Monday, September 21, 2015

Silver Linings Playbook Moral Premise

Writer/Director: DAVID O. RUSSELL

BRADLEY COOPER - Pat Solatano Jr.
ROBERT DE NIRO - Pat Solatano Sr.
JACKI WEAVER - Dolores Solatano
BREA BEE - Nikki

8 Oscar Nominations
1 Win (Jennifer Lawrence Best Actress)

122 over all nominations, 96 wins.
Something should tell you this is a good movie.


In Silver Linings Playbook (SLP) Pat. Jr. (Cooper) has just been let out of a mental hospital, where he was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) after almost murdering his wife's lover who he discovers in the show with his wife.

Out of the hospital he comes to live with his parents, played by De Niro and Weaver. Pat Jr's goal is to win back his wife, Nikki, who has a restraining order out against him. But Nikki wants nothing to do with Pat Jr., whom she has probably never loved anyway. So, Pat's obsession is with something (Nikki), over which he has no control.

Similarly, Pat Sr. (De Niro), has an obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles, for which he has become a bookie, in a last ditch effort to get enough money to open a restaurant with his wife's cooking. Pat
Sr. is NOT on medication for his OCD betting issue as he tries every good luck charm and ritual in the book to get the Eagles to win, including his son's attention to the game. But Pat Sr. has no control over the Eagles winning or losing, nor much influence over his son's attention to the game.

Similarly, Tiffany (Lawrence) is a recovering OCD sex addict whose husband had recently died. She's trying to get her life back together and develops an obsession with Pat Jr. and literally chases him around town (as he's trying to get back into shape by running). Tiffany tricks Pat Jr. into becoming her dance partner for a competition by claiming she knows Nikki and can get a love letter to her for Pat Jr, who can't approach Nikki due to the restraining order. But, of course, Tiffany has no control over Pat Jr.'s affections or attention.

There are other minor characters for whom we might argue also have OCD issues, but Pat Jr., Pat Sr., and Tiffany are the main three with whom we become emotionally attached and root for. In essence all three become protagonists, and all three become each other's antagonists.  For those of us who suffer from Story Analysis OCD, it's a wonderful love triangle. Each has an obsession over which they have no control.  Like a good romantic comedy, the boy and girl are both antagonists to each other's protagonist. But when we throw into the mix, Pat Sr. (the boy's Dad), we get an added protagonist-antagonist dynamic that I'll explain below.


Ironically, although Pat Jr. is supposed to be on OCD medication, he probably doesn't need it. It's a misdiagnosis. I mean, we all have OCD to some extent. We all have rituals we follow, and things we do repeatedly to obtain our goals. But Pat Jr. does not come off as disorderly obsessed the way Tiffany does about Pat Jr, or the way Pat Sr. does about the Eagles. We get the impression that Tiffany is no longer on meds, and probably should be, and Pat Sr. is never been on meds and probably should be. So, we have three OCD characters who are all off their meds, whether or not they were ever prescribed.

But the movie is not out of control, as we might expect, at least not to the extend that I've known OCD who was a brilliant engineer, and lost his job because the meds either made him impotent when he was on them, or crazy when he was off them. My friend (a neighbor) would come over to my house and try to convince me to harness my NASA connections (I used to train astronauts) and go to Mars to mine minerals. My friend talked about it obsessively as if it was as easy as driving over to the abandoned rock quarry in his pickup to find a chunk of limestone. But we don't see quite that level of insanity in SLP. In fact, we can easily identify with each of our character's main normal and understandable....and obtainable.


The concept of a silver lining is that of a dark cloud that obliterates the sun. The dark cloud appears to have a silver lining...a white edge that indicates bright sun on the other side. Thus, SLP is a movie about optimists who battle the dark clouds in their lives, and never give up believing there is a silver lining to their desperate situations.  They are OCD in a good way, they're optimists.

But sometimes our characters (like us) don't see the silver lining. They, like us, keeping looking at and pursuing the dark clouds, trying to get the dark cloud to turn puffy white. But that will never happen (according to this movie) until we look PAST the dark clouds and get on the other side to find the bright sunshine.

Thus, it is for Pat Sr. He's obsessed with good-luck rituals that must be followed for the Eagles to win. With his son out of the hospital, Pat Sr. adopts a new ritual...Pat Jr. has to sit with him, watch the game and rub a good luck token every time the Eagles get the ball. Pat Sr. believes it's even better if his son attends an Eagles game. But when Pat Jr. does attend an Eagles game, Pat Jr. gets arrested for a fight, the Eagles lose, and Pat Sr. looses all his money. Tragedy. It's not until Tiffany shows up for dinner that she explains to Pat Sr. that the ritual is not what Pat Sr. believes but something entirely different. She explains that Pat Sr. has to let go of his son, and let Pat Jr. be with HER.... dancing, and then, perhaps the Eagles will win. Tiffany explains that the silver lining to not for Dad to possess his son, but for HER to possess his son. In essence, Pat Jr. hanging around home becomes the dark cloud, when in fact it's letting Pat Jr. go, to move out of the way, and reveal the sun behind—Tiffany.

Tiffany and Pat Jr. square off. Between them the "normal"
ideal of a family...her sister, Veronica, and Pat Jr.'s best friend,
Randy. The story question is can Tiffany and Pat Jr become
as normal as Randy and Veronica...or should they even try?
After all, Veronica has an OCD issue all her own. Look at
that "perfect" picture. Is it real? Or the consequence of OCD?
And, thus it is for Pat Jr. He's obsessed with doing what he always did before to get his wife back. Pat Jr. is obsessed with a dark cloud called Nikki. And it's not until Nikki slides out of the way )again with Tiffany's help), that Pat Jr. sees Tiffany as the love of his life.

And thus it is for Tiffany. She's obsessed with Pat Jr.. And here is her anchor, and the anchor for the story. It's Tiffany who is the hero of this movie, although Pat Jr. is the protagonist. Tiffany is the hero-antagonist, who battles both Pats. They both think they have their game down "pat." But Tiffany has come to realized that the silver lining playbook is when you move past your faux obsession and pursue something that is really worth pursuing. If you're going to be OCD about something, then let's do something worthwhile, is her philosophy.

