Garner + McQueen 4th of July = Best thing ever.

Because I love James Garner and Steve McQueen and wouldn’t hesitate to chop off a toe, foot or leg to have a drink with either. Godspeed to recovery, JG.

Unk had another installment on screenwriting structure last week, focusing on the Protagonist’s entrance into the NEW WORLD which would, as it turns out, mark the character’s departure from the ORDINARY WORLD. As usual, there were lots of ideas & commentary tossed around in the comments section, and I particularly enjoyed neil bringing up the oft-abused cliche of ‘refusing the Call to Adventure’. But I got hung up on THE DECISION– that, ultimately, the choice to proceed into the NEW WORLD is coming from the protag. I understand this is mostly straightforward- give the protagonist a choice that essentially is anything but that- they MUST go forward or there’s no story. Indiana Jones (who, thanks to Moviequill, has somewhat returned to my graces after reading Frank Darabont’s CITY OF GODS draft) could just tell the G-men to go screw at the beginning of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but he won’t because he’s designed in every way to be completely unable to refuse that particular call to action. That right there is the whole movie! I really need to work on memorizing the entire Raiders script word-for-word. If there are flaws in that script, feel free to point them out, because I’m just whole-heartedly taking RAIDERS as the gold standard for storytelling.

Anyway, what perplexed me wasn’t the need to give characters a moment to embrace/realize/reluctantly decide to set out into the NEW WORLD, but rather where the origin of the decision might possibly occur. In this instance I was thinking about the off-screen back story build-up before page one of a script– very specifically a ‘going to prison’ scenario where prison was not the story’s NEW WORLD. The question then being- Okay, what is the NEW WORLD in those circumstances? I was feeling around for an example that had all the elements and factors dictating the decision occurring before the movie begins. Where the decision was more of a realization that there’s really no where else to go, which seems like a pretty weak justification for moving the story forward.

I tried to hijack the SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION to illustrate what my thinking was, but Unk pointed me toward THE GREAT ESCAPE. Dusted off and watched my two-tape VHS edition, which fit the bill nicely. WWII makes for a huge back story element, not to mention the motley group of Prisoners all having extensive escapes on record and the interesting Luftwaffe vs. the SS/Gestapo angle. All that gets set up as the ORDINARY WORLD while quickly introducing a huge nuanced cast, some having different takes on the essential goal of escape. McQueen and Ives’s cooler-time makes the real distinction against Bartlett’s 250-at-once GREAT ESCAPE.

And really, even going to the gold standard of RAIDERS there’s plenty of off-screen back story playing into Indy going after the Ark– the G-men invoke the ever-hated Nazis and certainly dropping Ravenwood’s name is tugging on his motives whether it’s addressed out front or not. When Marion does enter the picture and we get their dynamic it just locks in and the story takes off.

So I’m beginning to suspect that the real skill with this particular point of screenwriting structure is weaving the off-screen back story into the decision and entrance into the NEW WORLD, without being awkward and expositional. Which might be something I don’t completely have a handle on just yet. I’m a big fan of rich story mythology (as demonstrated by my love of LOST and Battlestar Galactica). I outline back story in decades and centuries. An in medias res whore, I am. All for the long, obscure payoff. Straightforward? Fuhgeddebahdit! Which is probably why I get a lot of confusion. I’m definitely going to have to work on editing for necessity and clarity.