Movie Story Type: Briefcase Full Of Cash

April 29th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week and next, we look at more movie story types. Today: Briefcase Full of Cash.

Treasure hunts, stashed cash, hidden jewels, this is a story type where a central point of focus is characters searching for something of great value.

Some examples of briefcase full of cash movies:

The Maltese Falcon (1941): A private detective takes on a case that involves three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.

North by Northwest (1959): A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963): The dying words of a thief spark a madcap cross-country rush to find some treasure.

Marathon Man (1976): A graduate history student is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent.

The Deep (1977): A pair of young vacationers are involved in a dangerous conflict with treasure hunters when they discover a way into a deadly wreck in Bermuda waters.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

48 Hrs. (1984): A hard-nosed cop reluctantly teams up with a wise-cracking criminal temporarily paroled to him, in order to track down a killer, and a briefcase full of cash.

A Simple Plan (1998): Two brothers and a friend find $4 million in the cockpit of a downed plane.

Three Kings (1999): In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, four soldiers set out to steal gold that was stolen from Kuwait.

National Treasure (2004): A treasure hunter is in hot pursuit of a mythical treasure that has been passed down for centuries, while his employer turned enemy is onto the same path that he’s on.

Millions (2004): A 7-year old finds a bag of Pounds just days before the currency is switched to Euros.

Lottery Ticket (2010): A young man living in the projects has to survive a three-day weekend after his opportunistic neighbors find out he’s holding a winning lottery ticket worth $370 million.

Whether it’s money, jewels, art or a priceless historic artifact, the object of pursuit in briefcase full of cash movies translates into a powerful psychological dynamic with moviegoers: wish fulfillment. Just think what I could do with all that money! If most stories are about a character or characters who go through some sort of personal metamorphosis, what could possibly speed that change along other than a massive influx of cash?

The briefcase full of cash also represents power because if you own something other characters in the movie want, you are in a position of authority over them. You can make demands, negotiate favorable terms, even act like a total asshole… because you have what they want.

However as the Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and so there are plenty of these story types that serve as morality tales, object lessons about how financial wealth is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or as Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) says at the very end of The Maltese Falcon, describing the falcon statue, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of” as Brigid (Mary Astor) gets hauled off to prison. She learned her lesson… just a little too late.

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in briefcase full of cash films? What other movies of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted October 26, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Chick Flick

April 28th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week and next, we look at more movie story types. Today: Chick Flick.

Per Wikipedia: “Chick flick is a slang term for a film mainly dealing with love and romance designed to appeal to a female target audience.”

Some examples of chick flicks:

Love Story (1970): Harvard Law student Oliver Barrett IV and music student Jennifer Cavilleri share a chemistry they cannot deny – and a love they cannot ignore…

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974): A recently widowed woman on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981): Dual love stories of two actors and their relationship as they play the roles of fictional lovers from a novel adaptation.

Dirty Dancing (1987): Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances (‘Baby’) falls in love with the camp’s dancing teacher.

Steel Magnolias (1989): A close-knit circle of friends whose lives come together at Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana.

Ghost (1990): After being killed during a botched mugging, a man’s love for his partner enables him to remain on earth as a ghost.

Thelma & Louise (1991): An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a ’66 Thunderbird.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993): A recently-widowed man’s son calls a radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a partner.

The First Wives Club (1996): Reunited by the death of a college friend, three divorced women seek revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998): On a vacation to Jamaica, a successful businesswoman falls in love and rethinks her life priorities.

Love Actually (2003): Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely and interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

The Notebook (2004): A poor and passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman and gives her a sense of freedom only to be separated by their social differences.

Sex and the City (2008): A New York writer on sex and love is finally getting married to her Mr. Big. But her three best girlfriends must console her after one of them inadvertently leads Mr. Big to jilt her.

One key to understanding the psychological draw of chick flicks is this: relationships. Whether romantic, friend, or family, the relationships in these type of movies are central to what makes them work. It is the power of those relational connections that underscores and shapes the meaning of the events in the story’s plot.

As with all relationships, there are ups and downs, joys and conflicts, and so chick flicks put a premium on exploring the heights and depths of the emotional journey of key characters.

Another dynamic: Possibilities. In chick flicks, chance encounters can turn into life-altering opportunities. Consider this tagline for Sleepless in Seattle:

“What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?”