So, it is that in SLP, it's Tiffany that is pursuing the silver lining, and trying to get the other characters to do the same. She has and is following the playbook, and like most good antagonists she is powerful, ubiquitous and does not arc. She's the anchor. And as in all good stories, it's the antagonist that forces the protagonists (the two Pats) to change. Sometimes the antagonist is a good guy (like Tiffany) and sometimes its a bad guy (like Hans Gruber in DIE HARD). This turning the story elements inside out while still maintaining their essential character is one of the reasons SLP is so good. It follows the rules, but seems to break them in a new way.

So, here's the moral premise for this wonderfully redeeming movie:

Obsessing over dark clouds leads to disappointments and an unfulfilled life; but
Obsessing over silver linings leads to satisfaction and new hope.

If you have a different idea for this movie, please let me know in the com box below.

Blessings. Bestow Hope and Vanquish Fear (as the SLP does so wonderfully).

P.S. This blog was in response to a question from C.S. a Munich Germany Film School student. Thanks, C.S..

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Francine Rivers and Tamera Alexander Consult the Moral Premise

I received an email to day from friend and client Tamera Alexander (on the right) with this picture attached.

That's best selling author Francine Rivers on the left. The picture was taken at their annual writer's retreat with 9 other writers who meet at one of the writer's lake house in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  Francine has written 30 published novels in the last 40 years, and she's still working hard.  She's best known for Redeeming Love

I was very honored that they have found TMP helpful. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SUSPECT (1987) Moral Premise

Pam and I are investigating murder mysteries, looking for the Protagonist, Moment of Grace, and Moral Premise. We were challenged to do by Michael, a fan of the the Moral Premise, who lives and writes in South Africa and who noticed that I had not analyzed any murder mysteries.  (Even I was surprised by this observation.) Michael is writing a murder mystery and needed some help understanding protagonist arcs in the murder mystery genre.

While it is true that not all murder mysteries may have a clear protagonist and an arc, I will suggest that the movies that have both, emotionally connect with audiences.

Tonight we watched SUSPECT (1987) which is a great film noir, detective story that is a text book example of following many of the genre's rules, but switching enough of them around to make the movie interesting and satisfying right up to the end. It was a good investment of time.

No spoilers here, but I will share a few things that will make the movie more satisfying to watch.

The story in short from IMDB (Sami Al-Taher):
A judge commits suicide, and his secretary is found murdered. A homeless deaf-mute man, Carl Anderson is arrested for her murder. Public defender Kathleen is assigned by the court as his lawyer. She sets to find the real killer, and gets help from the congressional advisor, Eddie Sanger who is called to be on the jury panel. Together they discover a dangerous circle of corruption in high places.
Kathleen, a public defender, is the protagonist.
She has a clear arc and a Moment of Grace at the 50% mark.
Kathleen (Cher) is a public defender in need of a vacation. She's ordered to defend a homeless man, Carl (Liam Neeson), who's a deaf-dumb Vietnam veteran on trial for killing court clerk, Elizabeth Quinn (Katie O'Hare) for $9. A cocky lobbyist, Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid) ends up on the jury. Eddie is also an amateur detective, and recognizes that Carl could not have killed Elizabeth. To pursue justice, he violates the law and makes contact with Kathleen to give her clues that he's independently uncovered.

So, here are a few things to make the movie even better to watch:

Protagonist: Kathleen Riley (Cher)

Moral Premise: 
Embracing the law for what is false leads to guilt; but
Breaking the law for what is true leads to innocence.
Moment of Grace explanation:

The scene right after the Moment of Grace, which demonstrates
Kathleen's willingness to accept help from Eddie. Here she
returns the grace he offers by bandaging him up.
When Eddie begins to take an interest in the case he begins an independent investigation and tries to meet with Kathleen secretly to pass information to her. She shuts him down because his contact with her is illegal. She tries to obey the judge's orders to a "T" but she's not happy about his uncooperative nature. Kathleen suspects that her client, Carl, is innocent, but she is willing to let him be convicted of murder because she has so much respect for the law and the judge that she dare not break the law, even if it means discovering who the real murdered is.

But Eddie is persistent. In the middle of the story (at the 50% mark) another drifter who knows Carl, threatens Kathleen's life, and is about ready to kill Kathleen when Eddie shows up and saves her. Eddie's appearance in this scene in saving Kathleen from death is the moment of grace. Eddie brings "GRACE" to Kathleen in two ways: (1) by saving her life, and thus convincing her to risk disbarment for the ruth; and (2) let him help her for the second half of the movie by being her investigator.

Thus, Kathleen arcs from embracing the law and letting Carl be found guilty, to breaking the law so they can find Carl innocent.  AND IN THAT, we have a good hook:
Harassed public defender breaks the law to procure justice.
There are many other beats in SUSPECTS that match traditional story structure.

Highly recommended.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Architectural Stories and Fonts

Good architectural Story Structure adheres to several principles and techniques, not unlike the rules of architectural hand-lettering:

1. Honor your audience's need to understand something about every scene. Keep your style consistent.

2. Use a clear and unencumbered beat sheet where reversals and turns are obvious.

3. Emphasize the beginning and end of scenes, sequences and acts. Avoid ambiguity.

4. Give your scenes, sequences and acts a slight upward lift of hope and redemption.

5. Give turning points a roundness of possibilities. Don't limit your character's options.

6. Give careful attention to the rhythm, allowing an ebb and flow of quiet to noise, fast to slow, introspection to decision, action to consequence.

(Inspired by Matthew Frederick's 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Moral Premise Workshops Now On-Line

Moral Premise STORYCRAFT TRAINING is now up on it's own mobile adaptive blog.

SOURCE MATERIAL: The episodes were originally developed for live workshops presented at conferences across the United States, most notably in Los Angeles and S.E. Michigan. 

The training offers extended and updated material based on my Hollywood story structure book: The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success and years of story, script, and manuscript consulting. 

The episodic presentations are divided into bit size video chunks for easy assimilation. 

TARGET AUDIENCE: Professional and amateur writers, directors, producers, and storytellers (as well as consumers) of all media and genres will find this Storycraft material helpful.

