I have already discussed how many “original” movies were themselves remakes. Now, I’m going to further ruin this concept of originality in Hollywood by pointing out that you’ve already seen the same movie ten thousand times. It doesn’t matter who the characters are, if they have a genre, it has a pretty set plot.
Before you even stop to realize that every movie in many genres has the same plot, you have to understand that they all have the same basic movie structure. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. I know, you’re saying “no duh”, but this isn’t always the case. When a movie deviates from the beginning, middle, end device, you have the potential for interesting and new. Those are mostly indie films, though, because Hollywood goes with what sells, and what sells is the three-act structure.
Let’s assume most movies are 90 minutes. They’re not. Many movies are actually less than 90 minutes, unless they got an actual budget behind them, in which case, they’re longer. But 90 is a nice average of the two extremes. Well, then, there’s a few ways you could break up your movies. I like 15-60-15, but others prefer 30-30-30, and some like to break up the time in other ways. Before I confuse you any further, I’m talking about how to break up the acts in a movie, how many minutes they should be.
I like for my first acts to be fifteen minutes long, but mileage my vary. I prefer this though because then there’s more time for the meat of the story, and it doesn’t waste time in grabbing audience attention. The first act is very simple: it introduces the character in the world the character is used to. Everything in the beginning of the movie is normal for the character. We very usually see a typical day in the life of the character. Let’s name our character, because we can use the same character later when we discuss genre plots. Our character is Joe. So Act One would go like this:
Joe is at home getting ready for a day at work. Joe goes to work. Joe has social interactions with the people with which he works, hinting that he’s up for a big promotion. Joe hangs out with friends after work. Joe goes home.
Pretty boring. No way you’d watch a whole movie of that! But don’t worry, because in order to transition into act two, we need something to break up Joe’s routine. We need conflict, something to change Joe’s way of life. Let’s name this catalyst… Mindy.
Joe goes to work and socializes amongst co-workers. Joe’s boss calls him into the office. Boss says he doesn’t need to point out how important this position is and blathers on about it. Boss announces that he has narrowed it down to Joe and Mindy.
Now that we’ve got some friction, let’s move on to act two.
Act two, as I said earlier, is the real meat of the movie. It’s where all the ups and downs happen. It’s where our character decides what he needs to do to overcome obstacles. The point of no-return is in act two – it’s the point in the movie where you’re closer to the end than you are the beginning. I won’t get into it because this will vary with the movie genre. However, act two usually ends with a “false ending”. It’s a point where the movie could end, if only this other thing didn’t come up.
Much like act two, act three depends on what kind of movie you’re doing, but act three always serves the purpose of tying up the storylines. The thing the character needs to move on or to save the girl or to cure the common cold happens, and there’s usually a race against time. The way I budget time in movies, it really is – there’s only 15 minutes to get things done!
The Plot of Every Genre Ever
Comedy: Joe and Mindy are up for the same job. Mindy and Joe try to sabotage each other and hilarity ensues. Finally, Mindy plants evidence on Joe, not only winning the promotion, but getting Joe fired. Joe finds a way to prove that Mindy set him up and not only gets her fired and the promotion, but ends up being the company’s hero.
Drama: Joe and Mindy are up for the same job. Joe finds out he has a terminal disease. Though business minded, Mindy has a heart of gold, so she steps down so that Joe can live his dream in his final days. Then Joe dies.
Dramatic Comedy: Any combination of the aforementioned plots.
Romance: Joe and Mindy are up for the same job. Joe secretly likes Mindy. One of the female office coworkers likes Joe, but he only sees her as a friend… call her Sue. Sue helps Joe try to attract Mindy, but they find out she’s a horrible witch woman. Joe finally realizes what a catch he had in Sue, but Sue’s already somehow found Bob. Joe only wants for Sue to be happy, and Sue leaves Bob for Joe. And we somehow forget all about the promotion in the first place.
Romantic Comedy: Romance plus comedy or dramatic comedy.
Romantic Drama: Romance but Sue gets brutally murdered.
Action: Sue is a secret agent, the boss works for the enemy, and Mindy is a cyborg out to destroy the world. The only one who can stop them is Joe.
Animation: None of them are human, and the aforementioned plots get watered down.
Independent film: Uses all the possible plots with insane cuts, stunning imagery, subplots about deep cultural understanding, and all on a budget of chewing gum and shoestring. Seriously, anything goes as long as it’s on the cheap in independent films.
Hollywood Originality Myth
Everything’s been done before. Whining about originality won’t help. You’ve seen the same movie thousands of times by now, and it doesn’t even have to be a remake or a sequel – you’ve seen it. The only thing you can honestly hope for is that these elements are used for good, and not bland and horrible.