Sunday, July 12, 2009

Collateral - Story Breakdown - Act Two.

I received some very positive feedback over the "story breakdown" blog, so I thought I might as well continue. Bare with me if you're not a writer. This stuff really is fascinating, though. And once you get over the concept that everything in fiction, movies, plays etc is scripted or has a formula, you begin to appreciate what it takes to create a blockbuster. What's equally fascinating is that many writers, some I know personally, don't sit down with a formula in mind when they begin a project. Instinctively, they understand that the 3-Act structure works, even if they're not consciously aware they're using it.

To recap, Act One in Collateral starring Jamie Fox (Max) and Tom Cruise (Vincent)

- scene opens with Vincent and a stranger secretly switch valises at the airport.
- we meet Max, a cabby with big dreams. We're introduced to LA at night.
- we meet Max's love interest, Annie. This also depicts the theme of Collateral. Chance meetings can change your life. They share their dreams with each other.
- Max picks up Vincent, drives him to his first destination.
- Max falls prey to greed and agrees to drive Vincent around the rest of the night eventho it's against policy.
- Vincent goes inside the first stop and a few moments later, a dead man lands on top of Max's cab. Body is placed in trunk. Climax of Act One.
- End of Act One is Max realizing Vincent is a killer, and he is now his hostage.

Act One ends 19 minutes into the movie. As mentioned in my previous post on story breakdown, generally Act One ends anywhere within the first 15 to 20 minutes into the story. In a book, this would occur in the first 1/3 of the book. First quarter if the story has four acts instead of three. Collateral happens to have three.

If you doubtful, the next time you're watching a video, keep an eye on the DVD timer. The first dramatic incident that puts conflict in the protagonist/hero's path will take place any time after the first 15 minutes of the movie. I promise.

See if you can pinpoint the specific key elements of the 2nd Act: beginning, middle & climax. Notice how they coincide with the mounting action and dilemmas Max faces.

Collateral - Act Two. (the middle and dramatic shift in the story)

19:11 - is the end of Act One and the beginning of Max's first dramatic goal - to survive Vincent.

20:00 - beginning of Act Two. Max's world is falling apart. He's literally journeying into the frightening unknown.

30:00 - Max is stopped by police. Just when situation is critical, they're called away. Max is left tied to steering wheel while Vincent takes care of his 2nd hit.

35: 00 - Max is robbed by thugs who steal Vincent's valise. Vincent returns as they're leaving and kills them.

45: 00 - Vincent takes Max inside a jazz club. Vincent seems to relax. They chat with a musician until bar empties. Vincent appears to like him. He kills the man in front of Max.

49:00 - Cops share elevator with Max and Vincent inside hospital. Vincent connects with Max's mother, driving a wedge further between them.

52:00 - Max runs. He throws valise over fence.

54:00 - Detective learns about the 3 thugs deaths. He puts 2 and 2 together.

61:00 - Max is forced to enter nightclub and ask mob boss for reminding hit list. Police spot him & trace his license plate no..

63:00 - Max takes on the persona of Vincent to intimidate gangsters, so he can get out alive.

72:00 - Police mistake Max for mob member. Detective doesn't buy it.

74:00 - Police discern where Max is headed because they know who the 4th hit is.

78:40 - Police surround the nightclub where Vincent's next target sits.

84:00 - Shoot-out inside club. Detective saves Max's life.

85:00 - Vincent kills Detective, the only person who knows Max is an innocent bystander.

90:00 - As they speed away, Max takes a close look at himself and the situation.

91:36 - Max crashes the cab. Vincent gets away.

93:36 - Policeman rescues Max, but when he spots body in trunk he attempts to arrest Max.

Act two ends with Max overpowering the policeman and getting away. But not before Act Three begins. Vincent's valise has broken open, and sitting on top is a photo of Annie with her business address.

Annie is 5th on Vincent's list.


  1. Your analysis continues to fascinate! I know the principle of acts in writing but have never looked for a comparison in the movies and I watch. Thanks for another interesting post.

  2. You're very welcomed, Carol. It was fun to do. And helpful. And inspiring. A win-win situation, for sure.


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