MEDIA FOCUS: The lessons focus particularly on major motion pictures and occasionally clips from the same for ease of illustration. The episodes predominately contain many colorful graphics that ease learning of sometimes hard to grasp concepts. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Image vs. Final Image

Blake Snyder, in his famous book on screenwriting, adds two beats to the traditional thirteen: The Opening Image and the Final Image.
OPENING IMAGE: The very first impression of what a movie is — its tone, its mood, the type and scope of the film — are all found in the opening mage. (p. 72)
The FINAL IMAGE ... is proof that change has occurred and that it's real.
Now comes Jacob T. Swinney with a collection of supercuts via his Vimeo Channel and this one which he titles First and Final Frames.  Blake is smiling in heaven at this one.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

NOAH: Book from Rizzoli on Aronofsky's Masterpiece

A picture book with a screenplay in the back is available from Rizzoli, New York.
A quick review is in order.

As you may know from my longer posts on Aronofsky's NOAH (contributed over several weeks when the movie came out) I found the movie, from a Moral Premise standpoint, good and challenging in many ways.

So I bite my lip and paid for the book and the novelization. I'm not into novelizations, but since I coach writers a lot, I thought this one might be interesting to look at sometime in the future. But first the picture book. It's worth a few comments.


No doubt, in part a dig at Aronofsky's "Christian" critics who claimed the movie was not Biblically accurate, the editors chose to use ONLY Scripture as textual explanations in the picture portion. Insistent critics will no doubt point out that the Scripture text used is not from any modern translation but rather a "translation" or "paraphrase" by Aronofsky and Handel found in their screenplay. Such criticism is disingenuous, however, because no modern day translation is inerrant or infallible—
labels that can only be assigned to the original manuscripts none of which exist. And, if a Christian writer were to paraphrase a passage of Scripture to make a point, his work would be accepted as inerrant or infallible, e.g. Peterson's THE MESSAGE from Navpress.

But the presence of only Scripture in the picture book reinforces the effort Aronofsky and Handel have repeatedly claimed, that their intent was to take the Biblical record as true and authentic and to then fill in
the gaps of the record with gleanings from other oral and written traditions, being careful never to step on the literal Scriptures. Much of the argument against the film by Christians concerned the incorporation of such material, as if it could never be true. But, as my longer post points out, Aronofsky has proven to be the more honest Biblical scholar and not given in to those Evangelical ideologies not found in the Bible.  The vast differences in Protestant doctrine, supposedly all based on the Bible, creates a vacuum for such arguments. The movie is based on the Bible and here the writers and publishers remind us of that.        


Normally, in this blog, I'd have nothing to say about "print quality." I try to stand apart from commenting on aesthetic elements and stick with story structure. But that is what I'm doing here. It's clear that the editors/producers of the book made a decision that their creation would reflect the tone, arc, and structure of the movie by how they printed the inside pages. I got a kick out of this because I've said from the beginning of writing The Moral Premise, that the concept applies to ALL aspects of a story, right down to the marketing,... and now I can say it can apply to the printing techniques of the ancillary picture book.

The beginning and end of the book is printed with glossy stock that allows the ink to lie on top of the paper providing sharp edges, and  rich color as the light is able to reflect it all back to the eye. But the center of the book is printed on drab, ink-absorbing, matt. The photos are washed out, lacking in color and sharpness. The contrast is low, and the blacks are gray. The center is truly ugly and depressing to look at.

But this was on purpose. It's not a budget consideration. Indeed, the turning point up front, is a spread that changes from beautiful to ugly. It is in a section where Noah and his family (particularly Ham) come to grip with the sin and ugliness of the world around them. In the photo below, compare the left page with the right. The left is bright and glossy and the right is dull and matt.

This is the spread that follows Noah reflecting on the world's condition as described by this Scripture:
 The World was filled with violence. And the Creator looked upon the World and saw it was corrupt for all flesh and corrupted his way upon the World. Genesis 6:11
The spread above shows Ham and the girl he tries to rescue from the World's violence and from a mass grave. But as the story unfolds in the minutes that follow, the girl is lost to the mob and Noah pulls Ham to safety and the ark.  This is the ugly side of seems that all is lost.

Near the end of the story, the ugly pages end and transform back to the beautiful pages. This spread occurs precisely at Noah's Moment of Grace, where he realizes and accepts the truth of the Moral Premise. Examine the photo below. Notice the transition from dull and matt (left) to bright and glossy (right). This too, on the right, more viscerally reveals the blood that has flowed to the surface of Noah's skin.

The center of this spread is Noah's Moment of Grace, when he finally figures out that God does not want to destroy all humanity, but rather give humanity a second chance by saving Noah's family and his off-spring. The pages on the left will be re-created later by Abraham when Abraham believes that God wants him to kill his only son, Isaac with a knife upon an altar of wood. And here is Noah, foreshadowing that later scene. On the left, because Noah is righteous he is determined to obey God. His righteous does not come from omniscience and understanding God, but from obeying what he understands. And so, Noah, like Abraham, prepares to sacrifice the two baby girls on an altar of wood (the top of the ark). 

But right in the middle of this spread (and I think the middle two pictures are actually a single frame), is the moment when Noah looks at the babies and (later explains): "I looked down on those girls and all I had in my heart was love." He puts down the knife and kisses the babies with his blessing. This scene can only remind us of the anguish that Abraham must have experienced in preparing to follow God's command to sacrifice Isaac. 

Now, notice again, what the editor did with the printing. The left is the last of the ugly pages in the book. And on the right we have the bright, glossy beauty restored. This is the moral premise realized in the books' production:

Justice without mercy leads to dread, death, and annihilation (UGLY); but
Justice with mercy leads to hope, life, and a new creation (BEAUTY).


The included screenplay is a big disappointment, although it is smaller than normal (6.5" x 8.5") and is cleverly inserted in a box built into the back cover.

The disappointed is due to its violation of many screenplay formats rules that the industry demands for practical reasons of reading, scheduling and budgeting.  And because those of us in the industry read so many screenplays, picking up this small monstrosity is distracting and provides a wrong role model for aspiring screenwriters.

Among the violations:

  • The slug lines are CENTERED and BLUE.
  • The transitions are CENTERED and STRUCK THROUGH
  • The action lines are nearly the same width as dialogue making it difficult for the eye to quickly distinguish the difference. It's easy to confuse the two.
  • The action lines are fully justified, creating awkward gaps between words.
  • The dialogue lines are centered.
  • The character tags are centered. 
  • The page numbers are at the bottom of each page and centered.
  • The page is 23% smaller than normal. Not easy to read. 
  • But HEY, the font looks like Courier. (what a concept).
My advice to Rizzoli, whoever made this decision, correct them. We want real looking screenplays that we can share with students. What you published is very much in keeping with the ugly world of Noah that needed to be destroyed. In Hollywood vernacular you "sinned."

