Not Every Screenplay Fits Into A Cookie Cutter Formula by Steve Kaplan

Watch the video interview on Youtube here


Steve Kaplan: New skills start to appear in Melissa McCarthy’s case [SPY movie]. Courage, boldness, everything that she wasn’t in the Normal World, back in her basement office at the CIA, that vermin-ridden basement office. So you have the Reaction and then there’s a part of the movie that we call Connections. Connections is the part of the movie when your characters start to find unexpected allies and (sometimes unexpected) enemies.

In TROPIC THUNDER, the two main actors, Robert Downey, Jr. who is playing an Australian who is playing a black sergeant in Vietnam is always at odds with Ben Stiller’s lead actor and they barely talk to each other. They don’t get along. But in the middle part of the movie they start to actually talk to each other. It’s the first time that they are actually trying to make a connection. Connection is when things slow down in the movie where you have heart-to-heart conversations. You tell the truth about each other.

Watch the video interview here on Youtube

I guess the one thing, the one caveat that I’d like to put out there is that all these elements are in all these comedy movies, but they’re not necessarily in the same order. After connections and new directions and characters get what we call the Discovered Goal you have disconnections which is the dark night of the soul. That is usually the part about 3/4 of the way or 4/5ths of the way through where everything seems lost and your hero is going to fail and then somehow they find the power or the strength one more time and they win. Now normally that comes at about 3/4s of the way, 4/5ths of the way through the movie.

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

In GROUNDHOG DAY, however, that dark night of the soul comes in at about midway through it.

It happens after the sequence in which Bill Murray, who because he’s found the skill to get whatever he wants by simply being able to anticipate what’s going to happen because he’s living the day over and over and over again, he’s able to rob a truck full of money, he’s able to sleep with all the women in town, and then he gets the idea that he wants to have a relationship Andie MacDowell (the producer Rita). Even though he tried over and over again, it always ends with this great slap montage…slap, slap, slap. And now we’re only about half way through the movie and that’s the time in which he has lost all hope. He goes through this great series of suicide attempts. They are attempts because he does kill himself but he wakes up the next day. In fact, GROUNDHOG DAY is a really interesting structure. It’s basically structured after the long first act in which it sets everything up. It’s structured like the Five Stages of Grief of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. There is denial, there is a very short section of anger, and there’s a long negotiation period then there is depression, and finally there is acceptance. But in GROUNDHOG DAY there is three acts to acceptance. There is getting [the character] Rita to believe in him, that’s an entire act. Then there is the act of trying to save the old man in which he’s got to come to grips with the fact that he’s not God, he’s simply a man going through an impossible situation. And finally there is the final act of acceptance in which he simply accepts his fate. He is never going to live to see Feburary 3rd. He is always going to be living in February 2nd and he’s o.k. with it. He’s found out that the purpose of life for him is simply to do as much good as he can in the one day he has.

So that’s a way in which just understanding that this framework, this structure isn’t a cookie cutter form that must be followed. That all these parts of the journey happen, they don’t necessarily happen all in the same order or all at the same time. The thought that certain things have to happen on page ten and that certain things have to happen on page twenty-six is probably not a really good way to approach writing a screenplay.


QUESTION FOR THE VIEWERS: Can you name another movie that uses the 5 Stages of Grief by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as its story structure?

Check out Steve’s Book – THE HIDDEN TOOLS OF COMEDY:
The Serious Business Of Being Funny





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