The 2018 Academy Awards

Intuiting five-star narrative structure

Season 3 Episode 61

This episode explores the connection between a high score on Rotten Tomatoes, nominations and recognition for great writing, and a complete Dramatica storyform. More than correlation, a solid storyform guarantees favorable critical response.

In addition, I relate my experience of being to predict the specific structural items of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri while watching the film for the first time. Again, another instance of a film recognized for its great writing with a solid and appreciable Dramatica storyform.

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Show Notes & Links

Hello, and welcome to the Narrative First podcast the only podcast where story is King. I'm your host Jim Hull, the voice of Narrative First, and this is episode 61 the 2018 Academy Awards.

Hello, everyone welcome back to another week of story structure and story analysis from a Dramatica point of view. I hope you enjoyed last week's episode about the relationship story through line. This week I want to talk about many of the films that were nominated for Best Picture best screenplay and those that won for best picture and best animated feature during the 2018 Academy Awards. You may notice that you're listening to stuff that happened a week prior, and I feel like I should let you know that I typically record the podcast a week before I deliver them.

When I'm talkin about the 2018 Academy Awards, I actually just saw them three days ago, and you're probably listening to this podcast 10-12 days later or maybe two or three years into the future.

Like always in season 3 of The Narrative First Podcast we will have two sections. The first section I'm going to go over Coco and The Shape of Water and a bit of The Florida Project, and then I'll have updates to the Atomizer and new articles that I've written. And the final section, I want to talk about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In fact. I want to specifically talk about the Four Signposts of the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I should also mention that in a discussion of the 2018 Academy Awards and the film's there in and their particular story forms. I will be ruining a lot of these movies, so if you haven't seen them yet, and that's important to you. Please make sure you watch them first before listening to the rest of the podcast.

Complete Storyforms, Rotten Tomatoes, and Oscar Nominations

First up let's take a look at the films that were nominated for Best Picture compare them against their Rotten Tomatoes rating and then evaluate whether or not they have a complete storyform.

In the Atomizer over the past week, I started putting up those films that had complete storyforms and--would you believe it--many of the ones that were nominated for Best Picture, some of the ones that were nominated for Best Screenplay and even those that won Awards had complete storyforms.

Ladybird, which had a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 99% has a complete storyform. Get Out 99% rating complete story form. Coco 97 percent rating and won best animated feature complete storyform. Call me by your name 95%. I assume it has a complete story form just from the trailer, and there is a discussion on the discussed Dramatica boards, I'm almost positive it has a complete story haven't had a chance to see that one yet.

The shape of water 92% that won best picture complete story form. Dunkirk 93% that has an incomplete story form if you haven't read the article about it about how its missing Throughline veers it more towards propaganda than an actual complete argument, I'll leave a link for that in the show notes. You'll see that it was nominated for best picture, but it wasn't nominated for any awards for writing and the important thing here is you can have a highly rated film there are films that have high ratings, but not complete story because many of the people that are evaluating it are basing it on the experience. They're not specifically looking at the story.

So a nice way to judge, whether or not there's the great potential for a complete storyform is to also check to see if there any awards that it was nominated for or one for the actual writing and in Dunkirk there weren't any awards for any of the writing. And that one--even though it has a 93 percent rating--has an incomplete storyform.

The Post, which I have absolutely zero desire to see, 88% it has one nomination for screenplay from the central, Ohio Film Critics Association. Darkest Hour, I did see that over the weekend, 86% incomplete storyform. I thought I had a great main character through line very clear his movement from a problem of non accurate to a solution of accurate classic. But I'm not too sure exactly who the influence character was or where that that challenging perspective was coming from and again, no awards for writing.

And then there are the outliers. Something like The Florida Project which has a 95 percent rating also has an incomplete story form and I want to say this with one caveat in that. I completely misinterpreted the last scene when I first saw it and after reading how that the last seen that film was shot, and what it was meant to represent. I do believe I may be incorrect about the fact that it has an incomplete story form because I can actually see that containing with it some greater meaning that I perhaps missed out on the first time.