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln loved the play. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

BIRDMAN - The Moral Premise and Arcs

EMMANUEL LUBEZKI (Cinematography)
EMMA STONE (Sam, Riggan's daughter)
EDWARD NORTON (Mike Shiner, Riggan's method acting antagonist/Mel, Nick's friend and Terri's husband )
NAOMI WATTS (Lesley, Riggan's protégée/Terri, Mel's wife)
ANDREA RISEBOROUGH (Laura, Riggan's girlfriend/Laura, Nick's wife)
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (Jake, Riggan's co-producer)
LINDSAY DUNCAN (Tabitha, the critic that is going to "kill" Riggan's play)
AMY RYAN (Sylvia, Riggan's wife)

Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence

4 Oscars (Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Picture) Plus 157 other wins out of 158 nominations.


BIRDMAN explores this classic conflict: Achieving our greatest desires often requires that we overcome our greatest fears.

An actor standing before a crowd, an announcer sitting before a live radio microphone, an entrepreneur pitching an idea to investors, or a writer facing the blank page…all carry the excitement of opportunity and achievement…if we can access a confidence that is greater than our fear of failure.

That is the struggle between Freud's ID and EGO. Here the ego is not to be confused with narcissistic egotism. It is the ID that drives our dreams and passions, often unbridled and without constraint. It is the EGO that struggles to conform the ID's dreams and bring them to some form of reality. Wanting something badly enough requires that we face the reality and the difficulties that stand in the way of our dreams.


In BIRDMAN, our protagonist, Riggan, wants to prove to the world that he's not just a celebrity "actor" hiding behind a mask in a birdman suit through the magic of Hollywood's special effects and elaborate editing, which is what he is known for through a series of movies about the superhero Birdman. Riggan wants to get out from behind that mask of his former identity and prove that he's a real actor. That is, he wants to achieve acceptance by appearing on stage, in the raw, without the protection of costume, special effects, or the editor's cutting that maneuvers around bad performances. The movie questions are, therefore: Can Riggan's dream of being a respected New York actor (not just a Hollywood celebrity) be realized? Can his ego find a way for his id's passion to be realized? Can he produce, direct, star in and finance a Broadway show and achieve critical and financial acclaim?

Critical to all successful stories is a clear physical goal with elements of underdog irony. The answer to these movie questions, according to nearly everyone around him, is "No, he cannot. It's too big of a challenge for anyone."

At the same time this is the same answer that Alegandro Gonzálex Iñárritu received from many in the industry when he approached actors and financiers to make BIRDMAN. So, in many ways the emotional and moral obstacles Iñárritu confronted in the making of BIRDMAN, Riggan faces in making his play. The movie becomes, therefore, a metaphor for both the play, and the filmmaker's lives.

The story is universal because the question it proposes is one we all face multiple times during the day. BIRDMAN suggests that the juxtaposition of our wishes and fears is epitomized and metaphored in the life of an actor… someone like Riggan. (In a backdoor sort of way, BIRDMAN argues for compassion on actors and live performance creators.)


BIRDMAN takes those story questions, and applies ithem to the various subplots, which are not just interwoven horizontally like subplots normally are in a story, but vertically in overlapping realities. There are(1) the filmmakers (Iñárritu as director, Lubezki as cinematographer, Keaton, Norton et al as actors), (2) making a movie about a play's production (Riggan as director, and Riggan, Mike et al as actors), who (3) are staging a play adapted from a book (written by Carver, but starring Riggan as Nick, Mike as Mel, et al).

In Riggan's stage paly (with Nick, Mel, Terri and Laura), as well as in Riggan's life (with Sylvia, Mike, Sam, Laura, Lesley and Jake), and in the movie (with Keaton, Norton, Watts et al,) no one can hide behind cutaways and special effects…it’s pure acting. And this is probably the biggest reason the filmmakers won BEST PICTURE. (next paragraph, please)

To bring this fear and the reality of stage performances to the forefront of the movie's production, Iñárritu and Lubezki use long takes, 10-20 minutes in length with dozens of actors, props and locations in each. All of the traditional movie making pillars that actors and filmmakers hide behind to assuage their fear and give them a "faux" confidence, are gone. BIRDMAN, the movie, is like Riggan's life and Riggan's play. It's raw, it's exposed, it's like running down Broadway Ave. in your underwear to make a cue on stage. No one should criticize the scene of Keaton trying through the public in his underpants.  It is the ultimate metaphor for what actors must do every night on the stage...well, actually what actors do might be better metaphored if Keaton was naked.

In each of these dramatic vertical layers, the battle is between their id's passion to achieve at any cost and their ego's efforts to bring it off within the confines of their world's reality. Stated another way they are all battling their fear of failure vs. their confidence to succeed.


The greatest fear of an actor is that his character will be perceived as pretending. The greatest wish of an actor is that his character will be perceived as real. That is a paradox on the roof's ledge of contradiction, which we also have in a few scenes. 

Therefore, the long version of BIRDMAN's moral premise could be stated this way:

Hiding behind a mask of other's expectations, and avoiding vulnerability leads to fear (of self, of others, and of life) and if fate is favorable you'll become a celebrity with no talent. But, removing the mask of other's expectations, and embracing a raw vulnerability leads to a love (of self, of others and of life), and and if you work real hard you'll become a real actor with talent. 

or this shorter form:

Self-fear leads to fake performances and fake bananas, but
Self-confidence leads to real performances and bloody verisimilitude. 


Leading with Id lifts the lid (exposing you as fake) and puts you on page 12, but
Leading with Ego reveals the glow (establishing you as real) and puts you on page 1. 

or,  coming at this from a method acting  perspective, which is what Ed Norton's antagonist character demonstrates:

Pretending leads to rejection; but
Actualizing leads to acceptance. 


Riggan's protagonist has two antagonists that come from opposite directions and force him to transform from wishing to doing, from fearing to taking charge as if he is god of his play. The first antagonist is the fear of his alter ego (the Young Birdman) who tells Riggan he's washed up and amounts to nothing in his present endeavor. The Young Birdman wants to maintain Riggan's status quo and remain a masked celebrity. This, however, is what Riggan is trying to shake off; although it's easy to fall back into such motivations.

