitful of all five approaches, recognizing that some movies -not many - have a sacramental capacity to provide the viewer an experience of transcendence. Because of film’s inherent power to affect the imagination, this art form is especially suitable for making of sacraments and the creating of epiphanies. Moviewatchers are often exercising transcendental faculties of insight, criticism, and wonder that come remarkably close to what religion has traditionally termed faith, prophecy, and reverence.
  • These same five theological approaches to Hollywood can be used to show whether a given theologian/critic begins his or her reflection with the movie itself or with a theological position, and whether a given response centers on the movie ethically or aesthetically.
    Theologians who articulate an avoidance strategy do so from an ethical position (often their books even have words like “morality” and “values” in their titles) and always move from their given theological perspective to the film under consideration, not vice versa. On the other hand, those interested in exploring a divine encounter through film begin with the film itself and only in light of the film attempt to make theological judgments. When they do, moreover, the criticism is first of all aesthetic, not ethical, in nature. pp. 32 Reel Spirituality
    They, in the words of W.H. Auden, understand that “Even the most commonplace things are tinged with glory.” (p. 151). They understand that while we cannot comprehend, we can apprehend the divine presence, and film can be a valid means of so doing. p. 124 Reel Spirituality
    Those wishing for theological dialogue want theology to inform their filmviewing, and filmviewing to inform their theology in a lively two-way conversation that is both ethical and aesthetic in nature.
    pp. 41-42, Reel Spirituality
  • All art is influenced by worldview. While some filmmakers are pushing an agenda, the best films are not overtly didactic. Note that most are presenting life as they see it, not necessarily as they are suggesting it should be.
    Is there a Hollywood agenda or a Hollywood conspiracy? If there is any agenda, it is first and foremost financially driven. If the films don’t make money, nobody in Hollywood is happy. Hollywood makes movies to the American taste, in accordance with the American appetite for film. So if you want to see a reflection of what American’s value and enjoy, watch its films.
    Another motivator for Hollywood screenwriters, producers, directors, and actors is artistic expression. In any quality film, these workers are trying to create something unique, something special, and something worth saying.
    Of course, the desire for excellence among their peers in this artform is also a motivator, so awards like Oscars are key. And regardless of what the writer or director is placing before us is pleasant, unpleasant, thrilling, or not, most of them are simply expressing life as they see it. They are trying to portray life as they see it - not necessarily to change anyone’s mind about reality, but at least to portray an authentic expression of how they view reality. Movies are more effective at asking questions or depicting problems than proposing answers. Their truths are more descriptive than prescriptive. p. 41 Into the Dark
    All that is to say that presenting a perspective in film is not the same thing as driving an agenda. Sure, certain social, political, and religious viewpoints will be expressed, but to express doesn’t always mean to evangelize or to recruit to.
    So relax - not all movies are propaganda. Understand the film’s worldview and message, run it through the grid of Scripture where it applies, and see if there is truth, beauty, or goodness in the film. Embrace what is good, reject what is evil.
    Image: http://www.gentlegiantsrescue.com/images/Hollywood%20sign%20900.jpg
  • p. 192 Reel Spirituality
  • Karl Barth once described the theologian as having a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. That is, the theologian's task is a dialogical one. Unless, however, a sermon is BOTH rooted in the “Bible” (both directly and as mediated through tradition and the worshipping community) AND sensitive to the congregation’s personal and social context (the “newspaper”), it will remain stillborn. p. 82 Reel Spirituality
    Newspaper Image: http://www.alcurve.com/html/news.html
    Man with Bible image: http://delveintojesus.com/Images/man3.jpg
  • Subtext: The true thoughts and feelings underneath what is said and done. p. 414
    Image: http://www.theihs.org/repository/imgLib/Programs_Production_IHS_MFA_film_reels.jpg
  • How to Read a Film

    1. 1. How to read a film Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen © Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen 2009. All Rights Reserved.
