Thursday, October 21, 2010

INCEPTION: Can Dreams Become Reality? Should They?


How INCEPTION WORKS, and why it reveals that filmmaking is an act of inception. Indeed, Christopher Nolan tells us a tale of Dom Cobb that is clearly autobiographical.

This is a MORAL PREMISE ANALYSIS of the mega-hit INCEPTION.  ($160MM Budget / $289MM domestic box office.)

Writer-Producer-Director - Christopher Nolan
Length:140 min excluding credits (length used for analysis)

The analysis is based on two viewings of the film by two pairs of eyes, a lot of note taking with a stopwatch, and finally the published INSIGHT EDITION from Warner Bros of the Shooting Script (available through Amazon). The DVD was not yet available. Where my notes were incomplete I referred to the published script.

LOG LINE: 
"In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption, which involves executing his toughest and most risky job to date."


Monday, October 18, 2010

Is the Moral Premise a Misnomer?

The more time I spend time explaining things, on topics which I am supposedly an expert, the more I discover I'm not the expert -- or at least I don't know today, what I thought I clearly understood yesterday. Which reminds me again, that some of what experts believed 100 or 1,000 years ago about their discipline,  are utterly false today.

So, here is what occurred to me a few minutes ago.

The "Moral Premise" of a story, which I have been describing as enshrined in a "Moral Premise Statement" is a misnomer.

Sorry about that.

It might be better referred to as the "Moral-Physical Premise Statement (MPPS)". But that is awkward.

Here's an explanation...of what I understand today. All bets are off regarding tomorrow.

There is the "physical" arc of the story, which is also identified as the physical "hook," or the outward journey of the protagonist, or the physical spine, or  THE PHYSICAL PREMISE.

That physical story arc is paralleled by (or is a metaphor for) the psychological story arc, which is also identified as the inner journey, the moral dilemma, or spiritual journey, or moral spine, or (precisely) THE MORAL PREMISE.

What captures the audience's (or reader's) attention is the physical spine (what the story is ABOUT). But what motivates the protagonist and gives meaning to the story for the audience, is the moral spine (what the story is REALLY ABOUT).

What I have been calling the MORAL PREMISE STATEMENT (MPS) is actually a statement that marries the PHYSICAL PREMISE with the MORAL PREMISE.  E.g.:

[psychological vice] leads to [physical detriment]; but
[psychological virtue] leads to [physical betterment].

It is more accurate to describe this formula: "THE MORAL-PHYSICAL PREMISE STATEMENT (MPPS)." But I'm rebelling at the awkwardness of that, and prefer the simpler focus of the story's psychological and motivational arc - the MPS.

Why? Aside from the brevity of it, the "moral premise" is what the story is REALLY about. It is also the one aspect of the story that MUST BE true, if it's to resonate with audiences. Everything about the physical premise can be fiction; audiences don't really care about it's truth. (Just recognize the popularity of myths, or watch a Michael Moore documentary.)  It is the moral story that motivates every action of the character in the physical world. The physical world is simply symbolic, a metaphor, for what is going on beneath the surface, psychologically-morally-spiritually-emotionally. (And that's why, in part, Moore's documentaries can work with some people. The moral motivation behind his rants fundamentally seem valid and true.)

So, in that sense, putting the emphasis on the term "moral premise" is accurate. Stories really are about moral issues. It is the physical premise that brings us outward joy and entertainment -- explicitly, but it is the psychological premise that brings us inward meaning and entertainment -- implicitly. And it's the latter than sticks with us, and informs and guides our personal lives -- which are real.

So, for the time being, I will use MPS and MPPS interchangeably. They mean exactly the same thing. I proclaim them to be equivocal and the former a misnomer. "Forgive me father for I have grammatically faulted."

==== Some further thoughts ====

In an 10-20-10 email dialgoue with my student Ethan, I wrote this, which adds to this post:

The problem with what "words" to use to describe all this is that in Hollywood some of these terms are used day-in and day-out, and many are synonymous with others. You'll read or hear executives, directors, writers, gurus, et al... use the following words, and they're all referring to the same thing: hook, premise, outward story, spine, arc, hero's journey.   And a few others.

The original reason I came to the term "moral premise" is because Lajos Egri (my book is a sequel to his) wrote all about the "premise." But his use of the word in the 1940s when he wrote THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING was and still is confusing without a qualifier. To most the term "physical premise" refers to the physical journey, or hook. But Egri was speaking of the moral or psychological journey, not the physical one. Thus I chose the word "moral premise" to differentiate between what I (and Egri) were writing about and what most of Hollywood means when it uses the term "premise." 
But then I erred. I came up with the MPS statement, which is NOT JUST the moral premise, but is also the physical premise in general terms. The physical side of the MPS (the last terms in the two lines) is NOT the hook, or the TV guide log line, but only a very general, universal description of the arc.

Reading vertically along the left side, we have the psychological journey (or the moral premise), and reading vertically along the right side we have the physical journey (or physical premise)....in general terms. Reading left to right on the top line we have the moral to physical journey before the MOG (e.g. the protag's motivation and consequence), and reading left to right on the bottom line we have the moral to physical journey AFTER the MOG.  Altogether it's ... it's.... it's....???????  I think I need a naming contest.

Finally, the HOOK, or the LOG LINE, are very specific descriptions of the story. Whereas the Physical Premise (in the MPS) is very general.
Ideas anyone?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Virtual Workshop In Progress at Seekerville



Blogger at Seekerville today where a long post explaining the Moral Premise and its application in novels is up, and I'm busy answering writer's questions. All are welcome. It will take me a week to answer the questions.

http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2010/10/seekerville-welcomes-dr-stanley.html

Sunday, October 10, 2010

INCEPTION: Can Dreams Become Reality? Should They?


