Vaporwave is fascinating. Something about it is very soothing, despite being totally eerie.

I’ve used some Vaporwave aesthetics in some of my past videos:

I began obsessing over this strange sub-genre of music. The air of nostalgia you get from this stuff is mind-boggling. For example, if you’re an American born in the 80s, then one whiff of Kmartwave will rocket you into the past with a shot of energizing and depressing aesthetics all at once. You can practically smell the throw pillows and feel the L’eggs containers.

How do we explain this strange spell that Vaporwave puts over us?

We could try and explain Vaporwave by identifying its aesthetics: distorted music sampling, a VHS video filter with audio hiss, Japanese characters, short all-caps fonts, shopping malls, surrealism, and general nostalgia. Vaporwave artists will use North Korea, the Soviet Union, shopping malls, Windows 95, and Donald Trump for aesthetic inspiration.

The standard “theory” of Vaporwave might begin with an origin story of John Oswald sampling and warping a Dolly Parton song, coining the process “plunderphonics,” followed by the legal hurdles he encountered.

It’s tempting to plant a flag here, say Vaporwave is a “music of the people,” and call it a day, but that would be dating us. Plus, any political angle will have to account for those people who also claim Vaporwave.

The theory could then cite the psychological aspects of Vaporwave like hypnagogia, the transitional stage between being awake and asleep, and its nostalgic qualities.

These theorists – the entire Theory Machine really – writes endless volumes of boring stuff like this. The Wiki article is not much help. This Aesthetics wiki is slightly more descriptive:

Vaporwave is a music genre branching from electronic Chillwave. But the unique and iconic visual aesthetic cultivated alongside it is now, debatably, more popular and recognizable than the music itself. Vaporwave, as an aesthetic and movement, has been described as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on modern consumerism and the soulless glamour of late capitalism. Its purposeful vagueness has led to more overt and blatant offshoots of Vaporwave, like Fashwave (which attempts to co-opt a lot of Vaporwave  symbolism to promote a fascist ideology) or Laborwave (which removes the ambiguity of Vaporwave’s capitalist critiques in favor of promoting a Marxist ideology), though both of them also tend to blend in a lot of Synthwave aesthetics as well, leading to many people assuming the two aesthetics are the same.

Still, this reads like the symptoms on a pharmaceutical sleep aid. Describing Vaporwave like this would be like describing alcoholism as “drinking a lot of booze, sometimes hard liquor, sometimes beer, or wine, and not letting one’s self become sober. Some alcoholics also smoke cigarettes and gamble. Alcoholics get headaches, X% of them are men, and sometimes they drive their cars into oncoming traffic.”

This level of writing is acceptable for a 4th grader writing a book report. But a 4th grader has no idea of what a book is to an author, nor what alcoholism is to an alcoholic, nor what Vaporwave is to the Vaporwave-listener. The Theory Machine fails on this level.

Even as Vaporwave listeners, we don’t seem to know what Vaporwave is to us.

And yet we find ourselves escaping to Vaporwave to give us a strange feeling which will transport us somewhere else. Why do we feel that need? Does Vaporwave scratch that particular itch? Why are we curious of the eerie? What is the eerie?

Eerie vaporwave shopping mall feels

To really explain Vaporwave, we need to explain our strange desire to experience it.

Since we can’t explain this desire with the Theory Machine, we can try tackling the subject the way we’d tackle an addiction. Addictions aren’t tackled by listing their symptoms, but by getting behind the spirit of the thing.

As I’ve said before, I offer no red pills or checker pills or translucent pills for this.

Instead, there’s 【the deer】.

【the deer】

【the deer】 can help us understand the eerie, the inexplicable aspect of Vaporwave that we can’t put into words.

【the deer】is better understood in reverse. Once you get to the end of this post, you’ll have understood it! But if you’re more linear than that and want a nuts-and-bolts explanation before going forward, read what Eric Gans has to say here: A Brief Introduction to Generative Anthropology.