One interesting aspect of chick flicks is they can work across genres: Drama (Terms of Endearment), Romantic Comedy (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Sports (A League of Their Own), Thriller (The Hand That Rocked the Cradle), Action Adventure (Romancing the Stone). It’s possible to argue that one of the biggest movies of all time Titanic, an epic historical drama, is at its heart a chick flick because of the centrality of the romance relationship between Jack and Rose. As writer-director James Cameron said in this interview: “All my films are love stories… but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It’s not a disaster film. It’s a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history.”

By the way since there is no hard and fast rule as to the definition of ‘chick flick,’ you can visit this website and vote on whether a movie actually qualifies or not.

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in most chick flicks? What other movies of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted October 24, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Disaster

April 27th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week, we look at more movie story types. Today: Disaster.

Wikipedia provides this helpful description:

A disaster film is a film genre that has an impending or ongoing disaster (such as a damaged airliner, fire, shipwreck, an asteroid collision or natural calamities) as its subject. Along with showing the spectacular disaster, these films concentrate on the chaotic events surrounding the disaster, including efforts for survival, the effects upon individuals and families, and ‘what-if’ scenarios. These films typically feature large casts of well-known actors and multiple plotlines, focusing on the characters’ attempts to avert, escape or cope with the disaster and its aftermath.

Some examples of disaster movies:

Noah’s Ark (1928): The Biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood, with a parallel story of soldiers in the First World War.

The Last Day’s of Pompeii (1935): In the doomed Roman city, a gentle blacksmith becomes a corrupt gladiator, while his son leans toward Christianity.

The War of the Worlds (1953): The film adaptation of the H.G.Wells story told on radio of the invasion of Earth by Martians.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972): A group of passengers struggle to survive and escape, when their ocean liner completely capsizes at sea.

The Towering Inferno (1974): At the opening party of a collossal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it.

Independence Day (1996): The aliens are coming and their goal is to invade and destroy. Fighting superior technology, Man’s best weapon is the will to survive.

Armageddon (1998): When an asteroid the size of Texas is headed for Earth the world’s best deep core drilling team is sent to nuke the rock from the inside.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004): A climatologist tries to figure out a way to save the world from abrupt global warming.

Disaster movies play right into the wheelhouse of what Hollywood does best: big concept, big stars, big stakes, big special effects. They are some of the top grossing box office movies of all time including Titanic ($600M domestic), Independence Day ($306M), War of the Worlds ($234M), and Armageddon ($201M).

Why? What is the basis for the popularity of disaster movies?

First, they are visual, huge spectacles that entertain viewers in a visceral way and sweep them up into an enormous story-scape.

Second, there is a real and palpable sense of jeopardy where a mind-rattling “Holy Shit!!!” number of people may die.

But primarily disaster movies bring to the front and center a fear we live with all the time, repressed and set aside by the ticking clock of our everyday lives, but there nonetheless — our knowledge that at any moment, a catastrophe could strike.

We think we are walking on solid ground, yet we live on the thinnest of membranes squashed onto tectonic plates and floating atop oceans of hyperbolic magma. If some geological burp doesn’t get us, there are psychopaths who will take over our airplanes, bomb our skyscrapers, sink our ships.

Those are some of the fears that creep around at the corners of our consciousness — and certainly emerge in our subconscious through our dreams.

Disaster movies are a safe way to process those fears, for us to consider the specter of death. Not just death. Death on a grand scale. If we were to be diagnosed with cancer and informed we would have a year to live, we might organize the rest of our lives one way. Told we have 12 hours [or whatever] left to our meager existence, we must confront a far different way of approaching those last few moments of our time on this earth.

What would we do?

This is the fundamental existential question disaster movies pose. And that speaks to the very deepest fears we have about the terminal nature of life and the dangerous aspects of the world out there.

And of course, it’s just cool to see stuff blow up.

What disaster movies can you add to this list? What other psychological dynamics do you see in play in this movie story type that makes it appealing to audiences?

Movie Story Type: Gender Bender

April 26th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week, we look at more movie story types. Today: Gender Bender.

Gender Bender movies can involve a male character playing a female. A female character acting as a male. It can be conscious effort on the part of the character. Or there can be magic involved, a body switch or swap.

Some example of gender bender movies:

Some Like It Hot (1959): When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.

