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    Goodfellas script question
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    In a story you have your character on a mission to achieve something. In the first quarter or so you're supposed to get to the part where they need to blow up the death star, or find the Holy Grail, or rescue the princess. It seems like Goodfellas doesn't really have that. It's just about a couple of guys in the mafia over a few decades.

    I'm writing a fictional book involving the mafia and I'm finding a problem. I don't really have a specific plan or mission that my characters are on other than make lots of money. I thought about Goodfellas and realized they don't really have something specific either. Yet the story works. All my little writing books about plot and story say I need to come up with a princess to rescue but I really like my Goodfellas style plot.

    Any other movies have similar stories without a clear goal? I read John Truby's book on screenwriting and I never realized what the plot of The Godfather is. It's about a son seeking revenge on those who tried to assassinate his father. Never realized that was the actual plot since it takes place over a decade or so. We have the wedding, the horse scene and then we jump into the plot starting with them wanting to get into narcotics which drives the rest of the movie. I never really noticed that before. It seems like it's a just a movie that observes a mafia family for a decade or so.

    I thought about bio-pics but they usually give the subject a huge personal burden to overcome such as Walk the Line or Ray.

    Any advise on writing a book where it's just "about" some guys in the mob?


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    Goodfellas is a five act tragedy. Classic rise and fall structure. Scarface is another similar story in that structure. Breaking Bad. Crime stories often use this structure, because the common theme is that crime doesn't pay. Henry Hill is on a mission to be 'somebody'. He idolized the gangsters in his neighborhood, and that was his goal, to join their life of crime and get rich and be a big shot. His obstacles to fulfilling his goal are his parents, that he's not Italian, other mobsters, his marriage, and the law. We follow his rise through the criminal organization, and eventually, the law catches up to him, which starts his fall. The tragedy is that he loses everything and becomes a nobody. Here's more information on the 5 act structure--

    https://www.storyboardthat.com/artic...-act-structure

    https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/1/2...hday-structure

    https://www.writersstore.com/hell-is...at-goodfellas/
    "Money doesn't make films...You just do it and take the initiative." - Werner Herzog


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    Most of Scorsese’s films star antihero’s who don’t learn their lessons. That’s what flips those films on their heads and makes them fascinating. They are amoral and the only ones who learn are us. They also become a reflection on society because so many don’t learn. Goodfellas, Wolf of Wall Street, Raging Bull, even The King of Comedy. These people learn nothing.

    The Godfather is different. It’s also just a few years. It’s about the loss of one’s soul, which is what happens to Michael. Don’t worry about plot so much (knight rescues princess, etc.). Think about character growth. Man learns to trust again. Child forgives parent. Person believes in love again. Person finds faith. Figure out whatever it is you really want to be the growth of the person and then use plot to make it happen. Otherwise it’s just stuff for 100 minutes without consequence.
    Mitch Gross
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    Panasonic System Solutions Company


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    Mitch, I just gotta say I love your posts here and at CML. You've always got something good to say. In a world where product managers from other companies can't even be bothered to respond to direct questions or engage in conversations about their own products, I think it is great that you truly enjoy this business, have a passion for it, and are willing to put your opinions and advice out there on the line. I just wanted to let you know it is appreciated and wish there were more people like you.


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    >>> blush <<<
    Mitch Gross
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    Watch movies. Many different movies. You'll notice something - there are many very good movies, but not just *one* plot device and they can all have different structures. You can analyze a given movie and see a device like "rescue princess" or "hero's journey" or whatnot... and so what? If everyone was bent on just following one design, you'd only have one kind of movie. And yet there are many movies with wildly different structures. The moral of the story is: there is no one structure/device, no "one weird trick" to all movies. And it's a mistake to try to fit your story to an arbitrary design - because more likely than not, your story will suffer, don't be Procrustes to your stories, they'll scream and bleed and die. Go where the story leads you - if it is an involving story, it'll hold the audience's attention and that's all that matters. Here is the prescription:

    1) Watch a ton of different movies. Learn from them, and in particular learn that as long as the story is involving, the design simply does not matter.

    2) Ask yourself, and keep asking yourself - "Is my story involving for the audience?" If your story is involving, then that's all you need, whatever the structure.

    That's it!


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    I'm not against watching lots of movies to observe different ways to tell a story, but I would say that there is value to learning about story structure, especially classical 3-act and 5-act formats. If you understand the "rules" then you can know when it's ok to break them. A lot of the rules are there for a good reason, like set up the essential character conflict in the first ten minutes. That's good because it keeps your audience from being bored.