And that's an important thing to when you go to see a film, and you're caught up in enraptured in the acting and the storytelling and the music and everything you likely will not be able to pick up on the story form if you get distracted by you know the sights and sounds that you see and you're just so involved in it. You might actually miss out on the message, but if there was an actual story form in there and actual message. You'll likely want to go see it again.

Something like the television series of Westworld my first time through it. I loved it. I I'm sure there was some story form I kind of knew the the kind of thematic that they were dealing with but overall I wasn't really thinking of the actual issues. I wasn't really thinking of the actual elements that were in each through-line.

Come back a year year and half later with the second season starting up. And with request to look at the story form and within the first 10 15 minutes it became very clear what the story form was because I was looking specifically for the thematics the reason the series did so well is because it had that strong story form throughout. There was a strong narrative drive from beginning episode to the end episode of that first season, but it took distance and it took time away to be able to pick up on what the actual specific story elements were the actual story point.

And this is the same thing when you hear requests like if you have read Stephen King's on writing, and he brings up you should after a first draft put it into your desk drawer, and not pick it up for three or four months and come back to it, and you'll see it fresh. It's the same exact thing. That's going on you come back to a film and specifically look for the Thematic story point. So I may be off with the Florida project, and I will go back in and if I am able to pick up on a story form I'll put it in there. It's not something. It's not a really happy experience. It's not something that I want to go back and experience, but I will do it, unlike something like The Shape of Water, which my first time through.

I thought it was okay. I didn't think it was great. I enjoyed it. But I was very distracted by. he storytelling aspect--which has nothing to do with the story form--of two cleaning ladies who apparently have access to all kinds of top secret highly classified assets. And the level of believable unbelievable-- what is that called? Yes suspension of disbelief. Uh was very difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.

In addition, I was interrupted about halfway through about an hour in and took about half an hour 45 minutes to get back. So at the end, I thought it was a Tale. I didn't think it was going to be a story form I felt like, oh for sure three Billboards was going to win because that was a really clear story form and really strong screenplay and no Shape of Water won and one won Best Picture. Everybody's super happy his monsters my monsters. Okay, so then that inspired me to go back in and take a look at it again the second time and see what I missed.

And again same experience I had with the Westworld first season within 15 minutes the story form was super clear. I can't believe I missed it the first time around and it's up there in the atomizer.

I believe a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes or a critically acclaimed film combined with whether or not it was nominated for best picture or best screenplay anything to do with the writing specifically the chances are you're looking at a film that has a really strong narrative and a really strong story form.

To wrap up this first section, I want to also talk about Coco. Last week you know I wrote an article about the Story Continuum about time lock and how sunrises are not time locks and sort of wrapped up that discussion in the dramatica boards about the Story Continuum, and how that applied to Coco and again with that I knew the story worked. It was strong, but there was something about the story, and I think I identified what it is.

I think I was so caught up in trying to analyze it while I was watching it instead of just enjoying it that I got really annoyed. It seemed as if somebody was using Memories--you know, remember me--remember me. That and Poco Loco I hear about 20 times a day. I felt like if they were trying to use memory as a goal, they weren't using it right. They weren't using it as a concern and the Objective Story because memories weren't the problem. That's where the characters were focused on--particularly Hector was focused on people not remembering him, but the problem really wasn't the remembering. The problem was what people actually thought of him and what he actually thought of himself.

And this brings up a really interesting contrast between the Benchmark and the concern of a through line, so if you look at each through line the Objective Story through line main character through line influence character through line and relationship story through line each through line has a concern and it has a benchmark both story points are up at the type level, which is the closest thing to plot.

This is why the Objective Story concern is closest and most similar to the Story Goal. They're actually the same element so if you have an Objective Story concern of obtaining the story goal will actually be obtaining as well.

If you have a concern of conceiving the story goal will also be conceiving. So when you're looking at the concern and The Benchmark of a through line. Those are the closest things the closest indicators of conflict at the level of plot.

But the Benchmark is not an indicator of conflict. It's a measuring stick by which to compare the level of concern and the either increasing concern or decreasing concern in that through line.

For instance, Hector in Coco, his concern is conscious. while he is completely focused on memories his real problem is that people don't like him they disregard him they ignore him. They're not thinking about him, and he judges that by whether or not they're actually remembering him.