The second antagonist is the absence of fear of Mike Shiner, who is the epitome of the method actor's demand that everything should come from within, everything should be real, not fake. Mike doesn't need the script because he believes that a correctly written script will be in tune with his natural, inner soul and the next line will naturally come to him. (And mostly it does.)

The Young Birdman initially teases and harasses Riggan to stick with the status quo of celebrity ambiguity, but it’s Mike Shinner that forces Riggan to really change. Riggan has a great deal of fear at the beginning of the story. Mike has no fear. Mike strips naked for his fitting in front of Riggan’s daughter and others. Mike (as Mel) tries to actually make love to Lindsey (as Terri) on stage in front of a full house. Mike also Riggan to essentially use a real gun without the red stopper in the barrel... to make it believable. In exposition dialogue we learn that Mike has no fear of being fired nor does he fear ruining his reputation by quitting projects.  He's guilty of both. When he joins Riggan's project, Riggan is thrilled and nearly worships Mike’s availability. Why? Because Mike is a real actor, which Riggan is attempting to be. And indeed, Mike’s fearlessness ("I own this town") is what makes him a great actor and consequently he get’s front page cover in the NYT Arts section, which may be the Moment of Grace for Riggan (Riggan's story is pushed to page 12.) This occurs on page 65 of the 118 page script.

There's also a Moment of Grace for Mike, when he tells Riggan in a bar that he owns the town and suddenly a fan approaches Riggan for his autograph and ignores Mike. That also signals a change that the antagonist's pressure is changing the protagonist. (this occurs on page 44 of the 118 page script)


The essence of the story, then, is that being an actor, especially on stage, requires a confidence that is greater than the fear being an actor creates. Riggan must acquire a confidence that he is the omnipotent god of his play and of NY. He can make things happen. He imagines that he has telekinesis powers just as an actor choses action verbs to telegraph his inner motivation to bring physical change to a scene and the other characters on stage he opposes.

This god-like, inner confidence and belief in oneself is equal to jumping out of a window and flying, yet WITHOUT the Birdman suit, which represents the fake and special effect side of acting.

Riggan learns that pretending to levitate in his underwear in his private dressing room where no one can see him, isn't enough. To have the confidence for his ego to acquire his id's dream he has to gain enough confidence to "literally" fly above 5th avenue fully dressed in public…or run through a crowd outside a theater in his underwear…a metaphor for his need to be totally vulnerable on stage. Successful acting requires extreme, emotional and physical vulnerability. You can have no fear of exposing yourself to ridicule and public criticism. The movie says that a Hollywood celebrity dresses behind a costume and externally becomes the character, but a real actor can go naked and internally becomes the actor. Only when Riggan acquires that inner motivation can he become the ACTOR he intends.

When Riggan confronts Tabitha (the critic) in the bar he tells her that she has no idea what it’s like to be an actor-director-producer-financier of a play, which is equivalent to being a god…you can kill actors with a sand bag, you can create a war on the streets of Manhattan, you can stare down fire breathing dragons, you can fly, and you can shoot yourself in the head and live again to do it again the next night. A critic (like Tabitha) can only use external labels which cost them nothing. Actors, o the other hand, risk everything to become their creation.

He says to Tabitha in reference to her use of labels to criticize his play:

None of this cost you fuckin’ anything? The Fuck! You risk nothing! Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! I’m a fucking actor! This play cost me everything.

That scene occurs on pages 92-93 which is a far cry and arc from what and where Sam says the same thing to Riggan on page 50.


Riggan’s arc is his transformation from being the young Birdman who can “fly" (with the help of a mask and special effects —not real acting…it’s all make believe) to his resurgence as a real actor running down Broadway in his underwear, drawing real blood on stage, and, telling the young Birdman to “Bye-bye. And fuck you." (Our last glimpse of the Young Birdman is that he's no longer hovering over Riggan, but sitting silently on a crapper having been finally put in his place.)  Riggan has learned to turn the characters on stage into real, life—the epitome of verisimilitude.

Riggan's need to arc is emphasized during a public preview (of the play), when Mike rants about how nothing on stage is real "It's all fake. The milk is fake, the butter if fake…Your performance is fake…" and he tears the set up (page 34). Mike is an example of the method actor, where the internal emotions drive the physical action and because the actor actually senses his environment as real. Mike is fearless on stage, where as Riggan (in his past) hid behind a mask and special effects.

The question is, can Riggan be like Mike. Can he top Mike. (Indeed can Michael Keaton get out from behind the Batman mask and be a real actor without special effects and cutaways?) Can he move from page 12 to page 1 in the NYT Arts section. We ask ourselves once again, can Riggan become the character... a real actor?  Blowing off his nose with a real gun is his own proof…he can now fly.

At the end of Act 2 (Near Death), Tabitha accuses Riggan of being a Hollywood celebrity and that she's going to kill his play. But once Riggan pulls out the stops, at the very end, when he's recovering from blowing off his nose, Jake reads Tabitha's glowing review of Riggan's "super realism" and praises the play.

Moments later, when he's alone in his hospital room's bathroom, Riggan removes the mask of bandages is a reprise of what he has done earlier internally, at the beginning of Act 3 (removing the mask and willing to become a martyr for the cause.) That the bandages looks like the bird man costume assures us that Riggan in fact has come out from behind his mask of being a “celebrity” to being an “actor”

In this same scene we also see the culmination of Sam's arc. Where earlier Sam despises her father's attempts to make the play succeed, they have this exchange:

RIGGAN: Listen to me. I'm trying to do something important. 
SAM: This is not important. 
RIGGAN: It's important to me! Alright? Maybe not to you, or your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral. But to me... To me... this is - God. This is my career, this is my chance to do some work that actually means something. 
SAM: ….Well, there's a whole world out there where people fight to be relevant every day. And you act like it doesn't even exist! Things are happening in a place that you willfully ignore, a place that has already forgotten you. I mean who are you? You hate bloggers. You make fun of twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist. You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't. It's not important. You're not important. Get used to it.

But at the end of the movie, Sam has come around and we're shown it this way. After Riggan removes his bandages, he goes to the hospital window, looks down at the media frenzy that has gathered, looks up at the sky and birds "dancing" in the sky. Then he steps up and out the window wearing only his hospital gown, open in the back.

The camera moves from the window to the hospital room's door.