How INCEPTION WORKS, and why it reveals that filmmaking is an act of inception. Indeed, Christopher Nolan tells us a tale of Dom Cobb that is clearly autobiographical.

This is a MORAL PREMISE ANALYSIS of the mega-hit INCEPTION.  ($160MM Budget / $289MM domestic box office.)

Writer-Producer-Director - Christopher Nolan
Length:140 min excluding credits (length used for analysis)

The analysis is based on two viewings of the film by two pairs of eyes, a lot of note taking with a stopwatch, and finally the published INSIGHT EDITION from Warner Bros of the Shooting Script (available through Amazon). The DVD was not yet available. Where my notes were incomplete I referred to the published script.

LOG LINE: 
"In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption, which involves executing his toughest and most risky job to date."

CAST

COBB (Leonardo DiCaprio) - Protagonist
ARTHUR (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – of Third Rock) - Reflection
ARIADNE (Ellen Page) (air-ee-ADD-knee) – Daughter Mentor
EAMES (Tom Hardy) - Shapeshifter
SAITO (Ken Watanabe) – Co-Protagonist
YOSUF ( Deleep Rao)
FISCHER (Cillian Murphy) - McGuffin
BROWNING (Tom Berenger)
MAL (Marion Cotillard) - Antagonist
MAURICE FISHER (Peter Postlethwaite)
MILES (Michael Caine) – Father Mentor
NASH (Lukas Haas)
PHILLIPA (Claire Geare)
JAMES (Magnus Nolan)

STORY LINE

(From Warner Bros. Pictures) Dom Cobb is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb's rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible-inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.

BREAKING THE STORY DOWN - THE TURNING POINTS (TP)

The analysis of the TP in INCEPTION reveals (again) of how the most creative filmmakers follow structural rules rigorously. But, where the story demands otherwise, they are not hesitant to break a rule, to make the story work. That is true of INCEPTION.

CLOVERFIELD: Is There Danger in Helping Those We Care Most About?

Last night we screened CLOVERFIELD (2008) ($50MM Budget. $80MM Domestic Gross, which is surprisingly low after a noteworthy $46MM Opening Weekend. The reason is because of the ironic ending discussed in this post.)

Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard

Protagonist: ROB HAWKINS (Michael Stahl-David)
Romance: BETH MCINTYRE (Odette Yustman)
Co-Protags: LILY FORD (Jessica Lucas)
MARLENA DIAMOND (Lizzy Caplan)
JASON HAWDINS (Mike Vogel)
HUDSON 'HUD' PLATT (T.J. Miller)
ANTAGONIST: The Monster (a metaphor for Rob's disbelief in the love between Beth and him.)

OVERVIEW

CLOVERFIELD is a frenetic, sci-fi thriller of a group of young adults who's going-away party for their friend, Rob, before he leaves for a job in Japan, is interrupted by a Godzilla type monster. The monster, of course, is a metaphor for the psychological trauma that ROB experiences by his decision to leave NY and the one he loves, BETH, to go to the home of Godzilla, Japan. It's a decision of monstrous proportions that is destined to destroy his life, and Beth's and also the lives of his close friends who love both of them. He's running from the one he loves, and she's losing the one she loves.

Although the movie is short (74 minutes -- the supposed length of a camcorder tape), it closely, but not perfectly, follows the 13 step pattern discussed in The Moral Premise, and other texts. The timings, however, of the page counts are compacted because of the shortened story time.  I will outline the turning points below.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

THE DESCENT: Should We Follow the Over Confident?

Writer/Director: Neil Marshall (2005)

In talking with a consulting client and friend on the West Coast about horror films, we asked ourselves why the innocent die in some popular horror films.  I decided to take a look at DESCENT—Neil Marshall's 2005 story about "Six Chicks with Picks" (axes, that is). It was made in the UK for about $5.5MM and did $26MM in the US and $57MM worldwide.

The movie is about 94 minutes if you exclude the opening and closing credits. This would mean a Moment of Grace (the mid point) is at 47.7 minutes, and the two act breaks at about 24 min and 71 minutes, if ideally structured.


TURNING POINTS / BREAKS 

As I discuss below the Act 1/2 breaks occurs about 36 minutes, the group Moment of Grace (MOG) does occur exactly at 47  minutes, and the Act 2/3 break plus the MOG for the protagonist, occurs at about 75 minutes. (Below, when mentioning the structure of the turning points, that is the timing of events in the story, I refer both to minutes or pages as if they were equivalent. In reality they are not, but page counts is all a writer has to work with -- if he formats the pages correctly, and few writers do -- and minutes are all an editor has to work with.)

The story goes like this: After a white-water rafting trip for three women, a car accident kills the husband and daughter of one of the women, Sarah. A year later, to help Sarah get control of her life again and get over her nightmares and fears, her friends, two from the white water rafting trip, take her on a caving expedition in Kentucky. But the journey goes terribly wrong when they're pursued by a strange breed of predator. The question for the horror critic becomes: Why do these women all die in the cave, since they seem to be innocent of any sin?

I watched the original unrated uncut version (DVD) of THE DESCENT this afternoon and evening, and then a couple of the featurettes. [It takes me a long time to watch these things because I'm stopping every two minutes to take notes and timings. You do not want to go to the movies with me, I'm always yelling at the projectionist to stop the film for a few. Audiences hate me. I once got kicked out of a theater for using the light of my iPhone to take notes.]

SIN AND METAPHORS

In the opening scene three women (Sarah, Beth and Juno) are white water rafting.