    Here's a favorite example: Warren Beatty's "Reds". It's the early 1900s and Diane Keaton is a reporter who arrives late to a Socialist Party meeting. She opens a door to see a ballroom packed with lots of big wigs pontificating on the New World Order. One Party official blabbers about why the government crushes the workers and so on, and asks John Reed (Beatty) to please explain his theory as to why those in power do x, y, z in a long-winded and nuanced question. Beatty stands up, looks around and sheepishly say "For the money" and sits back down. BOOM -- we know that he's an iconoclast who cannot and will not ever do anything but speak his true mind. He will always be at odds with the politicians who will run the party and the Revolution. And Keaton is instantly fascinated by him while he remains somewhat aloof. The nature of the main characters and their interconnections have been lain down in the very first scene, and we're less than ten minutes into a three hour movie.

    Your audience is almost always more intelligent than you think. If they are not getting it than you are not telling it right. The last thing you want to do is bore them or have them way ahead of you in your storytelling. The lesson of Reds is that the most important thing to establish is the characters and their essential natures. This will inform everything they do and how they will address any given situation. Actors may call it backstory and motivation, but it's all the same thing.

    After you know the characters you need to know the essential conflict. What is the idea that you want to tell, the situation you want to stick them into? The plot bits are secondary and will evolve based on knowing who the characters are and the situation you insert them into. An alien is left behind on earth and a boy who's missing a father figure and needs to grow into his own manhood finds the alien. This is 90% of the job. Figure these two things out first and then start telling your tale.

    Here's a nice storytelling device that Peter Weir used in all his films. You should be able to take the main characters and illustrate their essential trait and conflict in a single moment or even better a single shot. That shot should set up what is the overarching story idea of the movie and if you really do it right there needs to be no dialog. Some Peter Weir examples: In "Witness," a little boy is in the police station with detective Harrison Ford, looking at mug shots to try to identify the perpetrator of a murder he witnessed. The boy wanders off in the room and finds a glass cabinet housing various awards for the precinct's officers. Ford sees and walks over. The boy points to a photo of detective Danny Glover, and Harrison Ford covers the boy's hand so no one else sees because he realizes that they are in the middle of a police station full of corrupt murdering cops, the belly of the beast. In The Truman Show," the main character is beginning to suspect that the world around him is not what it appears to be, and that everyone is pretending for his benefit. Breaking his routine, he chooses to enter a different building than usual and catches people standing around instead of leading their lives. He moves to leave the building and enters its glass revolving door. Cut to a shot with the camera inside the turnstile with him looking through a layer of glass. Truman is trapped inside a glass bubble, unable to connect to the rest of the world that he sees around him. He does two full rotations in the turnstile and he knows that he's not going anywhere, just in circles. The camera is in the bubble with him, always watching what he does but never connecting to him.

    These two scenes really tell you what the essential motivation of their movies are. They could be turned into the 5-second elevator pitch lines that you use to sell your story. If you don't know what this pitch line would be for your movie, stop what you're doing and figure it out because this comes first. If you don't know what the equivalent scene would be in your movie, stop what you're doing and write it. You may decide it's too on the nose and cut it, but it's the moment that tells you what the movie is about, why you are telling it, and why the audience should want to watch. Everything else is just stuff that happens.
    Last edited by Mitch Gross; 09-22-2018 at 10:51 AM. Reason: typos
    Mitch Gross
    Cinema Product Manager
    Panasonic System Solutions Company


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    The thing about "story structure" type rules, is that there is always the danger that the movie becomes formulaic, when everybody thinks that they need to "follow the rules" - it's how you get assembly line vehicles that are functional but uninspired. Focusing on such structure rules becomes a shortcut to artistic expression. In reality, there are no substitutions for an artist's judgment and story-telling skill without reference to *anything* other than how to continue to involve an audience - that way the results are far more organic and fresh. In contrast, an artist can function perfectly well, including the highest level without a lick of "theory". There is value in examining story structure, especially for a critic, academic or scholar of a medium, but it's a truism to say that an artist often uses intuition when creating, and may not be able to articulate grand theoretical justifications, whereas the scholar often is a master of theory but cannot generate fresh art. That is why I think it is important to emphasize to aspiring artists the importance of the prime directive: involve your audience! Instead, screenwriters often get lost in multiple books and courses and reading "how to" manuals which don't amount to a hill of beans if you have no artistic ability. Pay attention to your gut. Watch movies to see the possibilities the medium offers and expand your horizons of what can be done, but focus on the involving the audience and don't worry about theory, especially that trends in theory change with time (and that's how you get "character arc" era, then - as these days - it becomes "it's arcy!" as criticism, which is a recent reaction to formulaic "character arc" stories"). People get tired of formula, no matter how good. So abandon it, because it changes with time anyway and you're in danger of dating your project. Instead, it's always about the prime directive: involve your audience by any means necessary.