Sam returns from getting a flower vase, which she now does lovingly as opposed to the angry errand she ran for her Dad in the first scene. She looks for her dad who's nowhere in the room. The last paragraph in the script says this:

She spots the opened window and registers the sounds from outside. Tentatively she walks toward the window. She gets there, summons her courage and looks down. Nothing. Slowly, confused, she tilts her head up and looks up into the sky. A smile, filled with pride, begin to wash over her face.

Log Lines, Tags, & Hooks

I recently received the following question from a reader.

Hey Dr. Stan, 
Can I get your reaction to my tagline for the script I'm currently working on (and constantly re-working).  It is: 
After defying incredible odds to become the first African-American female rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard, Susan Carville is asked to embark on a mission that will require her to choose who will live and who will die.
Any feedback from you would be greatly appreciated. 
Thank you,   
Lady Writer

Lt. j.g. Lashanda Holmes, the first female
African-American helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard.
Dear Lady Writer,

Well, that’s not a tag line, but it’s a pretty good log line. A tag line suggests the emotional arc. For your story a “tag” might be: “Hope that Transcends Desperation.” or “Called to Save, Forced to Let Die.”

But as a story and a log line... you have several layers of outer conflict or potential story hooks:

  • Becoming a person who saves lives in desperate situations
  • Becoming a rescue swimmer
  • Being a female
  • Being African-American

Any ONE of those engenders social conflict and potential difficulties. Any ONE of them can become the basis of a movie's hook, because each has a perceived disadvantage.

A person that wants to become a rescue swimmer is prejudice against by her friends for being an a physical fitness junkie and courageous. That bias is not very different from how society’s patriarchal majority at times dismiss women, and white racism marginalizes blacks.

Putting all four together creates greater interest (and greater jeopardy) but also creates a bigger problem for the story. Significantly dealing with ONE of those issues, or perhaps TWO is enough for a screenplay. Dealing with all four suggests to me a novel. Dealing with all four in a screenplay will be difficult, and that difficulty is evident in what you have to do with the log line. (see below)


But there is a solution. PICK ONE to be the spine of the story, and dramatically reduce the importance of the others to subplots. My recommendation is to pick the spine that has the broadcast audience appeal, and let the others tag along—their very presence will reinforce their validity. For instance, of those four story sub-plots, which do you think will appear to the most people? That then becomes the focus of your story, and the focus of your log line.

Put it another way, I have no problem with seeing all four in a story as your log line suggests, but if you focus principally on Susan's blackness as your main plot, you’ll make the film for only 18% of the American audience that identifies with being black, and you’ll be telling the rest of your potential audience that their lives matters less. If you focus the spine on the fact that Susan is a woman, you’ll marginalize 49% of your potential audience and tell them (the men) they don’t matter. If you focus the spine of your story or being a rescue swimmer, then you have marginalized 99.9% of your audience. But I think everyone in your potential audience would identify with the human need to help others and the moral dilemma of helping others in situations where you are useless to do so.


At the same time, the most successful stories are “underdog” stories, or as Disney labels them, “fish out of water” stories. These are stories where the protagonist can easily be identified as one with the audience. They are just like everybody else, filled with fears and anxieties, and a lost sense of “What can I do?” When you put such a character into a situation that seems impossible you have the biggest interest, the deepest hook.

So my story and log line recommendation would be to focus the story on someone who wants to help others in desperate situations but has to overcome their insecurities of doing so. Keep their motivations high and noble that all your diverse international audience can identify with. Second I would focus on the technicalities of the difficultly of becoming a rescue swimmer. This will intrigue everyone. That Susan happens to be female and black will raise the noble pursue of her in an otherwise male and white world. And while you can make some minor points about her being female and black, you don't want to become so politically correct that you miss the point and open your story up to mockery.

The regular audience goer will believe (coming into the theater) that Susan should become a rescue swimmer ONLY if she can be a good one. Her sex and the color of her skin should not enter into her success of failure, although you can show her struggling with her black-female identity. Just keep it a subplot. This is where Martin Luther King's call for judgment to be made on character not on skin color comes in. If you make gender or race an issue then you suggest that Susan should become a rescue swimmer BECAUSE she is female and black. If you make Susan female and black but don't make a big deal about it, then you reinforce the idea that gender and race are not the issue—character qualities counts. This was part of the success of THE KARATE KID I worked on with Will and Jaden Smith. While Jaden is black, the story was not about his blackness, but about the cultural issues between American and Chinese. Overbrook did the same thing with last year's ANNIE. Both were successful and appealed to broad audiences because race was not an explicit issue in the promotion or the plot...yet it was there.  A gender example would be KILL BILL where Uma Thurman's sex is an implicit not an explicitly issue, and it attracted a male audience.

Now, since Susan's story is a true story, and being female and black WERE issues for her, you will want to still deal with them. Just remember the more you bring them to the forefront of your story, the more you limit your audience to just black females, which would be about 9% of your potential audience.  If you don't made a big deal about then you garner a larger audience who will see black females as fully capable and you'll win their respect from a faithful portrayal of a rescue swimmer's difficulty of rising to that level.


If you want to make all four elements a significant part of your story then you'll have a log line that reads like this:
After defying incredible odds to become the first African-American, female, rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard, Susan Carville is asked to embark on a mission that will require her to choose who will live and who will die among the crew of a sinking ship who are a mix of men and women, whites and blacks. 
This log line is fraught with racial, class, and gender overtones and what becomes lost in such political messages is the remarkable universal nature of anyone becoming a rescue swimmer in order to save another's life. The audience is narrowed and the message debatable.

But if the log line is:
After defying incredible odds to become a rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard, the newly certified swimmer is sent on a death-defying mission where the swimmer must decide who will live and who will die.
Then the log line has universal appeal. And when the trailers and poster comes out and we discover the swimmer is a black woman, the appeal for the story will skyrocket. People don't like to be preached at about any political issue, but they subliminally understand the gender and racial undertones.

Also notice this minor point. Proper nouns are never used in a log line. Use generic descriptions to (again) keep the appeal broad.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ST. VINCENT Moral Premise Discussion


(Updated 2-9-15 from our MEETUP Discussions)

Director/Writer: TED MELFI
Starring: BILL MURRAY (Vincent)
CHRIS O'DOWD (Bro. Geraghty)

IMDB Log: A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.

This picture is too good to be true. I may never analyze it just out of respect to the talent displayed. It is a classic example of structure while turning the tables on the traditional concept of Protagonist and Antagonist. 