In short, 【the deer】 exists only in the eerie, in the in-between states of things. It’s neither this nor that. That’s what makes 【the deer】 a handy decoder ring for Vaporwave, and perhaps more.

Take Korean shamanism, for example. The Theory Machine would list the sacrificial animals, the colors of the sacred clothes, etc. You’ll find this in every Britannica. 【the deer】, however, would say that Korean Shamans are kind of… annoyed that they have to be shamans.

You can hear the scientists in the room snickering at Ms. Geul-Moon. She’s either lying, crazy, or misled. Neil would advise her to just take a pill. (Neil DeGrasse Tyson should agree to an actual debate. To date, he hasn’t had one.)

【the deer】, on the other hand, would say that Ms. Geul-Moon is just explaining the spirit of the thing at hand. She’s brutally honest about her situation. She’s at some place between here and there, and 【the deer】 has no problem saying, “Yep, that’s a shitty place to be.”

So, 【the deer】 is a sort of first-principle regarding the eerie. Vaporwave is eerie, so maybe 【the deer】 has something to say about it.

What the **** is Vaporwave?

We start by trying to isolate what Vaporwave is.

What aspect of Vaporwave is its most prominent? It’s not an anti-capitalist political statement, because we also have Trumpwave and fashwave. It’s not Japanophilic, because there’s also Juchewave and Sovietwave. Something else binds all Vaporwave.

One characteristic of Vaporwave is nostalgia.

Nostalgia is that emotion when you resurrect the past for a moment. Since the past is dead and buried, nostalgia disappears like sea foam in your hands. This ephemerality adds to nostalgia’s power as a coping mechanism.

But lots of things are nostalgic. This isn’t unique to Vaporwave.

There’s one other characteristic of Vaporwave that is particular to the genre: decay.

Decay is one of Vaporwave’s most eerie and appealing aspects.

If we combine this with Vaporwave’s odd focus on multimedia art around the time of Windows 95 and the PS1, we pinpoint what might be at the heart of the Vaporwave aesthetic:

Vaporwave is nostalgia for decay before the late 1990s.

Hear me out.



In the past, all media was analog. Ancient media like Hammurabi’s code and the hieroglyphs were carved in stone and survived for millennia with only gradual decay. Paintings have survived for a thousand years. Books damaged by water can be restored, old records can be cleaned and replayed for probably a couple centuries, and a VHS is still good for (maybe) a hundred years.

Analog media has a broad range of decay. Its liminal state, the in-between period between its original art and total destruction, lasts for centuries. During this liminal state, analog media still serves its original artistic function. There’s still something there. It’s still art. Unless you burn it in the streets.

Binary media doesn’t decay, at least not like analog media. Music CDs are spirals of 1s and 0s, but they still wear out, usually faster than analog media. When the CD laser begins mistaking 0s for 1s, it’s not music anymore. It becomes noise. Old DVDs glitch and stop being movies. Old files won’t open. That one Kindle book is no longer available.

Binary media doesn’t decay. Either it’s entirely there, or it’s garbage. It has no liminal state. Broken binary media is no longer itself. It’s dead. It stops being art.

We have nostalgia for these liminal states in analog media, because those are the states in which we experience most analog media. We experienced most of our VHS tapes with some acceptable level of tracking issues, audio tapes with hiss, and game systems with analog video noise.

Why the Liminal is Creepy

liminal lĭm′ə-nəl

adj. Intermediate between two states, conditions, or regions; transitional or indeterminate.
adj. Existing at the limen. Used of stimuli.
Pertaining to the threshold or entrance; hence, relating to the beginning or first stage; inceptive; inchoative.

The liminal is the threshold, the place between inside and outside, neither here nor there. That’s a crazy place to be! How can you be neither inside nor outside? They’ll kill a goat just to get out of there!