    2. 2. HOW TO read A FILM Act 1:Ten-Step Process Act II: Practical Advice
    3. 3. Act 1: Ten-step Process
    4. 4. Determine the Genre 1
    5. 5. Genres Historical Drama Crime Love Story Redemption Action/Adventure Mockumentary ScienceFiction DramaDrama Comedy Horror Western Education Musical Sports
    6. 6. SubGenres: Comedy • Parody • Satire • Romantic • Screwball • Farce • Black Comedy
    7. 7. SubGenres: Comedy • Parody • Satire • Romantic 1. Focus of attack 2. Degree of ridicule
    8. 8. Education Entertainment Fantasy Realism The range of Cinema
    9. 9. identify the protagonist(s) Quest and Character Arc 2
    10. 10. Protagonist/Antagonist • Protagonist: The leading character, hero, or heroine • Antagonist: The adversary of the protagonist
    11. 11. Protagonist/Antagonist • Protagonist: The leading character, hero, or heroine • Antagonist: The adversary of the protagonist The Joker: Antagonist Batman: Protagonist The Dark Knight, 2008 Forrest Gump: Protagonist Forrest Gump, 1994 Forces of Antagonism: * Handicap * Mentally challenged * War * Unrequited love
    12. 12. Character and Pressure Frodo, Lord of the Rings- Return of the King (2003) • True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure • The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature • As he chooses, so he is • Pressure is essential Gollum, Lord of the Rings- Return of the King (2003)
    13. 13. Risk Desire The measure of the value of a character’s desire is in direct proportion to the risk he’s willing to take to achieve it. Risk Desire Desire and Risk
    14. 14. The Quest • Protagonist’s quest to achieve his or her object of desire • What does he/she want? Frodo, Lord of the Rings- Return of the King (2003) Titanic (1997)
    15. 15. Cast Design Protagonist Character A Character B Character A Character C Character D
    16. 16. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    17. 17. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    18. 18. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    19. 19. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    20. 20. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    21. 21. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    22. 22. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    23. 23. Character Arc • The finest screenwriting not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or for worse, over the course of the telling.
    24. 24. Point ofView Character A 1. Omniscient 2. Over-the-shoulder 3. First person narration
    25. 25. 3 IDENTIFY THE INCITING INCIDENT
    26. 26. Story Design beginning middle end “Once upon a time.........And they lived happily ever after”
    27. 27. Story Design INCITING INCIDENT PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS CRISIS RESOLUTIONCLIMAX
    28. 28. Inciting Incident • Crucial event setting the story into action • Radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life INCITING INCIDENT VVV Inciting Incident Major Dramatic Question -“Big Hook”
    29. 29. The Quest (Spine) INCITING INCIDENT PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS CRISIS RESOLUTIONCLIMAX Conscious Objects of Desire Unconscious Objects of Desire Restores Balance Restores Balance InnerConflicts PersonalConflicts Extra-Personal Conflicts Inner Conflicts Personal Conflicts Extra-Personal Conflicts Story conscious desire unconsciousdesire Upsets Balance Upsets Balance
    30. 30. The Quest (Spine) INCITING INCIDENT PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS CRISIS RESOLUTIONCLIMAX Conscious Objects of Desire Unconscious Objects of Desire Restores Balance Restores Balance InnerConflicts PersonalConflicts Extra-Personal Conflicts Inner Conflicts Personal Conflicts Extra-Personal Conflicts Story conscious desire unconsciousdesire Upsets Balance Upsets Balance
    31. 31. 4 IDENTIFY THE PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS
    32. 32. Progressive complications PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS • To make life difficult for characters • To generate more and more conflict The Lord of the Rings, 2001
    33. 33. THE LAW OF CONFLICT • Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict • Conflict is the soul of a story; it mirrors real life • Conflict engages our thoughts and emotions The Twins, Matrix Reloaded, 2003
