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Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Have you had a sense that Hollywood movies have felt a little too ‘cookie-cutter’ lately? Or that they feel somewhat unoriginal or a little too sugary?

John Williamson is a long time lecturer and publisher of games. He gave a great talk at PAX Prime 2016 on why you can tell exactly what is going to happen next in a Hollywood movie by looking at your watch. It’s narrative structure that has been picked up by writers and is now used in almost all our media from graphic novels to Hollywood productions. Just about every modern movie in the last 10 years uses it – it’s called The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The structure was outlined in his book called “Save the Cat!

Recently, this structure has been catching some flack for making our movies too cookie cutter or even deceptive. One very valid argument (in my opinion) is that lazy writers can rely on the well-understood emotional reaction the structure creates to communicate themes and messages as true without having to argue them or give any evidence they actually are true. In other words, instead of relying on substance of the story, it relies on the simple fact that the ‘Save the Cat!’ emotional ride guarantees a positive emotional reception for what you want.

Some say it lets writers be so lazy they need not even be concerned about the actual content of the story, but to just rely on the structure of the emotional ride to guarantee a positive response from the audience. Just change the actors, theme, or conflict and you have a brand new movie without changing much else.

You can find a link to John Williamson’s great presentation here, or download a copy here. He covers a HUGE range of story telling techniques from ancient to new, eastern and western, but the relevant section on Hollywood plots, however, starts at slide 111.

Here’s the breakdown of the structure, by minute. (This assumes a movie of 110 minutes. Adjust the times based on your movie’s total time based on the ratio laid out here.)

  1. Opening Image – (minute: 1) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
  2. Set-up – (minutes: 1-10) Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
  3. Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – (minute: 5) What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
  4. Catalyst – (minute: 12)The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
  5. Debate – (minutes: 12-25) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
  6. Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – (minute: 25) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
  7. B Story – (minute: 30) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
  8. Fun and Games/The Promise of the Premise – (minutes: 30-55) – This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
  9. Midpoint – (minute: 55) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
  10. Bad Guys Close In – (minutes: 55-75) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
  11. All is Lost – (minute: 75) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul – (minutes: 75-85) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
  13. Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – (minute: 85) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
  14. Finale – (minutes: 85-110) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
  15. Final Image – (minutes: 110) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

His presentation then shows how this structure works from modern movies like ‘The Fault with our Stars’, to “Indiana Jones” to video games like Super Mario Bros and Ico.

Try it out on the next movie you watch and see how accurate it is.

Backdoor IRA’s with Turbotax 2017

Backdoor IRA’s with Turbotax 2017

Ok – Turbotax 2017 has a problem with its entry ordering when handling backdoor Roth IRA’s. If you just follow the normal wizards, you’ll end up with the incorrect information for your IRA contributions either: pay too much tax or be informed you have to pay a penalty for having gone over the IRA contribution limits.

The solution comes in several parts to get the wizard to figure out the right data. Here’s 3 major pitfalls I hit:

  1. If you do automated imports of statements from your financial institute, or you simply enter your IRA contributions/transfers to Roth IRA on page 1/’Wages & Income’ section of your federal taxes BEFORE you enter the ‘Traditional and Roth IRA Contributions’ section on the ‘Deductions & Credits’ page 2, then it often calculates your backdoor Roth IRA incorrectly.
  2. Double-entry and confusion around the word ‘contributed’. You only ‘contributed’ to a traditional IRA. You didn’t contribute to your Roth IRA, you transferred money to it. This can lead to overpayment.
  3. Confusion about conversions and recharacterizations. They seem interchangeable, but are very different tax terms that result in massively different calculations and even severe penalties if done wrong.

 

Solutions and information:

There are number of write-ups on this topic, but here’s the ones that helped:

 

Checking your 8606 form

Once you’ve done the steps above, you should verify the generated 8606 form is correct. Have Turbotax generate a PDF with the worksheets and find the 8606 form. Here’s a site that has a great, and complete, description of backdoor Roth IRA handling shows you what your 1040 and generated 8606 forms should look like.

 

Studies increasingly clear: Uber, Lyft congests cities, not reduce it

Studies increasingly clear: Uber, Lyft congests cities, not reduce it

One promise of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft was fewer cars clogging city streets. But studies suggest the opposite: that ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles and their own feet and putting them in cars instead.

Read more of the studies cited on this interesting article from the AP:

It seems almost obvious when you stop and think about it. I guess we all fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well known is this: Jevons paradox:

In economics, Jevons paradox occurs when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises because of increasing demand. The Jevons paradox is perhaps the most widely known paradox in environmental economics.
Boundary Break

Boundary Break

Ever wanted to see where the mysterious G-man went when you saw him walk off-screen in Half-life, or whats behind mysterious doors in Fallout 4, or where Pyramid Head goes in Silent Hill 2, or how they do in-game mirrors?

Shesez has a Youtube series called Boundary Break. You might remember my previous post about Slippy Slides and his series Slippin Out, but I’ve found Shesez’s series to be much better and cover many more games.

Here’s some good ones to whet your appetite and show you all the crazy tricks developers use to make your favorite games:

Slippin Out – revealing how games are made using noclip/fly mode

Slippin Out – revealing how games are made using noclip/fly mode

Have you ever wanted to see what’s behind doors that were locked in your favorite games, or see where that monster came from down the tunnel that you could not go?

Slippy Slides has a YouTube channel which is super cool. He plays all your favorite games, in noclip/fly mode and reveals all kinds of secrets. Mario Cart, Resident Evil, The Evil Within, Alien Isolation, Grand Theft Auto, and others. Check it out!

Traffic flow simulated on 30 different kinds of 4-way junctions

Traffic flow simulated on 30 different kinds of 4-way junctions

Here’s a really fascinating animation and analysis of traffic flows with different intersection methodologies. More interesting is that they were done with off-the-shelf steam games/tools found on Steam. I think

Network Extensions 2
https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=812125426

Traffic Manager: President Edition
https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=583429740

Some interesting observations:

  • 4 way intersections with lights (235 cars/min) is only slightly better than a no light free-for-all (191 car/min)
  • Standard roundabouts with stops are really horrible, but get pretty interesting and good with a few simple improvements
  • There’s a lot of interesting junction/interchange types I’ve never seen before

Step in the right direction?

Step in the right direction?

Appears the pressure is being recognized by Facebook? Facebook said it’s making major changes to shift users’ news feeds back toward posts from friends and family and away from businesses and media outlets

“By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Article here