H. Clay Trumbull, Threshold Covenant (New York, 1896) p. 15

The liminal state of analog media is creepy. Liminal states are generally just weird, and very aesthetic. Here’s an interesting take on creepy, aesthetic, liminal places:

There is a liminal between everything. Man and beast, heaven and earth, winter and spring, spoon and fork. Strange objects symbolize the liminal.

A man is first alive, and then he’s dead. The liminal state between these two phases of nature is terrifying. It’s the “Saigon Execution” moment. It’s also the deathbed, and the zombie.

This state of being, neither alive nor dead, can’t be categorized. Liminal states in general can’t be categorized. They’re undifferentiated. States of undifferentiation terrify us because they evade symbolic language.

The Need for Symbols

Humans use symbolic language to decode the world into meaningful ideas. Symbolic language requires categories. A boy is a boy, and a man is a man. The liminal state between boy and man defies category, and thereby defies language itself. This state is compared with death, and it’s not uncommon for the boy to emerge from the liminal state with a new name. The boy is dead. Now a man is in his place.

The priesthood will try and convince you that human, symbolic language is on a spectrum between banana and alien. 【the deer】 cannot help these people. If you’d like a much smarter, and challenging, understanding of human language, again, 【the deer】 points to Gans, this time to his Origin of Language.

The taboo, liminal space between life and death has puzzled many. You’re not dead, but you’re not really alive either. How do we categorize you? Throw you outside into the bush! Now you’re categorized as leopard food.

The [South Africans] formerly buried their dead, but now only chiefs and persons of consequence are interred. “When they think that death is approaching, they carry out the sick person into a thicket near the kraal, and leave him to expire alone; for they have a great dread of being near, or touching, a corpse, and imagine that death brings misfortune on the living when it occurs in a hut or kraal.” (p. 357)

George Thompson: Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa (London, 1827)

Modern hospice is a much nicer. Not all new things are dumb.

Liminal states defy language. How do we process them? This data is injected into the emotional centers of our brains. This is straight-up PTSD. These emotional memories need to be moved into rational, symbolic domains, quick.

Pills cannot do this work for us. EMDR helps, but there are other, better weapons.

【the deer】 is our weapon. 【the deer】 is the ultimate anti-PTSD device.

Day of the Dead provides some interesting insight into the liminal between life and death. The Theory Machine will drone on about how quaint the festival is, while totally missing the damn point. They’ll talk aesthetics: skeleton facepaint, pan de muertos, and colorful paper. These people are in the business of doing 4th grade book reports. We can totally ignore them. Instead, we’ll use 【the deer】.

【the deer】’s understanding of Day of the Dead:

Day of the Dead gives concrete, symbolic meaning to the liminal space between life and death. Performing a death ritual moves data from your emotional memory into your rational, symbolic memory.

This is how you remove PTSD from the community. You can do your own research, but it’s generally accepted, even by the Theory Machine, that mental health in ancient, ritual society was really damned good.

The people who work for the Theory Machine, however, don’t like categories. Categories, to them, are too absolutist. They will say that humans, dead or alive, are all the same carbon junk. Perhaps pickup trucks don’t necessarily have beds, and 2+2 can equal a lot of things. This kind of thinking has been called postmodernism.

If postmodern thinking is opposed to categories, then a postmodern thinker will store data in the emotional parts of their brains. PTSD and depression are immanent. Don’t bother listening to postmodern thinkers.

The Liminality of Human Culture

Music about uncertainty, films about transitions from one place to another, the story arc of the character from beginning to end. The liminal space between here and there, between life and death, and between new and decaying, is aesthetic.

All art is liminal in some way, by virtue of it being analog. Because the real world is analog.

Binary decay, by contrast, has no liminal. There’s no aesthetic. If binary media decays, there’s no liminal, and the art disappears. If art disappears, there’s no culture.

Some say we haven’t had culture since 2010. Maybe it’s because pop culture no longer decays.

Of course buildings and paintings still decay, but those represent less than 0.1% of our pop culture. Our gods aren’t granite statues or massive murals. Granite gods decay and can be toppled, which undermines their divinity.