Here are some notes that have come from out Screenplay Meetup Group discussion in Northville, MI. As the discussion continues I'll add more.


The Movie's tag line is "LOVE THY NEIGHBOR"... but on first appearances the neighbor (Vincent) is not very lovable; and it appears as if Vincent is not loving anyone else in return. Thus, everyone needs to love each other. It's a challenge. But then the curtain is slowly pulled back to reveal that things are not what they seem. No spoilers here...perhaps after the movie leaves theaters. 


The Conflict of Values articulate the inner world-views that create the outer physical-conflict. The values must be naturally opposing.  These same set of values are at work between the all the characters in conflict in a movie, but may personify themselves in different ways. We only need one of these pairs for the film, but our discussion suggests the following possibilities:

Selfishness v. Selflessness
Self-Centered v. Others-Centered
Inward v. Outward
Apathetic v. Engaged
Narcissistic v. Sacrificial

This results in a Moral Premise Statement that could look like one of these:

Selfishness leads to hermitages; but
Selflessness leads to neighborhoods.

Narcissism leads to isolation; but
Sacrifice leads to community.

Self-Centeredness leads to despising your neighbor; but
Others-centered leads to loving your neighbor.


Director, Ted Melfi creates an intriguing structure with ST. VINCENT. He stays true to the classical definitions of the main characters' roles but giving us a fresh perspective of how they can interact. Here is my take of the characters and the roles they play. I may have convinced our MEETUP group of this construction, but please feel free to add your comments to the com box.

The MAIN CHARACTER is the character through whose point of view (POV) the story is told. While multiple points of view are often revealed in a story, one character takes precedence. In ST. VINCENT the main POV is Vincent. We spend the most time with him in his house, at the bar, at the race track and driving Oliver around. Often the MAIN CHARACTER is the protagonist, but in ST. VINCENT that is not the case (see below). The MAIN CHARACTER or POV character is also that character whose values we come to embrace by the movie's end, provided we have a redemptive story and not a tragic one. That is the only role of the MAIN CHARACTER -- to tell the story, possibly of another and sometimes of themselves. Think of the MAIN CHARACTER as the Narrator.

The ANTAGONIST CHARACTER is the character whose primary story purpose is to force the Protagonist to change. The ANTAGONIST does not have to change or arc, but often when they do, they change the least. Think of the ANTAGONIST like the hammer in the hands of a blacksmith, pounding away on the iron having just come from the fire and shaping that iron into something useful and good. In ST. VINCENT I think the antagonist is also Vincent. Except for some changes that have occurred in this life, but not of his own doing, he is the same at the end of the movie as he is at the beginning. In Martha Williamson's TV drama series TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL the angels are the antagonists who "hammer" the guest star into making decisions to improve their live. Vincent is such an angel, although a pretty disrespected one at the beginning of the story. 

How is Vincent the same at the beginning as he is at the end? My view is that Vincent is self-less, and takes interest in improving the life of hopeless causes around him, although he's pretty grumpy about it. His grumpy attitude becomes the ironic cement that draws us into his character. I believe Melfi (as well as many of you) could not think of a better actor than Bill Murray to play the part—a case when the actor's natural persona perfectly meet character traits. In this respect, Bill will not get an academy award nomination for being himself, although I'd love to see it.  

In Act 1, Vincent (as the Main character), introduces us to the people in his life and their hopeless causes (or ironic, hopeless goals), that Vincent (as the Antagonist) will shape into something better. 
  • DAKA the stripper/prostitute. The first lost cause we meet in Vincent's life is Daka. When the movie opens he is letting Daka bounce on him having sex. Vincent's attitude toward Daka is one of obligation and compassion not lust. He "allows" the relationship because she needs the money, she's a "working girl" and he feels sorry for her. This becomes even more evident when he watches her strip at the club. Her pregnancy prevents her from getting off the floor after sliding down the pole. Vincent doesn't look at her with sexual interest, but with fatherly compassion, and he's embarrassed for her. He is constantly paying her way as best he can. She wants to know the sex of her baby, so he takes her to a pregnancy center to find out and "pays" for it. Further evidence of this is in Vincent's non-verbal attraction to Sandy vs. Daka. There is love in his eyes for Sandy, and later, after Sandy's death, there's the beginning of a love for Daka. 
  • OLIVER, is a Latchkey Kid. His father, David, was taking up sexually with his mom's hairdresser and so his mom, Maggie, runs from David taking Oliver with her, and tries to start a new life on their own. But she has to work late as a CAT scan technician. Vincent takes Oliver in, for a baby sitting fee he negotiates with Maggie. Oliver is not fond of Vincent at first and is a fish out of water in Vincent's world. He's lost and hopeless, or so it seems at first. Also, Oliver hopelessly cannot defend himself against the school bully (Robert). So, Vincent shows Oliver how. Oliver is afraid to take risks, so Vincent takes him to the race track, where Oliver takes a huge risk and wins.
  • MAGGIE, the Spurned Mother. Maggie, heartbroken over David's dalliance with her hairdresser, runs away and tries to start a new life. By happenstance she rents a house next to Vincent's. She's hopeless because of her failed marriage, but also because she knows she is failing her son by always being gone, and forcing Oliver to be taken care of by Vincent, who is not the best of role models. Indeed, David gets partial custody over Oliver because Maggie is a half-hopeless parent in the court's eyes.
  • SANDY, Vincent's wife who is dying of Alzheimer's Disease. Sandy hopelessly can't remember Vincent, and yet Vincent lives everyday to express his love to her by trying to pay for the best care in the world for her. He can't pay for it, however, and in his desperation gambles at the track and is in hock to his bookie, Zucko, and secretly Oliver. Vincent does Sandy's laundry, which he does not need to do, and he buys her flowers, which he can't afford, and he negotiates her dinner menu with the staff, and he sits with her and pretends to be a doctor....hoping for that moment when she remembers him. 
  • ROBERT, is the school bully. Robert comes off as an irredeemable bully who has no good male role model in his life. But his dad is out of the picture, and having a family again seems hopeless. 
  • FELIX the cat. Vincent selfishly feeds felix gourmet cat food, while eating sardines and leftovers himself. It is a Blake Snyder classic SAVE THE CAT scene. We can't help but like Vincent because of his kindness to animals.
  • VIETNAM WAR BUDDIES are hopelessly lost on the battle fiend until Vincent saves them. 
  • DEAD PLANTS in Vincent's Backyard. We get a hint of this when 40% into the film we find Oliver mowing Vincent's backyard of dirt, to help him learn responsibility, as Vincent is paying Oliver. But during the credits we find Vincent watering the backyard of dirt, and the dead plant...both hopeless causes. But he takes it in stride, this time with a less than grumpy attitude over Bob Dylan's Shelter in the Time of Storm. (see song description below). Watering hopeless causes is who Vincent is. He had not really changed, but we know that the dirt "lawn" and the dead plant have a chance if Vincent is involved. 
Yes, Vincent is grumpy, as if he is arguing constantly with God about his calling, of giving himself up as the tree stump in The Giving Tree, for people to use him. (Remember after meeting Vincent for the first time, Oliver reads from The Giving Tree and the tree stump's willingness to give even more.) But Vincent never rebells from his calling, and he is obedient to it...although he doesn't do it happily. His ironic behavior (doing the right thing but not liking it) is how many in the audience identify with Vincent. Many of us do what is right, but we don't want to. Deep down we want to be selfish, but we know helping others forcing us to sacrifice our own will is the better thing. We see ourself in Vincent, and we identify with him emotionally. We may try to hide our weariness of doing what is right and being good, but Vincent wears his weariness on his forehead like a neon sign. Out of obligation (and a deep but hidden love of humankind) Vincent does what is right. 

