We've seen it done before.
The hero is thrust into another world.
They join a team.
And ultimately emerge victorious.
So how can writers take that formula and make it feel refreshing and new?
One way is to raise the stakes to cosmic proportions.
That's exactly what Christopher Nolan and Jonah Nolan did with "Interstellar".
In this video, we're going to see just how much the Nolans
played by screenwriting rules to keep us hooked.
I imported the script in StudioBinder
and ran it through the "Save The Cat" structure
and the results were surprising.
So whether Nolans able to save the cat along with the human race?
Page to Picture - Intro
Before we go beyond the event horizon,
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So this question got me thinking,
what makes a story feel cliched?
Is it the overuse of genre tropes?
"- It's what we call a global killer."
Or is it the structure itself?
"- My god.
What do we do?"
"Save The Cat" may provide a structure,
but that doesn't mean there isn't room to make unexpected choices.
"- Just what you think you're doing, Dave?"
With "Interstellar", the Nolans swapped out tired tropes
and replaced them with big ideas.
"- Well, we used to look up in the sky and wonder...
...at our place in the stars.
Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."
Blake Snyder's "Save The Cat" beat sheet
details 15 critical story beats that span a three-act structure.
Good structure has a huge effect on a film success.
So let's see how "Interstellar" stacks up against the beat sheet.
Let's begin with the first beat, the opening image.
This is our introduction to the world.
And a counterpoint to the final image.
A thoughtful opening image has the potential of establishing an overarching message
and a powerful way to preface a bookend for a film.
In "Interstellar", the opening image is a Dorman symbol for hope
and a personal full-blown desire.
Remember this moment.
We'll see how it comes back around in the end.
Next is the theme stated.
This scene or sequence sets up the moral of your story.
By stating the theme, you're establishing a clear backbone,
that'll guide the protagonist and the audience through their journey.
In this case, Murph articulates the theme nicely.
"- I looked it up. It's called a poltergeist.
- Dad, tell her.
- Well, it's not very scientific, Murph.
- You said science was about admitting what we don't know.
- She's got you there. - Hey.
Start looking after our stuff."
This is the thematic conflict at the heart of "Interstellar".
Is it possible that science alone will save us?
Or will our salvation come from another source?
With the theme stated, we enter the setup.
Where we get to know our hero
and why we should root for them.
We established the status quo of the world and the knowing conflicts,
both internal and external.
Earth is in crisis.
And the external stakes couldn't be higher.
"- Hold up.
- Take a seat."
The school principal positions himself on one side of the debate.
"- We don't need more engineers.
The world needs farmers."
Making Cooper the idealistic outsider.
We learn two things in this scene.
Cooper wants the best for his children.
"- What about college?"
And his faith in science puts him at odds with popular opinion.
"- Look, Coop, you have to be realistic.
- You're ruling my son out for college now?"
In the setup, we establish these two guiding principles
that endear us to Cooper and carry him through his journey.
With the setup complete,
the plot needs the catalyst.
"- Professor Brian."
This is a scene that sets the plot in motion.
"- Now you need to tell me what your plan is to save the world."
NASA asks Cooper to lead a mission to find a habitable planet.
"- That Wormhole lets us travel to other stars.
- They've put potentially habitable worlds right within our reach.
- Plan B: a population bomb.
Over 5,000 fertilized eggs weighing in at just under 900 kilos.
- We're not meant to save the world.
We're meant to leave it."
The mission will be the ultimate test of the thematic premise.
Will Cooper's faith in science be able to save the human race?
Which leads directly to the debate.
This is a moment when the hero is undecided.
Should they continue their quest?
Or turn back?
So far, Nolan is lockstep with the beat sheet.
Cooper's torn, but he knows that to save his children
he has to leave them.
"- Don't make me to leave like this, Murph."
Cooper's debate is heartbreaking
and the stakes couldn't be higher.
"- Go for main engine start. T-minus 10..."
When the debate answered it's time to break into two.
In other words, the transition to act two.
This is when the hero sets off on their quest.
Leaving everything behind
Cooper departs on the Endurance.
"- We are coming up on the Endurance.
- Target locked. - Target locked.
- Well done."
With the mission now underway...
"- Good job."
...we can add a new thematic premise.
Something that will complicate Cooper's devotion to science.
I found this in the B story, the next beat.
The B story is the helper story.
It might be structured around the love interest.
Or in this case, a foil.
Cooper's B story involves Dr. Brand.
"- Who are you? - Dr. Brand."
Who introduces a thematic shift from faith and science
to faith in something that isn't quantifiable.
"- It's not that simple. - Well, sure it is."
This will come into play a little later,
but we get a hint of their clashing ideologies here.
"- You don't think nature can be evil?
- No. Formidable, frightening, but...
...no, not evil. - Hmm.
- Is a lion evil because it rips a gazelle to shreds?"
Brand was written to challenge Cooper's rational side
with her appeal to natural law.
Remember Beat 2?
The theme stated.
"- You said science is about admitting what we don't know."
It's starting to connect now.
Which leads us to the next beat.
The fun and games beat.
"- Everybody ready to say goodbye to our solar system?"
- Here we go.
There's a sequence of scenes where the hero explores the new world, literally.
But finds themselves outmatched.
"- I'm gonna spiral down on top of it. Everybody hang on!
The Endurance lands on Miller's planet
and quickly discovers that Cooper's mission
is going to be more difficult than expected.
"- Those aren't mountains.
In this beat, to see that the mission is already taken a considerable toll.
We've reached the midpoint.
It's the part of the story where there is no turning back.
"- How long for the engines, CASE? - A minute or two.
- Well, we don't have it."
When the stakes are raised,
either with a false victory or false defeat.