Victor Victoria (1982): A struggling female soprano finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life.

Tootsie (1982): An unemployed actor with a reputation for being difficult disguises himself as a woman to get a role in a soap opera.

All of Me (1984): A dying millionnaire has her soul transferred into a younger, willing woman. But something goes wrong, and she finds herself in her lawyer’s body – together with the lawyer.

Just One of the Guys (1985): Terry Griffith has got it all — looks, popularity, the perfect college boyfriend, and an article that’s a shoo-in to win her a summer internship at the local newspaper.

Switch (1991): A sexist, chauvinist pig gets his just desserts when his angry ex-girlfriends murder him and he is reincarnated as a woman.

Prelude to a Kiss (1992): A couple fall in love despite the girl’s pessimistic outlook. As they struggle to come to terms with their relationship, something supernatural happens that tests it.

The Crying Game (1992): A British soldier is kidnaped by IRA terrorists. He befriends one of his captors, who is drawn into the soldier’s world.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993): After a bitter divorce, an actor disguises himself as a female housekeeper to spend secret time with his children held in custody by his Ex.

Shakespeare in Love (1998): A young Shakespeare, out of ideas and short of cash, meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999): The story of the life of Brandon Teena, a transgendered teen who preferred life in a male identity until it was discovered he was born biologically female.

The Hot Chick (2002: An attractive and popular teenager who is mean spirited toward others, finds herself in the body of an older man, and must find a way to get back to her original body.

White Chicks (2004): Two disgraced FBI agents go way undercover in an effort to protect hotel heiresses the Wilson Sisters from a kidnapping plot.

It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006): Sworn enemies find themselves in each other’s bodies, and use this to ruin each other’s lives.

She’s the Man (2006): When her brother decides to ditch for a couple weeks in London, Viola heads over to his elite boarding school, disguises herself as him, and proceeds to fall for one of her soccer teammates.

As is evident in the above list, gender bending is one of those conceits that can work in a number of genres from broad comedies to dramas, satires to social commentaries.

It seems like the preponderance of these movies is men-as-women. That could simply be a reflection of the fact that Hollywood’s conventional wisdom says women will see movies starring men or women, but men much prefer male leads. Perhaps that extends to men playing women, too.

Psychologically these type of movies do allow moviegoers the opportunity to play around with the idea of what it would be like to be a member of the opposite sex, men to get in touch with their feminine side, women with their masculinity.

One gaping hole I see in the list of movies: Where is a thriller gender bender? There’s Psycho and Dressed to Kill, but their respective gender bends are used as revelations made late in each film. Is there a thriller waiting to happen where a character plays a member of the opposite sex throughout the story?

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in gender bender movies? What other films of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted November 3, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Spoof

April 25th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week, we look at more movie story types. Today: Spoof.

A spoof is a comic movie that parodies a specific genre of films. It has been a Hollywood staple since the 40s.

Some examples of spoofs:

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): Two hapless frieght handlers find themselves encountering Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man.

Casino Royale (1967): In an early spy spoof, aging Sir James Bond comes out of retirement to take on SMERSH.

Blazing Saddles (1974): To ruin a western town, a corrupt political boss appoints a black sheriff, who promptly becomes his most formidable adversary.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): King Arthur and his knights embark on a low-budget search for the Grail, encountering many very silly obstacles.

Airplane! (1980): An airplane crew takes ill. Surely the only person capable of landing the plane is an ex-pilot afraid to fly. But don’t call him Shirley.

Hollywood Shuffle (1987): An actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his ethnicity, dreams of making it big as a highly respected performer in this satiric look at African American actors in Hollywood.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988): Incompetent cop Frank Drebin has to foil an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II.

Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996): A parody of multiple African-American movies.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997): A 1960s hipster secret agent is brought out of cryofreeze to oppose his greatest enemy in the 1990s, where his social attitudes are glaringly out of place.

Scary Movie (2000): A year after disposing the body of a man they accidently killed, a group of dumb teenagers are stalked by a bumbling serial killer.

Shaun of the Dead (2004): A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007): Singer Dewey Cox overcomes adversity to become a musical legend.

Vampires Suck (2010): A spoof of vampire-themed movies, where teenager Becca finds herself torn between two boys.

There are at least three ways spoofs come to be:

* A specific genre has been mined in movies so much that it has saturated the cultural mindset, setting itself up to be parodied.

