Anything Goes : How many Academy Awards? by James David Sullivan

James David Sullivan

How many Academy Awards?

I finally saw "Gravity". Unbelievable special effects. And I always enjoy seeing Bullock and Clooney. But the script appears to be one more tired, old "Save the Cat" predictable formula movie. Okay, go ahead and tell me why I'm wrong.

Johannes Kern

The Music-Score is cool as well, because it fits the film so well...

Tony McFadden

"But the script appears to be one more tired, old "Save the Cat" predictable formula movie." Could you tell me, James, which movie in the last five years you enjoyed that wasn't a predictable formula movie?

James David Sullivan

I can give you several, but one of my favorites is "Pulling Strings",which takes the final few scenes in traditional style and then has the lady (it's a romcom) turn the guy down after a harrowing chase through a city traffic jam and an airport. It's a classic satire of those movies where the guy gets his girl after a last-minute chase. Refreshing to see the formula broken. "Draft Day" has a script which is so fresh that whatever formulas may have been employed are overwhelmed by great dialogue and a lot of rule breaking. "Her" doesn't really have a predictable formula,. "Repentance" takes a traditional horror plot and turns it upside down and inside out. "Dallas Buyer's Club" seems to me to avoid the traditional predictable plot formulations - but it may be that the script was just so good that I missed out on any formulas. "12 Years a Slave" doesn't seem to me to have any predictable plot machinations. Is that enough? Now that I have answered your question, how about answering mine: Why is it that you have sent me several private message using profanities, yet here you want to pretend that you have not acted beneath common human dignity? Or, should you deny that fact, do I need to make them public so that other people can see you as you really are?

James David Sullivan

Oh, I know that "Her" can be placed into the 9x mini-movie format, but that's a relatively knew formula and not so obvious, at least to me.

Tony McFadden

First, let's get this out of the way. The messages were private for your benefit, not mine. Anyone wanting to read that thread can find it here >> http://tonymcfadden.net/JDSmessages.pdf The movies you mentioned, all of them, have a structure. You actually hit the nail on the head with this: "Dallas Buyer's Club" seems to me to avoid the traditional predictable plot formulations - but it may be that the script was just so good that I missed out on any formulas. Anything hollywood buys follows a standard structure. In shit movies that structure is obvious because the writing (directing) doesn't rise above it. The excellent movies - and you mentioned a few above - are known because of their excellence -- but they still have that structure. Save the Cat, or Syd Fields or Truby's Anatomy of a Story or the Heroes Quest, they are all essentially the same. Everything on the screen has that structure as it's core. (There are some Asian movies that follow a three act structure that doesn't follow this, but I'm assuming we're talking about western popular cinema here.)

James David Sullivan

When someone curses me or uses profanity to me, that's neither for my benefit nor is it professional. All you want to do is to vent. And none of those structures are that close to one another. I took a course from Syd Field (you don't even know how to spell his name correctly - there is no "s" on the end of it) in person years ago, so I happen to know quite a bit about it. And I have autographed copies of the original versions of his books, by the way. I never said movies had no structure; I just talked about a tired old formula, and "save the cat" is one example of that, in my opinion. When I know what the next action a character will take before he or she takes it, I think that fits the definition of "predictability". If you look above, I'm not the only who who thinks that "Gravity" has a very predictable plot. I have spent most of the last five hours communicating with producers. What have you got to show for your last five hours of time? Oh, and I received a request from a rather intelligent graduate student for some thoughts about one of his research projects.

James David Sullivan

@Mr. McFadden, since you infer that you are an expert on all of these script structuring methods, why don't you enlighten us all by showing how it is done for each of the methods you mentioned? And throw in the structuring methods of Corey Mandell, Robert McKee, and the 9x mini-movie, while you are at it. If you know so much about script structuring, this should be a piece of cake for you. How about doing each structural break-down for "Pulling Strings"?

Tony McFadden

Too busy to pander to your whims, JDS. BTW, I would "imply", you would "infer".

James David Sullivan

@McFadden, in other words, you can't do it and you won't admit it. Someone well-versed in these methods, as you IMPLY you are should be able to do this in a matter of minutes. After all, you seem to have plenty of time for everything else. And demonstrating that you know what you are talking about is not a whim of mine. It's merely the thing a professional making a statement of the type you did would feel obligated to do - unless you can't.

James David Sullivan

For all of you that think that structure is extremely important, let me share with you something from an interview in the April 17, 2014 issue of "Script" magazine: ===================================== JVB: What percentage of scripts that come across your desk make you sit up and take notice? Would you say those that do follow a classic structure? Or do you even notice “structure” when the script has you totally enthralled? GB: At most, a handful each year – if by come across my desk you mean entered in the Academy Nicholl competition. An intriguing story well told is what matters most to me, not whether it conforms to a classic structure. ===================================== JVB is the current online editor of "Script" magazine and GB is "Greg Beal. Since 1989, Greg has administered the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. One can only imagine how many screenplays have crossed Greg's path in that time. I'm thinking, when Greg talks, it's time to listen." - Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

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