No, our gods are delivered to us digitally via our streaming platform of choice. And these gods are just as perfect today as they were 20 years ago. You can’t protest and topple Captain America. You can only disappear him permanently.

Censorship leaves burned books and bones behind. It’s analog and aesthetic.

But disappearing something digitally is totally strange, unnatural, and non-aesthetic.

There’s no longer an aesthetic, and so there’s no more culture. If humans produce anything with their hands, it’s culture. If we aren’t producing culture, are we still human?

Aside from airport bookstores and some blurays in the checkout line, and clothing lines, the media distribution system for pop culture is almost entirely binary. Streaming and DRM is either on or off. You don’t really own your mediaSoon you won’t own your seat. Or your toothbrush. Or anything.

Multimedia platforms will allow some old media to avoid decay. Acceptable items that avoid the censer will be remastered, up-rezzed, and re-released.

The rest of the media are off the shelves, left to decay until they’re forgotten. It’s far easier than burning it in the street.

When we listen to Vaporwave, we grasp for that moment of decay. The decay of culture.

The postmodern way of thinking, with its aversion to categories, is spreading throughout the entire Theory Machine. It’s no wonder it can’t explain anything, whereas 【the deer】 has no problems explaining anything.

Maybe 【the deer】 can help us further. Maybe it can help us let go of the past, and begin working on actual solutions.

  • Continue the conversation below, or chat with me in my Telegram channel at

(I’m blogging more regularly as I prep an indie action-comedy animation I wrote called Lester. Most people think it’s too ambitious to do something like this, but they said that when I did Contour as well. So I’m blogging about it, hoping that more of you will try it out someday. Lester will be a mostly open-source process.)

I’ve written many feature film scripts. From the time I open Final Draft to exporting a version 1 pdf file, it often took me a year or two.

Writing 90 pages in Final Draft (or Celtx or whatever) is an organizational nightmare. I learned the hard way not to even open Final Draft until the very last minute.

And that’s how I managed to write the first draft of my action comedy Lester in 3 days.

When you build a house, you don’t start building after your first Home Depot run. First you source materials, get tools, cut wood, pay off the local mob, etc. All this is planning. The same goes for writing your script. Before you open Final Draft, you should have a lengthy pre-production process.

For Lester, I started with concept design.

  1. Who is the hero?
  2. What does he want in the beginning?
  3. What gets in his way?
  4. How does he resolve this?
  5. What does he want now?

#2 is where I found the vector of my concept. The hero’s desires might change as he undergoes some kind of conversion, but the driving force is the hero’s need to accomplish the mission.

Once I had a concept, I wrote a simple Save the Cat-style beat sheet. The description of each beat varies, but here’s the template I used for a simple 90-page action concept:

  1. Opening Image (page 1) – The world in disarray
  2. Theme (1-4) – Hero’s strengths
  3. Setup (1-9) – Who the hero really is
  4. Catalyst (10) – Hero changes course
  5. Debate (11-22) – Exploring the new world
  6. Break Into 2 (22) – Make a decision
  7. B Story (22-26) – Enter the new world
  8. Fun & Games (26-45) – Explore the new world (trailer stuff)
  9. Midpoint (45) – Something bad (or false hope)
  10. Bad Guys Close In (45-65) – Self-explanatory
  11. All Is Lost (65) – Someone dies
  12. Dark Night of the Soul (65-75) – Hero wishes he never did this
  13. Break Into 3 (75) – New plan
  14. Finale (75-90) – Execute new plan
  15. Closing Image (90) – The world is fixed

I kept each beat succinct without getting bogged down with details. For example, in Catalyst I wrote, “Lester takes a new job.” If the beats made sense, I expanded on them.

If the beats caused plot holes or pacing issues, I’d move them around. I originally crammed a ton of story into the setup: we meet Lester in the middle of a key relationship, and the Catalyst was “Lester gets unexpected news”. I moved this beat to the B Story so I could instead introduce Lester to this person for the viewer, which was much better paced.

