Sunday, November 24, 2013

what if there is no tomorrow?

Yesterday, I only made it through 1 of 3 acts, 2 of 8 sequences and 2 of 5 key points... let me back up a bit, in case you didn't read that entry. I'm dealing with screenplay structure in relation to Groundhog Day. Now, on with it.

We'll pick up the action at plot point one, which Dyer puts at 25% of the way in--remember, we're rounding it off so that will mean about 25 minutes in. The Script Lab puts plot point one between sequence two and sequence three. And, of course, plot point one is where act one becomes act two. I've suggested in the past that act one ends with date night, but arguably the usual screenplay structures put this somewhere in the middle of act two instead. The Script Labdefines sequence three as that in which the "first OBSTACLE... to the central character is faced, and the beginning of the elimination of the alternatives begins..." I'm not entirely sure what that "elimination" entails, but I would suggest that for Phil, the first obstacle is figuring out how to accept the time loop, or at least how to live within its confines. So, then, sequence three would be his adolescent period. Dyer puts "pinch one" somewhere in here as well, at 37.5% of the way in. He defines pinch one as "a major plot event... that complicates the protagonist's pursuit of his external goal. This event often reveals new information to the protagonist that will cause him to go in a new direction." At 37 minutes 30 seconds in, Phil is talking to Rita at the tip top cafe on Day 4. Specifically, at this particular moment, Rita scoffs at Phil suggesting he thought her quoted poetry was by Willard Scott. The Script Lab tells us that this sequence also involves a raising of stakes since "our character is locked into the situation and can't simply walk away." This fits with Phil taking advantage of the time loop and leads right into his focus on Rita.

Nathan Marshall at Script Frenzy divides the second act into two parts, one in which the protagonist "is 'reacting' to the pressures of their changed world" and which ends "when your protagonist's worst fears nearly come true. After that, they sit up and say 'wait a minute! I can handle this!' They stop 'reacting' and take control of the situation." While Phil has been taking some control since the end of Day 3, the implication of a change of approach here fits with his focus on Rita. The Script Lab, however, divides the second act into 4 sequences (3-6). Sequence four brings us the "first culmination" and gets us to the midpoint (and these two may be one and the same). The first culmination "is a pivotal moment in the story but not as critical as the Lock In or the Main Culmination." The first culmination, "if the story is a tragedy and our hero dies... should be a low point for our character. If however, our hero wins in the end of the film, then sequence four should end with him winning in some way." The actual midpoint of Groundhog Day (counting the credits this time) comes at 50 minutes 32 seconds, and it's on the best version of date night. Rita and Phil have just put the head on the first version of their snowman.

(And, now is as good a time as any to mention that aside from that head, the snowman is the exact same snowman on this particular night and the next one. The snowman's shape is quite distinct with a notable lump on the left.)

Dyer puts the mid-point at an obvious 50% of the way in, but the Cracked podcast I mentioned yesterday put this "point of no return" at 60 minutes in. At 60 minutes exactly, Phil is referencing "this tiny village in Western Pennsylvania, blah blah blah blah blah." What I have suggested as the end of act one then, Rita in Phil's room, slapping him for "making me care about you," comes at 55 minutes 26 seconds (the slap specifically, that is). What the slap is, then, is the midpoint, and I guess that makes sense. Dyer tells us that something needs to happen at the midpoint "to force the protagonist to commit 100% to accomplishing his external goal."

Interestingly, Dyer continues, "Often at this point, the protagonist and antagonist will change roles so that the character who was more passive now becomes the aggressor." And, here, I must step back from the structure and focus on something else. Who is the antagonist in Groundhog Day? We know who the protagonist is; it's Phil. But, the antagonist, while obvious in retrospect--and admittedly, I'm not sure my perspective on this is entirely clear anymore as to how obvious or not obvious any particular thing might be for someone watching this film casually--is not so obvious during the film. The time loop is too abstract to be the antagonist, though it is the obvious culprit. But, really, Phil is the antagonist. He is the protagonist and the antagonist. He is his own worst enemy. But, Dyer's description works here... well, sort of. It takes Phil another 9 attempts with Rita and a bout of suicidal depression before he switches his active role in things, but sure enough, the egocentric prima donna Phil is replaced by the better side of Phil for the rest of the film.

The Script Lab suggests that the second act can sag without a subplot "to take the ball for a while." This is sequence five. I might suggest that the downside of date night--the slaps and depression--is this subplot, but the plot is fairly centered on Phil and surprisingly linear (following a curved line of course). The other thing sequence five can include is rising action. I don't know if "rising" has to mean everything is going up, per se, but Phil's descent into depression until he can finally rethink his situation from a new point of view on god day is hardly upward. Still, I think it fits this sequence. Dyer describes "pinch two"--which should take place 62.5% of the way in--as "a major plot event that pushes the protagonist in a new direction, usually because of the revelation of new information." That new information is that Phil Connoring Rita will never work, and the new direction is suicide. Hardly positive, hardly upward, but still, the level of action is rising, I'd say. By the way, at 62 minutes 30 seconds, Phil is in the truck with his groundhog counterpart. Specifically, he has just said "make it fun" and at this instant he's laughing.

So, we get to sequence six, the "build-up to the MAIN CULMINATION... the highest obstacle, the last alternative, the highest or lowest moment and the end of our main tension come at this point." The main culmination is, without a doubt, god day (especially the end of god day). Just before it we get Phil's lowest point, and on god day, we get his highest point (aside from the final resumption, of course). Specifically, though, The Script Lab suggests that "if our hero wins at the midpoint and at the end of the film," then he has his "lowest point here." This is tricky since the midpoint is the best version of date night which ultimately ends in failure. But, arguably, at the midpoint Phil is succeeding and at the end, obviously, Phil has succeeded. So, the second plot point, the main culmination should be Phil losing. If we put his suicides as the main culmination and god day not as the end of act two but the beginning of act three, this fits. But... well, keep in mind, while this breakdown is fairly standard, these rules are not set in stone. Dyer puts the second plot point at 75% of the way in. At 1 hour 15 minutes, god day has just ended. The alarm clock clicks to 6:00 for the next morning at 1:04:57. Wherever the exact cutoff falls, The Script Lab tells us that the main culmination helps "create a new tension for Act Three." And, all of this certainly sets Phil up for his improvement stage. Specifically, Dyer tells us, our protagonist "should now be so changed by everything that he has gone through that he can no longer be satisfied living the way he did before."

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to structure my day in three acts, wake up at, say 7 AM, to bed at 1 AM. That's 18 hours. So, my first plot point needs to come at 11:30 AM, so right before lunch, I suppose. My second plot point must come at 8:30 PM, maybe at a late dinner but probably after. I really hope there's a car chase at 4 PM.

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