So remembering is different than contemplating. They're similar in some respects you can see a similar and overlapping between the two, but when you think about it the actual remembering process isn't the problem is what people actually think of him, and that's where the conscious comes in that's where the actual source of conflict is.

And that is reflected in Miguel the main character because his concern, he's not able to play guitar because of what happened in the past, but the past isn't really where his problem is he's not dealing with all these quote-unquote skeletons in his closet his real problem is that he just can't play right now. He wants to play. He just can't do it.

So his actual problem is the present the present is what's out of whack that's what's creating problems, and he measures that by the past, by whether or not he's able to get beyond the past so that he can just play right here and right now.

I think the thing that was bothering me about Coco is that I was looking at it from a story analysts point of view instead of somebody just enjoying the story. Because my second time through it again I was able to pick up on the actual message, what was actually being communicated and the story form was super clear.

The goal wasn't to get Grandma Coco to remember the goal was to learn that she still loved his music or that she always loved his music. The process of learning of finding that out-- that was the goal in the story it also happened to be the engine that fueled all the conflict in the Objective Story throughout because there's a lot of learning. There's one character in particular-- secret bad guy trademark Pixar--he doesn't want anybody to learn right he's a classic antagonist trying to prevent that learning of what really went down. Those are all varying concerns of learning that are creating conflict. That's where the conflict in the story is that's where the imbalance is.

But the actual goal is getting across that bridge and learning that she loved his music and when Miguel is actually able to do that and he remained steadfast, then you have the change resolve of Hector not only is he reevaluated by his family, but he's able to reevaluate himself, and that's why people love that film.

If you haven't seen it. It's a very interesting dynamic between the Benchmark and concerns and if nothing else I would highly suggest it for songs that you will never ever ever be able to get out of your head. You'll never be able to forget them.

This Week's Updates

Okay, I don't know what it is, but I don't think I can keep these podcast short. There is just too much to talk about too much that I'm excited about that. I want to talk with everybody about and I will try my best to keep them under 20 minutes, but sometimes. It's just not going to happen.

Updates okay so for the atomizer. I rolled out new mental models, which I talked about for appreciations elements and story points, so now it's very simple you want to find an Objective Story concern of learning like we're talkin about in the last section. Just click right on it in the analysis for Coco and you're taken to the explanation of how that works in a story a couple examples of how that would fit, just taking some random examples from the Gists collection and then story form connections showing you how other films have a similar Objective Story concern of learning--

--which apparently is a trend. Lady Bird Coco Shape of Water and Three Billboards all have Objective Story concerns of learning. And this is an interesting to me because it seems as if there is a generational trend and I have a feeling what happens the Four Turnings: I have a feeling the Four Generations that we keep revolving through are similar to the four bases of elements and Dramatica. That's something we could talk about later, but right now apparently we're all obsessed with learning with the Here and Now. With conscious and conceiving.

So you'll find story forms for Three Billboards, Coco, and Shape of Water up on the Atomizer, and I also I keep forgetting to bring up the specific analyses so for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel actually went through and wrote an analysis of that film with direct stealing connections to the story form in the atomizer.

I also did one for three Billboards, which is what we're going to get into in a second here, and I just completed one today, which will already be up for Coco and I plan on writing one for the Shape of Water as well, all those will have links in the show notes.

I also want to discuss an email I received from a writer who was struggling to as he puts it having comprehensively populated tables in Dramatica to having actual step outlines I can write stories from

Now--plug--Deliberate Storytelling Consulting, that's what it's all about as I actually do this, but I just wanted to get across the point that that's not actually wasted time, and I wrote back to him think of it this way all that time you spent comprehensively populating tables in Dramatica, that's not time wasted at all. Even if you don't have anything to show for it essentially you've used the program as a sounding board for improving your own understanding of narrative now as you move forward try to spend less and less time with in the Dramatica application.