    34. 34. Conflict Changes Value Charge Desire achieved Desire blocked Braveheart, 1995Toy Story, 1995 • Builds pressure • Creates dilemmas • Requires more difficult risk-taking choices
    35. 35. PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS LEVELS OF CONFLICT Antagonism Source Genre Example Inner Conflict Stream of Consciousness Personal Conflict Soap Opera Extra-Personal Conflict Action/Adventu re, Farce Pirates of the Caribbean- At World’s End, 2007
    36. 36. The Gap Object of Desire Conflict+Risk+Jeopardy Protagonist First Action GAP betweenexpectationandresult GAP GAP GAP Inner Conflicts Personal Conflicts Extra-Personal Conflicts Second Action vvvvvvvvv Third Action vvvvvvvvvvvvvv Risk! Fourth Action vvvvvvv etc. vvvvvvvvvvv The End ofthe Line Luke, I am your father! Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
    37. 37. PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS Object of Desire Risk+Jeopardy+Conflict Protagonist First Action GAP betweenexpectationandresult GAP GAP GAP Inner Conflicts Personal Conflicts Extra-Personal Conflicts Second Action vvvvvvvvv Third Action vvvvvvvvvvvvvv Risk! Fourth Action vvvvvvv etc. vvvvvvvvvvv Point of No Return
    38. 38. Identify the crisis 5
    39. 39. Crisis • Protagonist is forced to make the ultimate decision • Moment of dangerous opportunity • Point of greatest tension in the story • How will this turn out? • Story’s Obligatory Scene CRISIS
    40. 40. CrisisCRISIS Object of Desire
    41. 41. The Crisis Decision CRISIS • Story’s primary (most important) value comes to light as the protagonist makes the Crisis Decision • i.e. love, freedom, truth, courage, justice, loyalty, wisdom, strength, excitement, or hate, slavery, lie, cowardice, betrayal, etc.
    42. 42. True Dilemma CRISIS Object of Desire • Crisis must be true dilemma: • Choice between irreconcilable goods • Choice between the lesser of two evils • Both at once • Places protagonist under maximum pressure
    43. 43. Identify the Climax 6
    44. 44. ClimaxCLIMAX Conflict Climax RisingAction FallingActionResolution
    45. 45. Turning Points •Turning Point is centered on the choice a character makes under pressure to take one action or another in the pursuit of desire •Causes the values at stake to turn +/- or -/+ •Creates story twists and turns
    46. 46. Turning Points •Minor, moderate, or major reversals •Effects: surprise, increased curiosity, insight, and new direction
    47. 47. Climax • Crowning Turning Point (major reversal) • Climax: a value swing at maximum charge that’s absolute and irreversible. • “Inevitable and unexpected” - Aristotle CLIMAX Ordinary People, 1980
    48. 48. Identify the Resolution 7
    49. 49. Resolution • Resolution: Any material left after Climax • Three uses: • To climax a subplot • To show the spread of climactic effects • To be courteous to the audience (“slow curtain”) RESOLUTION Shawshank Redemption, 1994
    50. 50. determine the plot Type 8
    51. 51. Elements of Story • Character-driven • Plot-driven • Atmosphere-driven • Tone-driven (point-of- view)
    52. 52. Plot • Plot: The plan, scheme, or interrelated pattern of events moving through time to shape the storyline • Quest • Adventure • Pursuit • Escape • Revenge • The Riddle • Rivalry • Temptation • Metamorphosis
    53. 53. Archplot Miniplot Antiplot Classical Design AntistructureMinimalism Multiplot Life as thought about Life as lived Life brings little or no change Mini slice of life Life brings positive change Life is absurd; change is random
    54. 54. Archplot Archplot: A story built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change.
    55. 55. Antiplot Anitplot: A story format intended to break the rules of the Archplot. It is full of randomness and coincidence, skipping helter-skelter through time, within an inconsistent and disconnected fictional reality.
    56. 56. Miniplot Miniplot: A story built around one or more passive protagonists who struggle against primarily internal forces of antagonism to pursue their desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to an open ending of unanswered questions.
    57. 57. Multiplot Multiplot: A story built around multiple protagonists who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue their desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality.
