Nowhere to Go But Up

Every story begins with the hero in less than ideal circumstances. Think of fairy tales where Hansel and Gretel are in a home where the father wants to dump them in the woods. If you start your story with the hero in a bad situation, your story can show how the hero can grow from there.

Hollywood always churns out dozens of mediocre movies and a handful of good ones. “Up” is an example of a good movie. “G-Force” is an example of a bad one. Just by examining the beginning, you can see where “Up” got it right and “G-Force” got it wrong.

At the beginning of any movie, your hero should be in such a lousy position that you have to feel that things can only get better. In “Up,” the hero is an old man who has just lost his wife and is going to be forced to live in a nursing home and leave his beloved house behind. At this point you have to feel that anything the hero does will be an improvement.

Instead of meekly submitting to the nursing home, the old man defiantly ties thousands of balloons to his house and floats away, thereby sparing himself the humiliation of going to a nursing home while saving his house at the same time.

Now consider “G-Force.” In the beginning, all the guinea pigs are a highly trained and efficient force who sneak into a house and retrieve the data that they’re after. Every guinea pig is skilled and though the operation doesn’t go off without a few problems, it’s nothing that the guinea pigs can’t handle and they ultimately succeed.

And that’s the problem right there. In “Up,” the beginning leaves the old man with little hope. In “Star Wars,” Luke Skywalker has nothing left with his uncle’s farm burned to the ground. In “Mary Poppins,” the two children are unhappy that their father can’t spend more time with them. Even in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones fails in his quest to retrieve a priceless artifact.

In “G-Force,” the guinea pigs are at the peak of their efficiency, working together as a competent team. They have nowhere to go but down.

In every movie, Act I shows the plight of the hero while Act II shows the hero struggling to achieve a goal. In “G-Force,” they did everything completely backwards. The beginning should have been the end because the guinea pigs can do nothing but duplicate their earlier success, and that just shows us something that we already saw. In movies, you can’t show the audience the same thing twice because it will just bore them.

In creating your movie, keep this general rule in mind. The beginning, Act I, needs to show your hero in a low state. That way the rest of the movie, the hero can go nowhere but up.

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