Exactly Where We Are In The Story of America: A Moviemaker’s Perspective
There is a surprising amount of math involved in making movies. Yes, you have budgets and crew salaries and the Excel sheets involved in raising money and managing it. But, mostly, moviemakers use the sine curve — like, a lot. It’s that up-and-down wave you might remember from high school. We write it on the back of napkins, pencil it on countless pieces of paper, and scrawl it in marker on whiteboards — from New York to Los Angeles and back. In our world, it’s not the “sine curve,” its our “story curve.”
I’ll spare you all the nerdy details, but its meaning is important. It means the main character, as they head out on the journey of the film, is going to have a very emotional experience. It’s one that will build, through rising action, to take them to an emotional high: the moment they are happiest and thinking that they are going to get what they really want (usually about halfway through the film). Then it will turn swiftly and without mercy and lead them to their lowest low, when they feel they have lost absolutely everything: their friends and allies, their love, their sword, their dignity.
Having lost it all, they find themselves down in what we call “the dark night of the soul.” That’s a moment, a scene, a place, a beat for them to sit in the darkness and re-evaluate their life, their tactics, their journey. This is where some sort of real breakthrough happens. You know these scenes, when an old friend, or mentor, or an angel appears to give them the guidance or tools they have been looking for all along. To tell them a truth about their journey or their life or about this world. Armed with this new perspective, they are able to go into the third act of the story with a new outlook and energy, ready to fight the villain and win. That fight is what we call “the final battle.”
From Rocky to Cinderella, from Silver Linings Playbook to Avatar, the movie characters you and I know well ride this wave. Up and down. Up and down. Highest highs, lowest lows. On the storyteller’s end, the moviemaker’s end, the math is making sure that emotional…