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LA-CAMFT Member Article

01/31/2021 3:00 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)

David Silverman,

10 Archetypal Film Stories That Sell: Part 4

“The ten genre’s that Blake Snyder identified in the 'Save the Cat' books . . .These are my single favorite tool for screenwriters, and I strongly recommend writers know these types, and seek to write squarely within one of them.” Erik Bork: Screenwriter “Band of Brothers.”

As we noted in Parts 1 through 3, as far as the studios are concerned, they seem to have dropped the word "original" from their vocabulary. You can plainly see by the numbers of prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots, novel and comic book adaptations, that studio films are risk-averse.

For those who still want to try selling a screenplay to the studios (and have a good shot at independent sales, too), here are the next two sub-genres, of archetypal film stories identified in Snyder’s Save the Cat.

According to research by Bork, the trend since 2012 has been that the studios are only buying original spec scripts in these (and Snyder's other 8) genres.

7. Dude with A Problem
The way Snyder describes it, this archetypal storyline features a male or female protagonist who’s faced with an immediate conflict, which is generally life-threatening and requires that he or she take action (usually physical ) now or people will die.

Let’s look at Die Hard, which pits LA Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) against what appears to be an army of terrorists who take over a Los Angeles skyscraper. Gruber (Alan Rickman) poses as the leader of this group of terrorists who start taking hostages (including McClane’s wife, Holly).

Outnumbered and out-gunned, McClane fights a series of increasingly violent battles with Gruber’s army of machine-gun-toting henchmen. The stakes keep getting raised as more hostages are taken and more people are endangered.

Guber plants C4 on the roof and plans to blow the entire building apart killing everybody and escaping in a helicopter with hundreds of millions in bearer bonds, when McClane single-handedly overcomes overwhelming odds to prevail over Guber’s army, saving the building full of people, the hostages and his wife, Holly. As McClane so aptly puts it, “Yipee-ki-yay-motherf#*ker!!”

These stories generally feature one character (often an everyman) who finds himself in a fight-or-die situation and instantly decides to be the "hero," and take on the onslaught of violence. The films often feature a series of increasingly difficult battles, building to an action climax.

To demonstrated how varied screenplays in this genre can be, here are a few more examples; Open Water, The Perfect Storm, Cape Fear, Misery, The Fugitive, The Bourne Identity, North By Northwest, Shooter, Flightplan, Outbreak and The Day After Tomorrow.

8. Rites of Passage
The Rites of Passage archetypal storylines are real life transitions like coming of age, getting over a breakup, grieving for a loved one, recovery from addiction, or struggling with a mid-life crisis. These transitions resonate with us at some level because we all go though them or know someone who has.

Let’s take a look at Kramer vs. Kramer. Ted Kramer (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a rising star at his advertising firm and, when he has time, a loving father. The story starts when his wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep) decides to leave Ted and their son, Billy, to pursue her own career aspirations.

Kramer is left to juggle his lucrative advertising career with being a full-time father. It doesn’t go well at first, especially with Billy, who's resentful over the breakup, and constantly acts out to get attention.

Kramer finds a friend and confidant in his neighbor, Margaret (Jane Alexander). While they sit in the park watching Billy play on the monkey bars, he slips and is badly injured.

Ted rushes the boy to the hospital where he finally realizes the most important priority in his life is raising Billy. After quitting his high-profile advertising job, he finds one that allows him to spend more time at home with his son.

Over two years pass when Joanna returns to fight for custody of her son. Both Kramer’s lawyers pull out the stops to win this hard fought court battle. Evidence of the injury is brought in to hurt Ted. In the end Joanna wins custody of Billy, but realized now that he is better off with his father.

These stories feel like real-life situations any of us could experience. They are often psychological in nature, and sometimes don't have clear antagonists. Sometimes they end with acceptance or loss instead of victory.

To demonstrate how varied scripts in this genre can be, here are some more examples; Ordinary People, Trainspotting, American Beauty, 10, Lost In Translation, Leaving Las Vegas, Casablanca, Risky Business, 28 Days, Permanent Midnight and All That Jazz.

You will need to come up with lots of your own original characters, storylines, subplots and plot twists, but these 10 sub-genres will guide you in a more commercial direction—and increase your odds of selling an original screenplay.

So far, we've discussed Out of the Bottle, Monster in the House, Superhero, The Golden Fleece, Institutionalized, The Fool Triumphant, and now, Dude With A Problem and Rites of Passage. Next time, Buddy Love and Whydunnit.

David Silverman, LMFT, treats anxiety and depression, especially in highly sensitive individuals in his LA practice. Having experienced the rejection, stress, creative blocks, paralyzing perfectionism, and career reversals over a 25 year career as a Film/TV writer, he’s uniquely suited to work with gifted, creative, and sensitive clients experiencing anxiety, depression, and addiction. David received training at Stanford and Antioch, is fully EMDR certified, and works with programs treating Victims of Crime and Problem Gamblers. Visit www.DavidSilvermanLMFT.com.

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