Please make note that if Vincent was a character that was uplifting, positive, and nice the movie would fall flat because there is no "hook" or "irony" to engage our intrigue. The log line: "Happy, clean cut, nice guy helps others be better," is boring compared to "Disgruntled, self-serving bum, can't help himself to help others."

The PROTAGONIST CHARACTER is the character that the audience identifies most with because the character has a physical goal, is imperfect and changes the most. Protagonist's have moments of grace where they recognize the truth of the moral premise and make an active decision to change.  In ST. VINCENT I think all of the main characters are protagonists, with Oliver being the lead protagonist. The audience sees a little of themselves in each imperfect protagonist, both in their lost nature, and their honorable goals, the most common of which is to have a family.
  • DAKA's goal is to have a baby, get a decent job, and have a loving home. Through Vincent in her life, she gives up stripping and becomes a housekeeper, mother, and cook.  She goes from being selfish to selfless, from taking care of herself to taking care of Vincent, as he's been taking care of her. His kindness is returned by Daka changing.
  • OLIVER's goal is to have a family again and defend himself. He gains the ability and will to defend himself, and see the good in others, like Vincent, and especially Robert. This change, that Vincent effects in Oliver, effects both Maggie and Robert, who befriends Oliver. 
  • MAGGIE's goal is to have back her family, earn a living, and to provide for her boy. Through Vincent's hammering, she becomes a mother again by staying home from work and spending time with Oliver, and indirectly she welcomes David back into her life. 
  • SANDY dies, which at first does not seem to be a change for the good in her state. Except, there's a beat in the script that didn't make it into the final cut of the movie. In the script, Sandy leaves behind a life insurance policy, unknown to Vincent, that pays off Vincent's gambling debt and allows Vincent's life to go forward. In that subtle way she goes from being taken care of, to taking care of others, which follows the moral premise arc of Daka, Oliver, and Maggie. 
  • ROBERT wants to be called "Robert" not "Ozsinski" and have a dad figure in his life, e.g. a family. This is accomplished by story's end.
  • DAVID also, comes back from he playboy ways to becoming a Dad and Husband. The script actually gives David a few lines that are not in the movie, like when he agrees with Maggie that he was "an asshole."
  • VINCENT is the protagonist of this own story, and although his values change very little form the beginning, by the end he's managed to have done his best for Sandy, mourn her death, pay off the debt to Zucko (evident more in the script), and he has a family. 
The final scene represents the family that everyone wanted. Around the dinner table, a dinner that Daka has cooked, are all the main characters, including Robert. 


We also discussed several of the songs used in the movie to underscore the moral premise and  the character's arcs. Briefly, ONE STEP OVER THE LINE [Nitty Gritty Dirt Band] relates to the movie as it encourages the characters to step from selfishness to selflessness. It applies to Robert, Oliver, Maggie, Vincent, and Daka. That the original lyrics (Ggogle them) that refer to sex in the backseat of a car, indicates the risk and passion that the characters in St. Vincent need to embrace for their transformation. The song is played under the scene where Oliver is mowing Vincent's backyard DIRT...and that the song was made popular by the Nitty gritty Dirt Band helps. 

I FOUGHT THE LAW (and the law won) [CLASH] is played under the clash between Oliver and Robert in gym, where both get bloodied up. The lyrics immediately reinforce how bullying and revenge are selfish acts that have consequences. But they also refer to the natural law consequences of drunkenness, gambling, leaving your spouse, a dying spouse, and taking others for granted. In each case, or subplot of the movie, natural law wins out. If your motivations are virtuous you have a better chance at happiness than being motivated by a vice. 

START A WAR [The National] plays under Vincent's major loss at the race track. What's significant here is that he's not drunk when he leaves, but he realizes that he's going to have to face facts and the reality of life...and in doing so he's going to start a war...and indeed his bookie is waiting for him at home. The consequences turn the story and the characters in dramatic ways, just as starting a war does. But in this case, because a virtue is in play, the consequences of the war take us to a better place. Vincent as an opportunity to "Walk away now" or "start a war." He has finally come to grips that the war is what he has to face for transformation of the moral premise to occur..

SHELTER FROM THE STORM [Boy Dylan] is played over the final credits when Vincent waters the dead plants and barren dirt in his backyard. At the very end Vincent even "washes his feet" a spiritual sign of true redemption. Download the words and look at how they recount the whole movie, "Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood" [Vincent fought in Vietnam, but also when Maggie and Oliver and Daka needed a friend.] ...Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm." What is the "storm"? [The situations of hopelessness in the lives of those around Vincent.] And, who is "she"? [Vincent...Vincent is the shelter in the time of storm... and you could say, as well, that his friends, when they change, are create a shelter for Vincent in his time of storm.] 


To study this more, as we will be in coming months, here are some resources links:
Scene times and percentages in Excel worksheet
The Screenplay, submitted for an Oscar from TWC
As is usual, my recommendation is to figure out the Story Fundamentals, the 13 Major Beats using the linked resources. The Story Diamond may help you, as well.