Structure: Assault on Precinct 13

This is the first in a series of structural overviews of popular films. Identifying the main story turns in a film is a great way to get a solid understanding of how film story works. So I invite you to view these films, break them down in their main story parts and compare notes with my overviews.

Not all of these films are recent and audience’s expectation may have changed since these films were released. I believe that film goers have become more demanding in terms of structure. Some of the stories that worked then, would today be considered as structurally flawed.

Still, if you look at the protagonist’s journey, you will find that most – if not all – have a clear Inciting Incident, Act One Turning Point (Plot Point 1), Act Two Turning Point (PP2), Climax and Resolution.

In ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, the Inciting Incident is foreshadowed by presenting the antagonists before we meet our hero Bishop. The sheer violence of the gang puts their storyline on a collision course with Bishop. Right from the start, even before he realises (Dramatic Irony) it puts him in extreme jeopardy, which is an effective way to make an audience connect with the protagonist.

This movie written and directed by John Carpenter is not only very entertaining, it is structured around a powerful reversal. The first (outer) objective of Wilson is to keep the convicts inside the police station, thus protecting the outside world from them. At the mid point, this reverses completely: now he needs to protect the convicts from the gang assaulting the police station.

The structural breakdown was done in a single viewing, without going back to check and most likely I will be wrong here and there. Particularly the Inciting Incident doesn’t seem to be strong enough, nor is there any reluctance or clear plot point leading to the ‘crossing of the threshold’. See for yourself and try to improve my breakdown of this film’s structure.

ACT ONE

SEQ. A: BISHOP’S FIRST DAY: A DANGEROUS AREA
02.40 DI: Anderson, CAL, 3.10am: 6 gang members killed by police
04.30 Press conference: weapons missing, serious threat
05.00 DI: Three war lords become blood brothers, arsenal of weapons
06.00 (04.50): Bishop driving, gets supervising duty Prec.9,div.13

SEQ. B: BISHOP GOES TO ANDERSON
08.30 DI: (05.11): Napoleon Wilson, on death row
10.00 DI: Wilson & Co are being transported
12.30 (05.32): Bishop driving
13.00 DI: (05.37) Father & Daughter lost in Anderson
15.00 DI: Gang members driving in car with weapons
16.00 (05.49): Bishop arrives, deputy informs captain, coffee with Kathy
20.30 Captain briefs bishop: first day on the job.

ACT TWO

SEQ. C: GETTING READY FOR THE NIGHT, NEW TASK
22.30 DI: (06.18) Punk trains gun on people while driving; ice cream van.
24.30 DI: (06.41) Transport goes to Anderson, convict is sick
28.00 DI: Punk kills girl and ice cream man
32.30 Bishop puts up sign as bus arrives, convicts go in holding tanks

SEQ. D: THE CONVICTS BECOME ALLIES; STATION UNDER SIEGE
34.30 Wilson checks out Bishop, men check out Kathy.
36.00 DI: (07.00) Father kills murderer, escapes into Police station
38.30 Nobody in car park. Phone dead. Chaney leaves, power down.
40.30 Bishop goes out, is being shot at. Chaney is dead. Silencers.
41.30 Transport minders shot. Police station under siege.

SEQ. E: REVERSAL – KEEPING THE GANGSTERS OUT
45.00 Making plans: flares; waiting for help; gang army approaches
50.30 Marked for a siege. Do they want father of killed girl?
52.00 Gangsters start assault; move in; Wilson fights back, shoots.
54.30 Everybody helps holding the gangsters at bay; armed. Silence.

SEQ. F: STAYING ALIVE
57.00 Julie dead; barricading doors. Squad car here in 5mins (he hopes).
60.30 Explosives in basement; cars back, bodies gone. All in 30mins.
63.00 Not afraid to die: convict knows about ‘ciolo’ revenge; save ass (Wells)
65.00 Counting spare ammo. Wilson gets a cigaret from Kathy.

SEQ. G: GETTING OUT
66.00 Patrol car Unit 7 checking the area
67.30 (08.15): Basement solution – hotwire car.
70.00 Wells goes out: “I’m doomed.”
71.00 Someone will come. “A man with faith”. Wells’ mission fails.

ACT THREE

SEQ. H: SETTING UP A TRAP
74.30 Renewed attack: “out of luck”; basement
78.00 The explosives; patrol: nothing unusual, phone worker dead.
80.00 Molotov attack, invasion & explosion

SEQ. I: HELP ARRIVES
83.00 Police support: “Anybody’s got a smoke?”
84.00 Bishop defends Wilson

(DI: Dramatic Irony)

About the Author

Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

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