Countdown to Nashville: Cats and the Quest for Structure

English: Skyline of Nashville, Tennessee.

Image via Wikipedia

We’re 54 days from the start of the Nashville Film Festival where, of course, Duke & The King will have its world premiere. And there’s a lot of work to be done on the film between now and then. Kris and I are going to try to keep you all updated through this Countdown to Nashville series.

This week, we’ve both taken some time to watch the film and make notes of every moment, no matter how large or small, that can be improved upon before the premiere. The biggest concern for any filmmaker (or it should be) is to have an unbreakable story structure. The reason most films fail, whether financially or as an experience, is poor structure. That’s where the cats come in.

This week, I’ve also been reading a book by the late screenwriter Blake Snyder entitled Save the Cat. It is the definitive book on story structure in Hollywood today. By employing Snyder’s “beat sheet” – a chart showing the crucial moments necessary for any good screen story – we were able to determine that our story instincts were mostly spot-on with our rough cut.

The flip side, however, is it also helped us determine where the film was lacking. For example, neither of us were satisfied with the existing ending. Comparing the film to the beat sheet showed us exactly why.

Why does any of this matter? Why not simply tell the story in a chronological, linear fashion and let the story points fall where they may? Because that just doesn’t work. Snyder claims that any good, memorable film will fit the beats he employed. And I am inclined to believe him.

We want this film to be more than a merely informative document of Duke’s life. We want it to be his story. Stories require things like goals, conflict, loss, victory and change. And the most satisfying stories have those things happen in the just the right way. Just as we would never want to see a band take the stage and all play in different keys and different time signatures, we don’t want to see a story that doesn’t hold to the beat.

Here’s hoping the changes we’re working on now will create a great experience for you!

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