Saturday, November 20, 2010

TODAY’S NUGGET: #11 WGA Script of All Time – Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)

[Quick Summary: Butch & Sundance are old Western train robbers who flee to Bolivia.  FYI: They get in trouble there too.]

Act 2 is always deadly for me, particularly between the midpoint & Act 3.

How do you keep cranking up the stakes?

So I took a closer look at what William Goldman did in this classic.

At the midpoint, Butch, Sundance, & Etta have landed in Bolivia.  This is the "promised land", but it's turning out badly (which is great for the script).

First, they don't speak Spanish & so their 1st bank robbery goes south (obstacle).  They eventually get the hang of it & become known as the Bandidos Yanqui.

But then they spot the ruthless Man with the Straw Hat, who has tracked them down.  They escaped him in the US, & know he'll never quit (higher stakes).

Butch has a great idea - they'll go straight & become payroll guards! 

Unfortunately, six bandits try to steal the money from them (obstacle). Butch & Sundance kill them all (higher stakes). 

They're shocked by what they've done, but this is what they're good at.

Etta decides to go back home.  While waiting for her train, the three see an inaccurate film reel about how they "died." 

Butch & Sundance are offended by the portrayal, & must decide whether they want to go down that way (crisis & Act 3).

So from the midpoint to Act 3, every moment is about ratcheting it up to the moment the protagonists face their fear, i.e., getting caught. 

Here's the sequence:

- They can't go back to the US (midpoint) 
- They move forward in Bolivia, but still try to avoid the fear (rest of Act 2)
- They accept this is the moment of battle (ex. reacting to the film)
- They must decide "yes, I will fight" or "no, I won't" (crisis)
- Now we're set up the big shootout in Act 3 (the consequences of that crisis decision)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Avoiding the fear has to have worse consequences in Act 2B than Act 2A (before the midpoint). 

Here, Butch & Sundance are in Bolivia. They have a language barrier, no amnesty, & an antagonist who has pursued them over two countries.  It's much worse than they thought.

Butch & the Sundance Kid (1969)
by William Goldman

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