You'll need it to find the relationships between story points, but now it's time to put all that knowledge into practice. I used to spend weeks going through all 360 plus questions is Dramatica's advanced query system, just to completely figure out everything there is to about my story, only to lose all motivation to actually write the thing. Turns out figuring out how a story works is often way more fun than actually writing it. In fact, I would say once you have it all figured out. It's time to move on to the next one So use the Write portion of the atomizer to help develop the major beats of your story, and then use those to start writing from start building up a list of sequences and major story beats that tell your story. This is essentially what I do with Deliberate Storytelling after you have that basic framework, then go back in and start layering and all the bits and pieces you need to make it closer to what you originally imagined or to strengthen the argument you're trying to make. Good luck, and if you have any questions going forward. Please don't hesitate to ask

Even if you're spending a lot of time and Dramatica and you have nothing to show for it, you're actually developing your understanding of the theory and that definitely is not time wasted.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Lastly, I want to talk about three Billboards outside ebbing, Missouri and the experience I had watching the film for the very first time.

Now I'm super excited to talk about this because this is the first time it's ever happened to me. Chris had mentioned that it had happened to him before I feel like I've leveled up. Just because I spent so much time diving into Dramatica. I use it day in and day out pretty much seven days a week. Helping to consult and to produce content, and this was the very first time that I was actually able to predict. What was going to happen in the next scene throughout the entire film

Now my experience was like this. I was sitting there watching the film, and I was enjoying it Frances McDormand is amazing the film's a little choppy. It's a little bumpy. It's very much in your face and sometimes. Motivation seem out of place, but for the most part. It's a really strong story, and as it was going along just naturally. I started to think well and this is because it was nominated for best screenplay. I started to think well there's going to be complete story here, and as we're going along it seems as if she wants them to investigate murder of her child more. She definitely has some kind of investigation going on and that pointed me more towards the lower right quadrant of the Dramatical model where you have learning conceiving conscious and present and specifically investigation because. Felt like well. She's in investigation. She's really that she has an issue with that so maybe that's where she's at she's in conscious, and I can see her as a beer because if her concern is contemplation. She wants people just to think about it, and then that would put her in the domain of Mind, which means she is a beer and the problems she brings into the story isn't so much what she does.

I mean true as Protagonist, she puts up the Billboards, but it's really that attitude. Where she's like I'm not doing anything wrong, and she's not leaving until she gets the Billboards all that stuff. She's very strict attitude that causes problems for her and the positioning between the main character and Objective Story through lines if you're familiar with the Dramatica model the Objective Story will be in Physics when you have a concern of learning and the main character through line will be in mind when you have a concern of conscious.

But then what that means is the influence character through line will be in universe and specifically present, and I could tell for the most part that it was the Woody Harrelson character Sheriff Willoughby. I felt like maybe there was a little bit of the Sam Rockwell character, but about 20 30 minutes into it. I wasn't really quite sure I wasn't feeling it until bam. He coughs up on her and I I couldn't believe it. I was this is he's in Universe. and then he explains he has cancer. I thought was was this written with Dramatica?

I mean there was I've never seen a more obvious juxtaposition of a universe influence character and a mind main character particularly when she was just inciting people's responses. She was just coming out of preconscious, and then all of a sudden bam the influence character spits up all over her so he's getting worse right so that is progress, so he's in progress right now, and we're now in the second signpost her first signpost was in preconscious, and now his second signpost is progress. I wasn't really sure if he was in the present or the past in the first Signpost.

So that means well, I wonder where she's going next like what is the next step she goes to and the very next scene is memory. I mean she goes through that flashback sequence where right before when she's driving past the Billboards with her son. He says. Thanks. I really want to be reminded about this all the time. I really want to know all the sordid details that triggers her memories, and then when she's back in the house. She has the flashback of her daughter. Now if you've seen the film, you know that her real personal problem isn't putting up the Billboards, it's the fact that she possibly thinks she had a role in her daughter's murder and you can see it's her attitude their fight right before that possibility, which also happens to be her main character problem. That's where her issue is.

But when we're talkin about the Four Signposts the plot progression of it, you know we started in preconscious when she's inciting Jason Dixon, and she says that whole thing about you know has he beat up anybody today, and then that gets him all agitated, and then she agitates the influence character. She agitates Willoughby to actually cough up on her and now she's moving into memory all of a sudden beyond the fact that I thought well. This is definitely written with Dramatica, I thought well here we go from now on okay, so it was preconscious to memory and just because I work so much with dramatic. I know the very next thing. She's got to be is subconscious the next place. She's going to step into is subconscious, but you know she'll need some kind of push there or what how is that going to work out?

so then that also means the influence character if his first Signpost is past or present, and then his second is progress that means the very next one's going to be future it has to be right, but then he goes and he shoots himself the story driver of action the midpoint. He actually shoots himself in the head and dies.