It's often when a time clock is introduced.
And we know how much Nolan likes playing with time.
Their failure on Miller's planning costs them decades.
"- I've waited years.
- How many years.
By now it must be.
- It's twenty-three years...
...four months, eight days.
- Messages span 23 years.
- Play it from the beginning.
- Hey, Dad.
- Today, I'm the age you were when you left.
- You son of a b*tch."
Low on fuel,
they must choose only one of the two remaining planets.
"- We no longer have the fuel to visit both prospects, so
we have to choose."
It's at this point that the A and B stories collide.
"- Edmunds' data is better, but Dr. Mann is the one still transmitting, so...
"- We should vote.
- Well, if we're going to vote, there's something you should know.
She's in love with Wolf Edmunds.
- Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving...
...that transcends dimensions of time and space."
Cooper decides to follow logic over love.
"- TARS, chart a course for Dr. Mann's."
With stakes raised and themes restated
the time clock starts.
If Cooper wrong, the entire mission fails.
But before things can get better,
they need to get a little worse.
This is Beat 10.
The bad guys close in.
In this beat, the hero must face antagonistic forces.
In doing so, we connect with the heroes' determination.
"- I lied to you.
There was no way to help us.
- Did my father know?"
Cooper's internal bad guys surface
when he learns that his decision to lead the mission
was based on a lie.
"- This was all a sham.
Did my father know too?"
And Dr. Mann is revealed as the external bad guy.
"- I never really considered the possibility that my planet wasn't the one.
Nothing worked out the way it was supposed to.
"- Cooper. Cooper!"
Cooper barely escapes with his life,
but his problems only grow in the next beat.
All is lost.
This beat puts the heroes chances for success at the lowest yet,
forcing the hero to question everything.
"- I don't know what he said to you
but I am taking command of the Endurance.
- Okay, we're out of orbit."
For Cooper, this happens when he realizes that the time slippage
means he will never see his kids again.
"- We don't have enough life support to make it back to Earth.
But I have a plan.
We let Gargantua pull us down close to her horizon.
Then a powered slingshot around, launching us towards Edmunds' planet.
- Manually? -That's what I'm here for."
Cooper sacrifices himself, so that Brand can complete the mission.
"- Ranger 2, prepare to detach. - What?
No! No! Cooper! What are you doing?
- Newton's third law. You got to leave something behind."
Cooper and TARS jettison into Gargantua - the black hole.
He passes through its event horizon.
The boundary at which not even light can escape.
This leads us directly into the next bit.
The dreaded dark night of the soul.
This is where the hero has lost all hope
and they are forced to reflect on the theme introduced in the second beat.
Instead of death, Cooper's sacrifice puts him inside the Tesseract.
A mysterious construct where time is represented as a physical dimension.
It is within the Tesseract
that Cooper is forced to relive his greatest mistake forever.
"- If you're leaving, just go.
No, don't go. Don't go, you idiot.
Don't let me leave, Murph!"
This mission has failed.
"- No! No! No!"
But then he finds a solution that he never could have expected.
This is the revelation beat where the hero discovers a new idea.
Or hatches a new plan.
...can cross the dimensions.
Give me the coordinates for NASA in binary."
Whatever it is, the hero is going all the way.
"- They didn't choose me. They choose her."
The Tesseract was constructed by ultra advanced future humans just for Cooper
to communicate with Murph.
"- It's not a ghost.
With that, we descend into the finale.
During the finale, the hero finishes what he started.
A riveting finale is broken up into five distinct sub beats.
First, to gather the team that'll storm the castle
and execute the new plan
followed by a high tower surprise
when the plan fails,
forcing the protagonists to dig deep down
and finally, execute a new plan.
To make it home,
Cooper must make it through these final beats.
Cooper gathers his team and executes the plan.
He enlists TARS to help communicate the quantum data to Murph.
"- TARS, translate the data into Morse and feed it to me."
Which she successfully decodes.
"- Did it work?
- I think it might have."
Success? Kind of.
Cooper is ejected out of the Tesseract.
"- What happens now?
- The Rangers found you with only minutes left in your oxygen supply.
Actually, you were 124 years old."
The Hightower surprise comes in when Cooper's rescued.
Only to find Murph on her death bed.
"- I was your ghost.
- I know...
Cooper digs deep to leave Murph once again.
The final sub beat of the finale.
Cooper executes a new plan
to save the one who told him his most valuable lesson.
Cooper understands that pure science can only bring us so far.
To see the greater truths of the universe
we must embrace that, which is unmeasurable.
Thus, the thematic conflict of the movie is resolved.
In Nolan's film, love transcends logic.
The final beat is the final image.
This beat is the inverse of the opening image
and a snapshot of the world after.
Remember this opening image?
Well, this is the final image.
The "Interstellar" ending has Brands setting up a colony on Edmund's planet.
We get a glimpse of our future
made possible only by embracing that symbol of hope we began with.
"Interstellar" takes the typical hero's journey and adds five dimensions to it.
Is Cooper the hero?
Is it Murf?
Perhaps they both are.
The Nolan's "Interstellar" script,
especially the ending,
is open to many interpretations.
And that's what makes it such great example of screenwriting.
If you're plotting out your story,
it's helpful to work within proven structures.
"- Are you telling me that you built a time machine?"
But think about how to buck the trend.
Raise the stakes.
And shoot for the stars.
That does it for this episode.
Let us know which film you'd like us to break down next.
"- Go ahead, make my day."
And check out "Save The Cat" story structure app
to plan everything out really easily.
And when you're ready to write your script,
StudioBinder screenwriting software is all you need.
It's a little thing called love.
See you in the next one.