The beat sheet is the testing lab. I’d often end up writing a dense, 12-page beat sheet, only to scrap it when it became bloated. Sometimes I’d lose track of what the whole point of the movie was and just start over from scratch to clear my head, a very clarifying process. I would always go back to What does the hero want? If I couldn’t answer that, I would start from scratch again.

The beats grew increasingly detailed as I became settled on Lester’s pacing. I turned it into an outline format, with roughly one chunk equaling one page. I’d include location details, dialog, and whatever else needed to color the world.

  • Setup
    1. Lester’s real life
      1. Lester teaches out of a strip mall
      2. Interaction with a local
      3. Bills to pay
    2. Lester’s secret life
      1. They’re running a secret lair here
      2. Lester’s mentor helps out
    3. Lester’s mentor
      1. Helps Lester be the best he can be
        1. Mentor, “Lester, great job.”
        2. Lester, “Lot of good it’s doing us, check out these bills.”
        3. Mentor, “Forget the bills, we’re doing good things.”
        4. Lester, “Then we need to get better at it.”
      2. Lester shows Mentor the numbers
    4. Theme restated
      1. Mentor reminds Lester why they do this
      2. Lester puts his headphones in, he’s heard this song and dance before

I spent a year on Lester‘s beat sheet. A year. That’s what it took for this story to make sense.

But Eric, why not just spend a year in Final Draft?

Because fixing your beats in Final Draft is like pouring a slab after tiling your roof. It’s terrible planning. It’s the opposite of planning actually. Final Draft is not a planning tool. It’s for finishing. Do not plan anything in Final Draft.

Writing in Final Draft also gives a false sense of finality. You start feeling like, “This is the one!” Most likely it’s not and you’re going to throw it away.

By the way, a year in Final Draft is nothing. In fact, I bet you’ve got at least one unfinished script in Final Draft that’s 3 years old. Or 10 years old. We all have those. If I can make a very gentle recommendation, close Final Draft, and start over with a beat sheet. Limit your time in Final Draft as much as possible.

If you want to make clear, coherent beats, do not open Final Draft. Write in Notepad++ or Open Office, or use paper and pen. Find a good note-taking device for when you’re driving or walking around. I’ve tried Post-it notes and 3×5 cards and found they were too hard to track, but your results may differ. You can chisel rock if you want, just don’t go to Final Draft yet.

In the end I wrote a 30-page beat sheet with nearly-final dialog. Editing dialog within the beat sheet is easy too. It’s easier to gauge flow and write more freely. Concepts can be grouped so we don’t rehash the same point over and over.

With a final beat sheet in hand, I copied one chunk at a time, pasted it into Final Draft, and formatted it. After tweaking dialog, fleshing out action scenes, and pacing it properly, I had a 90-page script after 3 days.

C’mon, man, I thought you came up with your story in 3 days in Final Draft, you click-baiter. Ah, you’ve missed the point.

The purpose is to make a workable first draft in Final Draft and get feedback. Working through your beats to create a first draft is painful and torturous inside Final Draft, but outside of Final Draft, it’s fun and energizing. Use whatever technique you need when building your beat sheet, EXCEPT FINAL DRAFT.

Send your script out for review. I used (and recommend) getting script coverage from Script Reader Pro. Pay them to rip it apart. The feedback will hurt. Your pacing will be bad, you won’t be able to answer basic questions like, “What is your hero trying to do in Act 2?” and stuff won’t tie together at the end. That’s a small sampling of the issues with my first draft.

They also send you a report card.

After receiving coverage for Lester draft 1, I spent a few weeks in Notepad++ and Open Office tackling the 86 problems they listed. Fixing these problems required a page 1 rewrite.

Fortunately, I did not spent 3 years in Final Draft. I only spent 3 days there. A page oner would be easy. And it was.