And I'm thinking, Well. How is he going to put forth the future? How is he going to deliver that message? What's going to happen? Who's going to take over and I thought well maybe this just. You know, maybe it was just about this strong character, and there isn't going to be a story form and then she receives a letter where he talks about the future where he says hey. I know you're really bummed out, but you know what five years down the road you're going to get some kind of piece of evidence, and you'll figure it all out. I mean he had that future influence character that influenced her that pushed her forward and moved her into subconscious, which is where she had her Rage. And I thought that was amazing we went from the past to progress and now he from the grave is talking about the future and then his letter later to Dixon is all about the Present. I know you always wanted to be a detective. Well. You're a detective now.

and then also it gets handed off to Dixon to where he is horribly disfigured in the fire bomb which came from her subconscious bit right where. You look burned down the police house. That was her subconscious rage that just went into that that scene in The Narrative, so then I knew okay, well that means somehow. She's going to have some kind of conscious some kind of Revelation at the end of the story, but where's that going to come from?

And then her ex-husband comes up and says hey, you know, I really shouldn't have burned down the billboard. And that is like the reflection moment and she has that moment where she comes up, and you think she's going to beat the crap out of him with the bottle, and she doesn't she stays quiet contemplative conscious puts it on the table and walks away.

You have a very clear main character plot progression there in a very clear influence character plot progression you have her moving from preconscious then into memories and then into subconscious, and then finally that last beat conscious, and it works because the influence character is working with the past and that part that makes more sense to me now because. If you think about the first 30 minutes or 25 minutes of the film, it's all about all the greatness that he's done. How could you talk so badly about him? He has this history of being such a great upstanding citizen. How could you do that and she just responds with you know Preconscious.

And then he moves into progress because he's getting worse shoots himself and then from the grave delivers the future message and then Dixon takes over and delivers the present and you combine that with her conscious sign post and you can see how their relationship story through line gets to a place where they can finally come together,and then you juxtapose that against their growing relationship story throughline where they're just at odds from the very beginning like if you see the image. I have for the analysis. You know classic nose-to-nose. We're going at it.

And then by the end of the film. This is the really great part where I knew it had to have been written with Dramatica. If you have a goal of learning that means the consequence what happens if you fail is going to be conceiving. So the goal in that story is to learn who raped and murdered her daughter and because of her steadfastness she was able to get Dixon to change his resolve that was such a great emotional heartfelt moment. When he actually started to take action, you know he had a problem of reaction very overreactionary to everything and would always fly off the handle some people would think that he's a cardboard character a cartoon character. He's real trust me. He's real. from reaction his solution is proaction so when he actually starts going to get information and track down and be that detective that he always wants to be that fits in with the story form that is the meaning of that story. He's moved into Proaction because of her Steadfastness.

But they fail they don't actually get the real killer. They don't learn who that Killer really is so then they move into conceiving, and I thought well I guess is he's going to just going to blow his head off now. All right. Well. I guess that's depressing and then instead he says well. We didn't find out who the real murderer is but we got this other guy, so why don't we just use him? Why don't we just invent a replacement?

Let's invent a scapegoat for all our anger and that's when they're going in the car at the very end that is showing that story consequence of conceiving and that's why the film feels so complete, and why it was nominated for best screenplay because it was actually making a sophisticated and well-formed argument.

Vindication awaits those who continue to defend against the indefensible even if it means inventing a scapegoat.

if you haven't seen three Billboards outside ebbing, Missouri. I would strongly suggest it if for no other reason the to see a very competent delivery of a strong narrative argument and to see how those signposts work how the main characters plot progression works against the influence character plot progression to make a meaningful story.

That's it for this week's podcast if you have any questions about progressions or anything discussed on the podcast today. Please feel free to write to me at narrative first. I hope you have a great week of writing, and I'll see you next time.

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace.