I have a novice mind when it comes to script writing, but Superman vs Batman made me realise there are millionaires who can’t write for toffee.
There are pretty simple tests I apply to watching films, and it might save you two hours if you can decide quite quickly if a film is going to suck.
There are also relevant lessons to be learned for general business communications and learning videos, which you might borrow to be more convincing.
Point #1 Subtext
In bad films you will find characters saying what they mean or explaining the story with the writers voice (exposition).
Good films in contrast explain the story or explore character traits implicitly. This means relying on the audience’s emotional intelligence to read character motivations, and inner conflict, from their actions.
The best films are those where the character’s behaviour shows you who they are. Think of the scene in the Shawshank Redemption where Andy plays music to the prison thereby openly defying the warden. It’s sans dialogue but it tells you a lot.
Andy’s actions, not his words, show you that freedom still exists for him because he’s innocent. And that to a degree, the warden can’t control Andy no matter what he threatens him with.
Business relevance: you don’t have to explain everything in your message. If your audience can reach the right conclusion without you telling them what it should be, they will be more likely to buy into it.
Point #2 A reason to act
The first act of a film using a typical 3 act structure involves establishing normality for the main character (protagonist) and then introducing a call to action.
In Taken starring Liam Neeson, the normality is a retired, government operative who worries about his daughter going away because he knows what the world is really like.
The call to action – the move from act 1 to act 2 – is the daughter getting taken. The stronger the reason to act, the more compelling the story overall.
Business relevance: always include a call to action in your communications. Most corporate comms I’ve seen are long, leadership messages that don’t explain what action you’re actually supposed to be taking.
Point #3 Wants and needs
They say there are only six plot lines, but essentially every good story is a journey for a protagonist to find out who they really are. It’s all about identity.
Most traditional film structures follow a character arc. In a nutshell a protagonist goes after what they think will make them happy, until they reach the furthest point from their goal (in act 2). When they change.
Only at their lowest ebb do our heroes or heroines begin to understand what they want, isn’t what they need. The third act typically shows the main character’s fulfillment of their need.
Let’s take the original Toy Story. Woody begins by wanting to be Andy’s favourite toy and resisting change. He eventually realises when all hope is lost, that what really matters is making his kid happy. Only then does he accept Buzz isn’t a threat but a partner.
Business relevance: understand your audience’s wants and needs. Provide them with their wants to peak their interest and remember you have to convince them of their needs.
Point #4 The antagonist
Many films can be judged on the quality of their baddies. Star Wars probably stands out as having the best line up of all time in this respect.
Antagonists are essential to the development of the protagonist because they put barriers in the way to success.
Typically midway in a film there is a key moment when the protagonist starts chasing the antagonist, rather than the other way around.
Alien 2 is a great example of this as Ripley goes from a victim to a woman with a solid plan to escape. She eventually makes her last stand in a yellow crane-like contraption (the Power Loader).
It’s probably worth mentioning that an antagonist doesn’t have to be a person. As long as it’s a force acting against the main character, it can fill the baddy roll. Think Jaws.
Business relevance: baddies are an effective way to stimulate action and build a cohesive culture. Identity is about who you are not, as much as it’s about who you are.
Point #5 Stories
Stories are basically the life-blood of all communication. Clever storytellers have the power to start wars and save lives. There are plenty of lessons you can take from casting a critical eye over your favourite film and analysing its narrative.
Building a deeper understanding of stories can add to your pleasure of them, rather than reducing it. A little like staring at a work of art and understanding the history and complexity hidden within the piece.
Or tasting the grape, the climate and the soil of a favourite wine. Complexity is beautiful too.