* A genre that was once super popular, but has fallen by the wayside, now resurrected by a spoof.

* Combining several movie examples within a genre, a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to film parody.

From a studio standpoint, spoofs are popular because generally they are much less expensive to produce than other types of movies, plus they have a built-in marketing advantage, relying on consumer awareness of the movies and genre the film is parodying, a natural form of pre-awareness.

What spoofs would you add to this list? What appeals to you about this type of story?

[Originally posted October 21, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Revenge

April 22nd, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week and next, we look at more movie story types. Today: Revenge.

Ah, revenge. One of the most basic of human emotions. Someone screws with you? You screw with them. We are talking real lizard-brain storytelling here and there have been some big movies in this genre:

Some examples of revenge movies:

Death Wish (1974): A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark.

Nine to Five (1980): Three female employees of a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” find a way to turn the tables on him.

Cape Fear (1991): A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a 14 year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.

The Crow (1994): A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée’s murder.

Payback (1999): Porter is shot by his wife and best friend and is left to die. When he survives he plots revenge.

The Limey (1999): An extremely volatile and dangerous Englishman goes to Los Angeles to find the man he considers responsible for his daughter’s death.

Gladiator (2000): When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor’s corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.

Memento (2001): A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003): The Bride wakes up after a long coma. The baby that she carried before entering the coma is gone. The only thing on her mind is to have revenge on the assassination team that betrayed her – a team she was once part of.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004): The murderous Bride continues her vengeance quest against her ex-boss, Bill, and his two remaining associates; his younger brother Budd, and Bill’s latest flame Elle.

Man On Fire (2004): In Mexico City, a former assassin swears vengeance on those who committed an unspeakable act against the family he was hired to protect.

V for Vendetta (2006): A shadowy freedom fighter known only as “V” uses terrorist tactics to fight against his totalitarian society. Upon rescuing a girl from the secret police, he also finds his best chance at having an ally.

Taken (2008): A former spy relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade.

Horrible Bosses (2011): Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize they are standing in the way of their happiness.

The Revenant (2015): A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

One of the main advantages of a revenge movie for a screenwriter is how clear cut everything is: Good Guy. Bad Guy. Crime. Justification for violence. And off you go.

We live in a complex world where very little is black and white. How nice to be able to dip into a revenge movie where we can indulge in simplistic fantasies, giving ourselves over purely to a blood lust for retribution.

Revenge movies cut through moral ambiguity and traffic in pure violent intentions, tapping into some of our most base human instincts. Those are powerful motivators for any potential moviegoer who has been wronged in his/her life… which is just about everybody.

What revenge movies would you add to this list? What appeals to you about this type of story?

[Originally posted October 20, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Post-Apocalypse

April 21st, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week, we look at more movie story types. Today: Post-Apocalypse.

Closely related to disaster movies, Wikipedia has this article on apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction:

Apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that is concerned with the end of civilization due to a potentially existential catastrophe such as nuclear warfare, pandemic, extraterrestrial attack, impact event, cybernetic revolt, Technological Singularity, Dysgenics, supernatural phenomena, Divine Judgement, Climate Change, resource depletion or some other general disaster. Post-apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten (or mythologized). Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in an agrarian, non-technological future world, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain. There is a considerable degree of blurring between this form of science fiction and that which deals with dystopias.

Some examples of post-apocalyptic movies:

On the Beach (1959): The residents of Australia after a global nuclear war must come to terms with the fact that all life will be destroyed in a matter of months.

The Last Man on Earth (1964): When a disease turns all of humanity into the living dead, the last man on earth becomes a reluctant zombie hunter.

A Boy and His Dog (1975): A boy communicates telepathically with his dog as they scavenge for food and sex in a post-apocalyptic world.

Mad Max (1979): In a dystopic future Australia, a vicious biker gang murder a cop’s family and make his fight with them personal.

Twelve Monkeys (1995): In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.

Waterworld (1995): In a future where the polar ice caps have melted and most of Earth is underwater, a mutated mariner fights starvation and outlaw “smokers,” and reluctantly helps a woman and a young girl try to find dry land.

The Postman (1997): In a post-apocalyptic America, what begins as a con game becomes one man’s quest to rebuild civilization by resuming postal service.

