Today we're going to start with, one of my favorite films, Back to the Future. I already analyzed this film, in terms of how it was edited, for my book, Directing the Story. Here I want to attempt a full analysis of the story weave of the the film's dragon. This is the first time I've tried analyzing a complete story-weave. Previously, I've only looked at the broad strokes of films, for example the School of Rock example.
Why do a complete story weave? I hope to show that by analyzing the complete story-weave it will reveal how the film is literally woven together. In this way, you can, by virtue of the visual dragon structure see how all the pieces literally fit together to make a tapestry. If this works the implications are very powerful as an analysis tool to help you make sure you film is completely woven together in a way that can satisfy your audience.
But first a digression. All story theory's are by nature an abstraction of the essence of a story. I believe that the trick is to find the right degree of abstraction that fulfills two criteria. First, it must be abstract enough to allow for it to encompass many types of films. In other words, there must be some degree of open ended-ness. Secondly, it must be specific enough to guide you through the maze of screenwriting or novel writing. In my experience most film theories err on the side of being too abstract. In other words, they leave me lost in the maze. It is my hope that the dragon approach will allow you to follow the path of the dragon through the maze without being lost. When you see the tapestry, it's like a revelation.
Now many writers have written stories that fit the dragon gestalt without knowing anything about the dragon. They've used their own methods or compilations of other theories. However, I think that any theory that says it fits "every story ever told", as does the hero's journey, must by nature be too abstract to be useful or just not true. As Kurt Vonnegut showed in his mapping the ups and downs of the character's fortune. Kafka's story the Metamorphosis does not follow the hero's journey. However, Kafka shows a way to map it, nonetheless. So, according to Vonnegut, it appears Campbell was wrong.
What I propose with the dragon approach is that the dragon is an emergent shape that emerged when I analyzed movies based upon mapping the audience's hopes and fears in a way that provides an emotionally satisfying experience and a learning experience. This just also happens to be the shape of many successful stories and movies. I don't care if it fits "every story ever told". Those aren't stories I wish to tell. I believe and hope to show that the dragon gestalt has just the right degree of abstraction to be useful as a guide, and yet still opened ended enough to allow for a wide range of stories to be told that all feel unique.
So let's go back to the future. What do I mean by story-weave? I literally mean how the story is woven together. We're going to track the theme and sub-themes, actions, discoveries, setups, payoffs, conflicts, dramatic ironies, expectancies, twists, surprises, hierarchy of narrative questions, lessons, problems, wrong solutions, consequences, right solutions, choices, plans, ticking clocks (Yes, multiple clocks), symbolic deaths, rebirths and opposites traveled to reach new worlds never imagined. And we're going to do it visually.
We'll start with the basic four components.
1. Introduce a world of problems.
2. Attempt wrong solutions.
3. Suffer the consequences.
4. Do the right thing.
Here is the 4 part chart again for reference. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
One reviewer of Iggy's Incredibly Easy Way to Write a Story described this very eloquently in his review.
"Glebas' method reminds me of a fine gesture drawing. Like a gesture it articulates the feeling, structure and story of the pose in a quick, clear way without the artifice of a bunch of extra squiggly lines. In fact, the "Visual" portion of the book that depicts the structure is conveyed literally like a gesture drawing."
I wish to express my appreciation for everyone who has written reviews of my books. Thank you.
WARNING SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN BACK TO THE FUTURE, STOP READING AND GO WATCH IT NOW! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Back to the Future1. The problem is introduced in the opening Rube Goldberg-type montage opening of the film. A TV radio announcer reports news of the theft of Plutonium. We meet Marty, Doc's friend. We also learn that Doc has created a time machine.
2. Already actions have consequences, Doc's theft of Plutonium in exchange for giving a bomb to terrorists has backfired when they realize he gave them a fake bomb. This triggers the story into motion. During the demonstration of the time machine, Delorean car, the terrorists return attempting to kill Doc. Doc is shot and Marty escapes in the Delorean and into the past! He "crosses the threshold" to the past. (Who was guarding the threshold?)
Marty now does things the wrong way. He immediately gets involved with his future mother and in-laws potentially changing the course of history.
3. Marty must now suffer the consequences. He's already facing symbolic death as his siblings start disappearing from existence. This is signified in a beautifully visual way by them literally dissolving out of the photo of Marty and his siblings. He's next if he doesn't make things right.
4. Marty must now make everything right. He has to get his future father on track with his future mother so they'll kiss and history will be righted, and he must face further obstacles to warn Doc and return to the future.
Back to the Future fits the dragon shape. But it's interesting, first, because the problem of the story is also because of a character taking a wrong path. The Doc steals Plutonium. This has dangerous consequences. It also sets the story in motion once all the introductions are made. Secondly, Marty's taking the wrong path seems to happen accidentally. He just happens to be there with the Doc when the terrorists come. He just happens to try to escape by driving away in a Delorean, which also happens to be a time machine. He just happens to time travel to 1955. It's not until Marty follows his future father, George, and tries to save his life does he do the wrong thing and change the fabric of time. It is now Marty rather than George who gets hit by the father of Marty's future mother, Lorraine. She now falls for him instead of George. But we all know what Freud say about accidents.
Another thing I don't care for in certain film theories is when they say something must happen on page x. Once again, if the theory is abstract enough, then yes, something exciting can happen on page x. Once these four parts are mapped unto the dragon we can see that the dragon guide has some flexibility in it's elastic use of time. When I demonstrate the dragon for 127 hours you'll see something very interesting about the elasticity of time. Here is the chart again showing the elasticity of time and the parts.