Writing Challenge: Midpoint

The quarantine has had a lot of negative economic effects, for obvious reasons, and we’ll be feeling the ripples from this event for years to come. One of the effects in the entertainment industry is the movie market. A lot of people have talked about this might finally be the thing that kills the movie theater market, especially as studios decide to release films on streamers instead of theaters during this time and push back other release dates.

I’m less concerned with these big tent-pole movies getting pushed, or getting a second wind online. I’m more concerned with the mid-budget movies, not based on IP, that we were just in the middle of seeing a major upswing of success in theaters. I often talk to friends about how it started in 2015. In 2015-2016, there were a slew of fantastic films that received wide release that just didn’t explode the way tent-poles do: “Ex-Machina”, “Popstar”, “The Nice Guys”, among others. And there was also “Mad Max: Fury Road”, a film based on IP and part of a larger franchise, but one that redefined how to attack adaptations so it felt completely original.

In the years since, these kinds of movies have grown in number and this year saw a few successes, but the most notable was definitely “Knives Out”. The film was a throw back to the kinds of movies that used to be made all the time. A simple plot, a ton of recognizable stars, great setting and dialogue, and a plot that moves creating a wild time. It’s success meant that other studios are now looking for similar fair, but with the quarantine it will now be unclear if they’ll get the big screen debuts they deserve or will land on streamers who can churn them out.

In honor of these kinds of movies, I wanted to highlight “Knives Out” for today’s sequence: The Midpoint. One of two things will happen in the Midpoint of a film. Either the introduction of a new character, or the introduction of a new situation. In this film, we’re introduced to the antagonist, Ransom (Chris Evans), in the previous sequence where he first arrives at home. Most films use the midpoint to introduce a new love interest, think about the film “Big”. In that film, Tom Hanks’s character begins dating Elizabeth Perkins’s character in the midpoint. It’s the moment in “Clueless” when Christian comes to school and Cher sets her sights on him, while Tye becomes interested in Josh. It’s also the moment in “Groundhog Day” when Phil decides to give himself a new target to focus on in his repeat days: conquering Rita.

If you’re watching a film and trying to figure out what the midpoint is, look to the Low Point that arrives at the end of Act Two. Just like the First Act Decision connects directly to the False Climax (by letting the protagonist think they’ve won), the Midpoint is connected to the Low Point. Whatever happens in the Midpoint will have a direct correlation with the Low Point. For example, in “Clueless”, Cher’s distraction with Christian causes her to miss what’s happening with Tye and Tye’s rise in popularity. So when Tye becomes the “new Cher” and voices her huge crush on Josh, Cher feels alone and isolated. In “Groundhog Day”, Phil thinks he’s won when he gets Rita to believe that he’s repeating the same day, but he hits his Low Point when even getting her to stay the night doesn’t end the cycle and he wakes up all alone.

In “Knives Out”, the heroine Marta finds herself in a new situation where she is working with Ransom to get through this mystery of a maze. This will inevitable lead to her downfall later one. Here’s the breakdown:

The Breakdown

Set Up
– The family and Marta congregate at the house for the will reading. Blanc takes the opportunity to tell everyone to stay in town as this is an ongoing investigation. The family is shocked at the suggestion that Harlan didn’t commit suicide, but was murdered.
– Walt, Linda, Richard, and Joni appear confident as the assets are read. Alan (the family lawyer) reveals everything is going to Marta… the family erupts.
– Marta runs outside to get away from the insanity. The family follows her looking for answers.

Action
– Marta is trapped in her car, which won’t start as the family surrounds her. Random appears in his Porsche, motioning for her to join. Marta jumps in and they drive away.
– At a restaurant, Marta eats pork and beans. She asks Ransom what he knew. Ransom opens up, saying that his grandfather was actually right to leave him nothing.
– Ransom reveals he knows Harlan didn’t commit suicide. She asks how he know and Ransom reveals he remembers she can’t lie (she just ate a lot of pork and beans), and she’s going to tell him everything she knows. Marta is trapped and horrified.
– The Thrombeys argue with Alan about how they can “fix” this, even blaming the death on Marta. They turn to Blanc for help, but Richard declares the detective useless.
– Meg defends Harlan’s decision to Joni, so Joni tells Meg that she can’t afford Meg’s school without Harlan’s money. Now, Meg is worried.

Climax
– At the restaurant, Ransom knows everything. Marta anticipates a reaction from him, but he sits pensively.
– It appears that Ransom is going to help her, but Marta doesn’t believe it. Ransom reveals they’re going to split the money.
– Meg calls Marta, wanting to know what Marta’s going to do. Marta asks what Meg thinks and Meg says the money should stay in the family.
– Meg reveals that Joni is broke and Marta says she’ll take care of Meg. Meg is mortified by her own actions, shocked by Marta’s response, and hangs up.

Resolution
– Meg is silent. The family now shown behind her, expectantly waiting.
– Marta tells Ransom about the mud and broken trellis, the only evidence. Ransom tells her to relax. She just has to wait for the case to dry up.

As you can see in the above, this script is incredibly tight in it’s writing. There is not a wasted moment for any of the characters and, even though it’s Marta’s story, just because she leaves the house doesn’t mean that the family stops their menacing. They are conniving in the background, raising the stakes for Marta, whether this naive protagonist is aware of it or not. You want to make sure that as your story is moving forward that these setbacks are getting bigger and the stakes are being raised every step of the way.

Happy Writing!

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