28 Days Later (2002): Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.

The Road (2009): A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive by any means possible.

The Book of Eli (2010): A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.

Whereas disaster movies focus on the build-up to and experience of some sort of extensive calamity, post-apocalypse movies deal with the aftermath. Thus a key question posed for viewers is a powerful psychological one: How would I survive? The question can be played out in a lonely existential framework such as The Last Man on Earth, one man versus an army of mutants, a handful of survivors such as 28 Days Later, or larger groups such as Waterworld.

One narrative angle on post-apocalyptic movies is the theme of society reformed. In stories like The Postman or TV mini-series like “The Stand,” the post-apocalyptic setting serves as a sort of petri dish for a grand social experiment: How will groups of survivors band together? Which systems of beliefs and behaviors will rise to the top… and which will fall to the side?

Those questions get at the heart of the psychological appeal of post-apocalypse movies: Stripped of what we experience in our ‘normal’ lives, which of our values would prevail? These type of stories cause us to go into a more base aspect of our self, much closer to our lizard-brain attached to survival than our higher consciousness and egalitarian instincts.

Whereas disaster movies cause us to ask this question — What would I do — post-apocalypse stories raise another issue: Who would I be?

What post-apocalypse movies would you add to this list? What appeals to you about this type of story?

[Originally posted October 18, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Ticking Clock

April 20th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

There is significant value for a screenwriter to traffic in movie story types not the least of which is they can be hugely beneficial to the brainstorming process, everything from mix-and-match, genre-bending and gender-bending, switching Protagonists, and so on.

Today another in a continuing series of movie story types: Ticking Clock.

Ticking Clock movies are those where there is a definitive event positioned to happen in the near future which will lead to dramatic, even dire results.

Some movie examples:

D.O.A. (1950): Frank Bigelow, told he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live, tries to find out who killed him and why.

High Noon (1952): A marshall, personally compelled to face a returning deadly enemy, finds that his own town refuses to help him.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1962): An insane general starts a process to nuclear holocaust that a war room of politicians and generals frantically try to stop.

Escape from New York (1981): In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant maximum security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue.

War Games (1983): A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III.

Back to the Future (1985): In 1985, Doc Brown invents time travel; in 1955, Marty McFly accidentally prevents his parents from meeting, putting his own existence at stake.

Run Lola Run (1988): A young woman in Germany has twenty minutes to find and bring 100,000 Deutschmarks to her boyfriend before he robs a supermarket.

Speed (1994): A young cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.

Nick of Time (1995): A six year-old girl is kidnapped with the criminals giving the father 90 minutes to assassinate the Governor in order to get his daughter back.

Phone Booth (2002): Stuart Shepard finds himself trapped in a phone booth, pinned down by an extortionist’s sniper rifle.

Crank (2006): Professional assassin Chev Chelios learns his rival has injected him with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops.

One of the most obvious advantages to a writer working with a ticking clock dynamic is an overt, sustained and building pressure as the time gets closer and closer. This also comes into play with the psychological experience of the script reader and can help generate a powerful sense of pace.

It’s also a great way to lure the moviegoer into the story universe: What if I was in a situation like that? What if the clock was ticking down on me?

Adding pressure to almost any situation helps the writer make the experience ‘more.’ If makes drama more dramatic… comedy more humorous… thrillers more suspenseful. And if the ticking clock is a key aspect of the story’s central conceit, it can also be a great marketing hook.

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in ticking clock movies? What other films of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted November 4, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Chase

April 19th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week, we look at more movie story types. Today: Chase.

Chase movies have long been a standard story type in Hollywood movies. It’s the fox and the hound, cat-and-mouse, hide and seek, tag you’re it, one character chasing another, pursuer and pursued.

Some examples of chase movies:

North by Northwest (1959): A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Chased by a relentless posses, two robbers in the Old West flee to Bolivia when the law gets too close.

The French Connection (1971): A pair of NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection.

Jaws (1975): When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977): The Bandit is hired on to run a tractor trailer full of beer over county lines in hot pursuit by a pesky sheriff.

Alien (1979): Investigating a suspected SOS signal on a distant planet, the crew unleashes a monstrous alien on board their ship.

Terminator (1984): A human-looking, apparently unstoppable cyborg is sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor; Kyle Reese is sent to stop it.