    58. 58. Archplot AntiplotMiniplot Multiplot change Nonplot stasis story no story verisimilitude or absurdity/satire
    59. 59. Archplot AntiplotMiniplot Multiplot change Nonplot stasis story no story verisimilitude or absurdity/satire
    60. 60. (2000) (2001) (1994) (1941)
    61. 61. PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS SubplotS’ Relationship with the Central Plot May be used to contradict the Controlling Idea of the Central Plot and thus enrich the film with irony May be used to resonate the Controlling Idea of the Central Plot and enrich the film with variations on a theme May be used to complicate the Central Plot
    62. 62. Identify the Controlling Idea 9
    63. 63. StoryValues • Values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next alive dead love hate freedom slavery truth lie courage cowardic
    64. 64. Value Charge Desire achieved Desire blocked
    65. 65. Controlling Idea • Describes a story’s root or central idea. Should be expressed in a single sentence describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end • Story should be molded around one idea
    66. 66. Controlling idea Progressions Premise Premise LAST ACT CLIMAX Idealistic Pessimistic Up Ending Down Ending LAST ACT CLIMAX
    67. 67. Controlling idea Progressions Premise Premise LAST ACT CLIMAX Idealistic Pessimistic Up Ending Down Ending LAST ACT CLIMAX
    68. 68. Controlling idea Progressions Ironic Down Ending Up Ending Premise LAST ACT CLIMAX Up/Down Ending
    69. 69. Controlling idea Progressions Ironic Down Ending Up Ending Premise LAST ACT CLIMAX Up/Down Ending
    70. 70. Determine the worldview 10
    71. 71. “What does this film say about:” Worldview God Man Origin Purpose Destiny Theism God is personal Basically Evil Personal Creator Relationship s (other- centered) Unbounded relational life Monism The gods are spirits or forces Basically Good Impersonal agency (energy) Self- actualization Absorption (spiritual annihilation) Naturalism God doesn’t exist Basically Neutral Impersonal plus time plus chance Survival, autonomy Physical annihilation
    72. 72. “What does this film say about:” Worldview God Man Origin Purpose Destiny Theism God is personal Basically Evil Personal Creator Relationship s (other- centered) Unbounded relational life Monism The gods are spirits or forces Basically Good Impersonal agency (energy) Self- actualization Absorption (spiritual annihilation) Naturalism God doesn’t exist Basically Neutral Impersonal plus time plus chance Survival, autonomy Physical annihilation
    73. 73. Kinds of Redemption 1. Humanism • Self-actualization or self- righteousness 1. Existentialism • Acceptance of responsibility for creating ourselves through personal choice or commitment
    74. 74. Kinds of Redemption 3. Mysticism • Dualism or monism 4. Christian • Substitutionary sacrifice, faith, repentance, and forgiveness
    75. 75. Act 1I: Practical Tips
    76. 76. Was it a good movie? • Technically? (cinematography, editing, sound, special effects, composition, lighting, sequence) • Artistically? (cinematography, acting, music, screenwriting, clothing, decor, mood, lighting, pace) • Morally? (Truth, goodness, God/Christ-honoring, in part or whole)
    77. 77. Film’s Influence • Tension between cultural engagement and holiness • Assess flesh signature, emotional, spiritual maturity • Tension between feeding our flesh and our spirit
    78. 78. CAPACITY Low High Language Violence Nudity/Sex Drugs Explicit Implied
    79. 79. CAPACITY “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” Romans 14:22-23
    80. 80. avoidance caution dialogue appropriation divine encounter Earliest More Recent Theological approaches to film criticism
    81. 81. avoidance caution dialogue appropriation divine encounter Moral Artistic From Theology to Film From Film to Theology
    82. 82. Hollywood Agenda? • $ (American appetite) • Artistic Expression • Awards • Authenticity • Descriptive vs. prescriptive • Perspective agenda≇ • Worldview influence
    83. 83. These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses, and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. - T.S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages,” Four Quartets The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
    84. 84. Theology And Real Life The Newspaper BOTH
    85. 85. Helpful Insights • Films are like food: they range from junk to gourmet. Choose wisely. • Be aware of Subtext:The true thoughts and feelings underneath what is said and done • Settings: Kids, small groups, Bible study
    86. 86. Resources • www.yahoomovies.com • www.breakpoint.org • www.imdb.com • Story, Robert McKee; • Reel Spirituality, Robert Johnston • Safe Movies/Cautious Movies List
    87. 87. THE END
    88. 88. Reflections Ministries Resources Reflections - A free monthly teaching letter KenBoa.org website - Daily Growth email and free text and audio resources
    89. 89. - Audio/visual presentations of crucial topics - $20 each - Call 800-DRAW NEAR (800-372-9632) DVD Series

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