My lovely date and I saw the new Steve Carrell film Get Smart the other evening and in the middle of it, she turned to me and whispered: “Is it All Is Lost yet?”
Assuming she was asking about the movie, whew!, I replied: “One more minute,” and sure enough, moments later, there it was. Remember, knowing structure to impress girls is the reason I got into this years ago. Thank you, Syd Field! But beyond improving one’s social life, the beats help writers tell a story and not worry about structure. And Get Smart is one of the better examples of the Beat Sheet in action.
Spoiler alerts in position, let’s take a look:
I would be very proud if I were the writer of Get Smart. Tough assignment. The biggest success of the story is you did not have to know the series to get it, and if you did, so much the better. They humanized Maxwell Smart (made legend by Don Adams) by making him a wannabe, steeped in research, and trying hard, but not there yet. This is his genesis story, how he and 99 and Fang and the Chief came to be.
Structurally when Steve and Anne Hathaway take on the mission, we enter Act Two. In this version, the really stunning stand-in for Barbara Feldon is a seasoned spy, who (following the Rom-Com commandment Thou Shalt Not Like Each Other At First) is less than pleased to be on the case with a research nerd.
Fun and Games follow as the “set pieces” of dropping behind enemy lines, reconnaissance, gadgets, and spy stuff unfold, all while B Story banter sets this love story into motion. Fun and Games bits and B story beats shuffle as the story heads to Midpoint. The peak comes (in public) at a dance, when in a “false victory” Steve proves himself not only a good spy but a gentleman as he dances with a matronly Moscovite.
And though there is not an A and B cross that results in a first kiss (no “Sex at Sixty” exactly) , it is the first time Anne smiles at Steve and we sense that despite herself she may be fallling for him.
What’s All is Lost? Why it’s when Steve is “worse off than when this movie started” — when he is fired, accused of treason, and loses the girl. I so often teach in class how this is the spot where the hero winds up behind bars, wondering where he went wrong, and there is Steve in a Guantanamo Lite cell doing just that.
But with help from the B Story (Anne who can’t believe Steve really is a traitor), Steve busts out of jumpsuit life and we head into Act Three with a perfect example of the “Five Point Finale” — including Point 4 when Steve “Digs, Deep Down” to come back from the dead after a train-dragging incident. New plan in motion, the reunited team, having made amends to each other and working in Synthesis, stop the Bad Guys.
Watching, you just think this is a funny movie, and it is. Really silly, really wonderful stuff, and not a swear word in it. Again, if it were my script I would be very proud. But structure is never silly. It frees us up to fill in the blanks any which way we like, to be as creative as we can be — and even to impress our dates!