Romancing the Stone (1984): A romance writer sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

Midnight Run (1988): An accountant is chased by bounty hunters, the FBI, and the Mafia after jumping bail.

Run Lola Run (1998): A young woman in Germany has twenty minutes to find and bring 100,000 Deutschmarks to her boyfriend before he robs a supermarket.

The Fugitive (1999): Dr. Richard Kimble, unjustly accused of murdering his wife, must find the real killer while being the target of a nationwide manhunt.

Catch Me If You Can (2002): A true story about Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor.

Hanna (2011): A 16-year-old who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.

One benefit a writer has in dealing with a chase movie is pace. It’s often easier to build and sustain narrative drive in a pursuit story as the goal is imminently clear and the pressure on both parties intense. Also chase movies generally exist within a compressed time frame which can help to maintain a high energy level.

From a viewer’s standpoint, an interesting psychological dynamic is the ability to shift perspectives — from the character being chased to the character in pursuit. This tacking back and forth can create a richer emotional experience as we can end up identifying in some ways with both characters.

Finally one thing to bear in mind when writing a chase story: There is a premium on twists-and-turns in the plot. Remember it’s a cat-and-mouse story so you want to create complications, roadblocks and reversals in the way of both characters, so that at points the pursuer is on top, then the character being chased, back and forth, making for an interesting, surprising and ultimately entertaining ride.

What chase movies would you add to this list? What appeals to you about this type of story?

[Originally posted October 19, 2011]

Movie Story Type: Assumed Identity

April 18th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week, we look at more movie story types. Today: Assumed identity.

This story type is different than one we have looked at previously — mistaken identity. With assumed identity stories, characters intentionally contrive circumstances to take on the role and responsibilities of another character.

Some examples of assumed identity movies:

The Lady Eve (1941): A spurned lover gets back at her former paramour by disguising herself as an English lady to tease and torment him.

Some Like It Hot (1959): When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.

Coming To America (1988): An African prince goes to Queens, New York City to find a wife whom he can respect for her intelligence and will.

Working Girl (1988): When a secretary’s idea is stolen by her boss, she seizes an opportunity to steal it back by pretending she has her boss’s job.

Taking Care of Business (1990): An uptight advertising exec has his entire life in a filofax organizer which mistakenly ends up in the hands of a friendly convict who poses as him.

Encino Man (1992): When they find a frozen caveman in their backyard, two high school outcasts thaw him out and introduce him as a modern day high-schooler.

Sister Act (1992): When a worldly singer witnesses a mob crime, the police hide her as a nun in a traditional convent where she has trouble fitting in.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993): After a bitter divorce, an actor disguises himself as a female housekeeper to spend secret time with his children held in custody by his Ex.

Dave (1993): To avoid a potentially explosive scandal when the U.S. President goes into a coma, an affable temp agency owner with an uncanny resemblance, is put in his place.

Mulan (1998): To save her father from death in the army, a Chinese maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China’s greatest heroes in the process.

Shakespeare in Love (1998): Viola de Lesseps dresses as a man to win a role in Shakespeare’s newest play where they eventually fall in love, enabling him to write his greatest work.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): When the wealthy father of a recent Princeton grad chats him up, Tom Ripley pretends to know the son and is soon offered $1,000 to go to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf to return home.

Catch Me If You Can (2002): A true story about Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor.

Of course, we can go back to Mark Twain’s story “The Prince and the Pauper,” first published in 1881 for an older spin on this story type. But wait, there’s also the Biblical story of two brothers Jacob and Esau, one of whom impersonates the other to deceive their father with dire consequences.

Once again this is a story type which cuts across genres — from comedies to dramas, action to thrillers. At its core, there are several psychological dynamics a writer can explore:

* Wish fulfillment: What if like Working Girl or The Talented Mr. Ripley, a down-and-out character can taste the life of wealth and power?

* Identity: Changing one’s ‘mask’ can result in a character coming to see him or herself in a different light. Like Michael Dorsey said at the end of another assumed identity movie Tootise, “I was a better man as a woman than I was as a man.”

* Possibilities: What could a character do with a new beginning? A new name, job, family, home, even a new gender?

At the deepest level of meaning for assumed identity stories, there are two questions: Who am I? Do I really know what another person is at the core of their being?

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in assumed identity films? What other movies of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted October 27, 2011]