I rewrote the beat sheet from scratch. This meant moving beats around for better pacing, changing the villain, removing one of my favorite action scenes and writing an entirely different finale. The entire location of the movie was more centralized, which was an opportunity to build a more coherent world that Lester lived in.

I also took some time to get inspired by some classics like Rock & Rule and uncover old gems like Looker. Watching movies with your coverage notes in mind can drastically change your beat sheet, even your concept, for the better.

After another month, I wrote the second draft of Lester in 4 days and sent that off for coverage, and received 10. 2 more weeks in Notepad++, another page 1 rewrite (a 90% rewrite anyway) and we had a pretty nice draft 3.

Stay away from Final Draft until you have a massive, overly detailed beat sheet, and then bang that thing out in 3 days. You might enjoy writing your story again this way.

If you’ve made a pitch in the past ten years, you understand the euphoric sensation when someone says, “I didn’t see that coming!” But working that twist into your narrative in a meaningful way only results in pain and misery. The “twist” is good for pitches, but consider ditching it as soon as outlining phase starts. With most twist ideas, the character arc suddenly hits a brick wall and the character’s growth was largely for nothing. If it’s still workable, it might add a few extra tenths of a point to your IMDB rating. But if you struggle on with it anyway just to give a big “f*ck you” to the audience then you should at least include complimentary lube with your DVD.

Recently I posted about story structure. Typically, the entire story has 40 or so scenes, each one with a beginning and end. What to do with the stuff in between? That’s where more structure comes in, and you can literally use the same structure to figure out the beats of a scene. This way, there’s an emotional change in every scene, which keeps us glued to our seats.

Fight scenes fall into the same category. A well-structured fight scene keeps the pace going, instills drama, and drives the story. I’ve got a rough template for when I script my own fight scenes. Please steal it, or if you can improve upon it email it to me so I can steal it back. Note that if the fight is just a small bit in the story, or a little line of text in a script, character growth may not be necessary and this structure won’t apply.

  1. Problem – Show the problem faced by the protagonist. Secondary dangers are a plus. Environmental danger, other exterior motivations to win, etc.
    1. Theme – Demonstrate the problem in more detail. Villain gets to show off.
    2. Reality check – Problem is “brought home” in some way. Some non-debilitating injury for the hero, etc.
    3. Search for answers – Give the hero a little bit of ammunition, but not enough to
  2. First Answer
    1. Hero discovers something that gives him an edge (This may be the only “turning point” if the fight needs to be shorter, if so jump to the end)
    2. Execution of the plan – Movement (have fun here, demonstrate how the plan works)
    3. Counter – Villain pulls a new trick out, putting hero on edge again (more movement)
  3. (Second Answer – Optional)
    1. Similar to first answer. This might involve a different element altogether, like an environmental variable.
  4. Danger
    1. Near-death – Give the hero some real damage, bigger Movement
  5. Third Answer
    1. Final intelligent answer by the hero. Use a major theme (ease up on Movement)
    2. If that doesn’t work, show something especially life-threatening from the villain
    3. Tie it up – pull the rabbit out of the hat. Make it interesting. The more human the better. If this is the finale, pull something from early in the film to wrap the entire film up in one move.
  6. Finishing blow

There are a million different ways to do a fight scene, but this is about as general as I can make it while still sticking to the standard story structure.

Since I’m juggling ten different concepts and have to choose two for our next project lineup, I have to find quick ways to organize them and present them to interested parties. I’ve developed a rough template that I’ve started using when formulating a synopsis, which is a combination of Save The Cat styling and my own ideas. You’ll find a similar modelling in any Blockbuster action film. I’ve added page numbers just so you get a sense of pacing, which are also taken from Save The Cat.

