I’m excited to offer a partial Story Map for the 2008 drama, The Wrestler, written by Robert Siegel and directed by Darren Aronofsky. The full story map for The Wrestler is available in my book Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay. (Please note that the maps in the book are text-only; they do not contain images like some of the sample maps on my site.)
The Wrestler‘s running time is 105 minutes, which is closer to my suggested length of 110 pages that my Story Map paradigm is built on. Actually, anything in the 100-110 pages zone is gold, in my opinion, and this comes from working as a professional Story Analyst and experiencing the horror of being handed a 144 page script, for which I would be paid the same paltry amount as a 99 pager. Yikes.
Anyway, to your benefit, I’ve been mapping mostly longer films thus far on this blog, so I really wanted to post a film that is faster paced.
Some things to notice in The Wrestler screenplay Story Map:
- The Inciting Incident happens at page 5, rather than the normal 8 – 10 range. To this I say hey, the sooner the better! If you can get us into the action faster, go for it. What you do not want to do is slow it down — an Inciting Incident on page 15 is a very bad idea. You should also note that this is a “soft” Inciting Incident in that it’s an escalation of the previous scene. We already know Randy is down on his luck because he was wrestling in a school gym and the fight promoter handed him only a few bucks, telling him that attendance was down. So when he comes home to find himself locked out of his trailer because he hasn’t paid his rent, it’s not a big shocker. He’s not finding a dead body or finding out he has a kid he didn’t know about. But it’s still the Inciting Incident because it shows that his failures as a wrestler have now affected his home, his personal life. This type of soft Inciting Incident is easier to pull off in an indie Drama — a high-concept Hollywood movie would call for an event with more punch factor.
- There is a very clear delineation between External and Internal lines of action, built on the classic “work and love” model. External: Become a wrestling champion. Internal: Get the girl. In this case, it’s girls, as he’s trying to win over Cassidy, his new potential girlfriend and Stephanie, his estranged daughter. But Cassidy is more important to the story, thus she is introduced earlier, given more screen time and she is present in the end for Randy’s climactic decision to choose the wrestling ring over love.
- I’ve put the official Midpoint at page 60, the one hour mark, which is a common device in films, but as a Reader I always start looking for it around page 50 because it works best when it’s dead center in your screenplay. So a 100 page screenplay should have a Midpoint on or around page 50; a 110 pager, on or around page 55. I’m anxious if I have to wait until page 60, but I recognize the importance of the 60 minute mark since audiences are conditioned to expect 30 minute chapters. But 60 is the cut-off! Especially in a 110 page script because then your two halves will not be balanced and that’s no fun for anyone. No, it’s not the end of the world, but again: when a Reader’s job is to read hundreds of scripts they are conditioned to recognize and look for patterns, one of which is that you don’t put your Midpoint past page 60.
- Speaking of Midpoint, you’ll notice that there IS a worthy beat in The Wrestler at 55. This is the moment at which Cassidy gives Randy the advice to go to his daughter, which is the first true step in their romantic relationship and it sets him on the path toward redemption with both women, which he won’t achieve as this is a tragedy. So the ultimate point is, I could have been a smug bastard and put the Midpoint at 55 as it is in my ultra-official Story Map beat sheet but I chose to show more respect to the filmmakers. (This is the point in the article where you realize it’s not so much about The Wrestler as it is about me. But I digress. And I kid, but only because this fine movie is such a freakin’ downer in how it crushed my dream of someday being an HGH-fueled WWE star. Then I would beat up Mr. T. But enough about my fantasy life.)
- The film ends on an ambiguous note, with Randy flying through the air in mid-Ram Jam (Which I imagine might be the funnest part of a Ram Jam. At that point, everything’s possible, ya know?). Aronofsky has said that he feels Randy definitely dies in the ring after the film ends. I like the ambiguity as it doesn’t matter if he wins the fight, loses or even dies, he has made the wrong choice and his soul will never be saved. This works because his arc is complete.
- I must admit that Theme is a tough one in this story. I ultimately settled on “Pride goeth before the fall,” but there’s such a strong connection to the past in almost every scene that wonder if it’s closer to “You can’t reclaim the past” or perhaps more accurately, yet less eloquently put, “There’s no do-overs in life.” What do you think, gentle reader?
- Theme is a great device to “control” dialogue, as we see in many of the key lines in the film that reference the past: “I’m just an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone.” “90s sucked.” “Two words: Re. Match.” “The only ones that are gonna tell me when I’m through doing my thing are you people here.”
Enjoy THE WRESTLER STORY MAP.
Here’s the beautiful trailer:
Again, special thanks to the fantabulous Story Mapping skills of Dustin Tanner and good luck to him on getting his musical drama screenplay set up.