Last weekend I stopped by one of those "second run" theaters and saw Kingsman: The Secret Service again. Reviews were mixed, but if you don’t mind a little over-the-top, gratuitous violence, it was a pretty enjoyable movie. Think Quentin Tarantino meets James Bond. But regardless of what you thought of the movie, there were three aspects of the movie that stood out to me as a writer.
1. Story Structure is important. Hollywood is known for rigorously adhering to standard story structure and this movie was no exception. The First Plot Point, when the hero (Eggsy) makes the decision to join the Kingsman organization, occurred right at the 20% mark. (The FPP should happen somewhere between 20-25% in books and movies) The midpoint reversal appeared at the halfway point of the movie. And the All-Is-Lost moment, which marks the transition into the third and final act, occurred within four minutes of the expected 75% mark. Classic story structure. Do writers have to hit these marks that closely in our books? Probably not, but we should strive to come as close as we can.
2. Foreshadowing. This movie was chock full of it. There was scarcely a line of dialogue, sight gag, or event that occurred in the first three quarters of the movie that wasn't a setup for something else that happened later. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but almost everything in this movie was doing double (or triple) duty. You thought a particular line of dialogue was added because it was funny? Think again. That bit of dialogue will come in handy later. Did you think having one of the secondary characters being afraid of heights was done only to make one scene in the middle of the movie more intense? Sorry. Expect that fear to play an even bigger role later when the stakes are higher.
3. Make it personal. When the protagonist is busy saving the world during the story's climax, the goals can often feel a bit distant. Almost impersonal at times. Sure, we know the world’s going to blow up if the hero/heroine doesn’t get to the switch in time, and of course we're rooting for him/her to succeed, but how much do we really care? We don't know any of the hundreds of millions of people who are going to die if he/she fails. So writers often look for ways to make the final battle extra personal for both the protagonist and the audience.
During the final climatic scene in Kingsman, when Eggsy is racing against the clock to stop the bad guy’s plan to destroy the world as we know it, the movie keeps cutting away to scenes of the outside world, showing how it’s collapsing into chaos. The point is clear—millions of people will die if Eggsy fails. But that’s just not personal enough. As we near the final seconds in the countdown, the movie starts showing us glimpses of his baby sister back in London and the imminent danger she'll be in if Eggsy fails. She’s just one more life out of the millions expected to die, but suddenly we’re much more invested in the movie’s outcome because she’s important to Eggsy. Mission accomplished.
I never thought about these kinds of things before I started writing. Now I can't help but notice them whenever I go to a movie. And when I come home from a movie that's done good job with these techniques, it always fires me up to make my story the best it can be.
How about you?