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    I get your point, but honestly if someone has no artistic ability then learning story structure isn't going to slow them down. Knowing the rules means knowing how & why to break them. A rule is only there because there is a value to it, like if you don't give a character motivation then that person becomes uninteresting, or if you don't follow the 180 degree rule it can become confusing where people are and the direction they're facing. But if you know these things and understand them you also know when to ignore them and how to grow beyond them. Picasso used to occasionally paint a fairly classical work with realistic dimensions just to show he could, then go back to Cubism or other abstract forms. A rule is really a helpful suggestion, like having a beginning, middle and end. That one's been subverted for generations, where Godard famously stated, "Yes, just not necessarily in that order." Tarantino certainly likes to play with that but he knows the "rules" and knows exactly why he's doing it. Even a fairly traditional storyteller like Robert Zemekis says that he likes to cut also all of the beginning, dive right into the middle and then wrap it up as soon as he touches on the end.

    If you want to subvert the rules you can go back to Citizen Kane. Just what genre is it? What part is the beginning, the middle, or the end? There are plenty of rules tossed out the window in that film, and even though it was his first Welles had been working in the theater and on radio for years (and subverting the forms there as well). But you can only really do that if you understand the norms first. What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

    Remember that Hamlet is three hours of indecision, culminating in a sword fight. Shakespeare kinda knew what he was doing and what he chose not to do.
    Mitch Gross
    Cinema Product Manager
    Panasonic System Solutions Company


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    Right. I try to make my comments helpful, and it seems to me we are at a point where most people have been told countless times to "study structure" etc., there are literally thousands of books on screenwriting/directing etc., countless courses and so on. I figure there is little value in my piling on - that would be comment #infinity# - who needs that. Instead, in order to bring value to my comment, I would like to point out something that is spoken of much more rarely - the danger of strapping people into "rules" and missing the big picture. Every model of how a piece of art works is just that - a model, and by definition incomplete. A model is always a simplification of what it attempts to describe in limited ways. For every rule there are countless exceptions, and adopting a system of rules is like putting on glasses - they can let you see something through a their lenses, but there is always distortion, and a danger that you become trapped in the limitations. You stop just "seeing". Instead, you see it through the prism of your theories. It blinds and blinkers as often as makes things clear. Rather than tell someone about how a character needs motivation, I rather ask "what fits this picture, what makes this involving, what do I respond to viscerally" - the less I worry about rules the more likely I'll come up with something like "My Dinner With Andre" where a whole shedload of "rules" are irrelevant. And since you brought up famous painters, I like the saying "so you learned all the rules? Now forget them!". Take off your preconceptions/rules/paradigms/glasses and LOOK. I always ask "how does it make me feel", "what do I hear?", "what do I see?" - and it's never steered me wrong. As Ray Charles said to the young engineer who told him about all the amazing new mixer with a 100 tracks on which they are mixing his take - "I don't care how many tracks it has baby, how does it sound?". Same here - I don't care about the "rules" (often more temporary than supposedly universal) - how does it look? It's the same with everything - you see folks discussing camera/mic/light spec sheets endlessly instead of asking simple questions: how does it look/sound to you? Forget the spec sheets, and use your eyes, your ears and your judgment.

    Anyhow, there's a flood of recommendations - everyone and their dog - for folks to watch all the "rules". I'm as small voice for using your senses and your judgment and not relying on "rules" from supposed authorities. If something looks good to me, I'll use that, never mind if it contradicts some rule someone decided to posit. I have only one principle - involve your audience, that's all you need, and if what you do is boring, it won't be any less boring because it adhered to the "rules", if the cam won't do good footage I don't care about the specs and so on. Only YOU can decide, there is no abdicating your judgment in favor of rules, you bear the ultimate responsibility. Vive la difference!


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