  1. Opening Image (1)  – The world is a bad place or the hero’s in a bad spot, and the final image will be the opposite of this. This can be reversed for “downfall” stories. It’s Act 1.
  2. Theme (1-5) – Describe the hero’s predicament but give us a reason to like him
  3. Daily Life (1-9) – Go into detail what needs help, particularly:
    1. Work life
    2. Home life
    3. Fun life
  4. Disruption (10-11) – Something happens that will cause the hero to act
  5. Debate (12-22) – Should he act? Give him reasons
    1. Yes because of work life
    2. Yes because of personal life
    3. (Yes because it’d be fun – optional)
  6. Decision (22-23) – Hero makes the decision. Do not let anyone else make the decision.
  7. New World (24-25) – Introduce what the hero is up against now that he’s decided to take the hard way out. This is Act 2, but I like to split Act 2 into two sections to keep it organized, so let’s say “Act 2A”.
  8. Trailer Meat (25-50) – This is “trailer material” where you show the fun stuff the hero has to do to accomplish his new goal. It’s where people will begin to fall asleep, so keep it interesting, throw lots of difficult things at the hero, hard decisions, etc.
    1. Turn the story once
    2. Turn the story again
    3. Turn the story once more
  9. Tent Pole (50) – You’ve reached the peak of Act 2, do something big now, either a false positive or false negative, and reverse it later.
  10. Tension (50-70) – Bad guys are on to him. I call this Act 2B.
    1. Beat 1, get away
    2. Beat 2, get away
    3. Beat 3, reverse the Tent Pole
  11. Something Bad (70) – Take something from the hero.
  12. Devil’s Advocate (70-80) – Make him doubt the goal, convince audience that the hero was better off at the beginning of the film. This is the climax of Act 2.
  13. Realization (80) – Hero has a new lease on life, give him a reason to continue, something he learned or a realization that the job can still be done. Begin Act 3.
  14. Finale (80-100) – The easy stuff, take us to the finish line
    1. Gather the team – Get people together, formulate a plan.
    2. Storm the castle
    3. High tower surprise – Harder than it seemed. A double-cross, maybe the villain has been on to him the whole time
    4. Dig deep within – Revisit Devil’s Advocate, the “Realization” fell through, but there’s something deeper that can drive the hero, formulate the “new plan” in total opposition to the enemy
    5. New plan – Use the new plan and win
  15. Final Image (100) – Opposite of beginning, hero has what he set out to get.

Some feel this outline is too stringent, and I’m always curious to see what other kind of structure could drive a film. There are plenty of films that deviate from this conventional structure, but I get the feeling that deviations tend to be either a matter of ignorance, or rebellion. This structure isn’t the word of god, but it tends to emerge because it’s an evolution of storytelling that maximizes drama in a 90-120 minute film. Conventional action films can (and did) cut out the Daily Life (Fun) section and jump into the Catalyst more quickly, and shortened the Devil’s Advocate since there was less inner conflict to deal with, which got the action film script down to 90 pages. But if you’re going for political thrillers, Daily Life and Devil’s Advocate require more explanation and are more likely to drive the film into 120+ page territory. If you’re going for historical drama, where 50% of the fun is in the exposition of the daily life and mental workings of 1850 Victorian England or pre-revolutionary France, we’re talking 150+ pages.

I personally have no idea how to write 150 pages. Maybe I’ll never have to. We’re talking Acts 4 and 5 at that point, or at least a VERY interesting Act 2 that keeps people on the edges of their seats. This may not be tolerable for an action crowd, since that audience demands the hero get shit done, and if he fumbles about for over an hour before saving the princess then he’s losing our hearts with every minute.

A fight scene has the same structure, just simplified. I’ll do one of those next, with lots of spots for variables, that will be useful for scripting a dramatic fight scene that keeps people interested for minutes.

Action films are very structure-based, so they require solid construction to guide you through the dramatic turns that can keep the audience glued to their seats in between action sets. Save The Cat is just right for the job. You might get six pages through it before your idea is magically re-ignited, which makes this a great re-read whenever you’re stumped, but try to at least get through the life-changing “beat sheet” section before going back to your script.