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Structure: Animal Kingdom

2010 was the year for David Michôd’s critically acclaimed Animal Kingdom , which won a prize at Sundance, dominated the 2010 AFI Awards at home and recently got Jackie Weaver an Academy Award nom for Best Supporting Actress.


by Nina Warren

The aim of my analysis is not to critique the film but to observe whether the story’s structure followed the principles espoused both by Christopher Vogler, in his book The Writer’s Journey – based on the mythmaking philosophies of Joseph Campbell, and by Paul Gulino’s Eight Sequence Approach. If it did not, where and how did that deviation affect the dynamics of the story as a whole?

Brendan Walsh of ScreenCrave called it “Perfectly crafted.” Paul Byrnes of SMH said “Most great movies are built on character, before plot. This one is built around the malevolent force of the eldest son Pope, a destroyer, and Janine the mother, a kind of preserver.” That seemed odd to me because I thought the main character was Josh, not Pope or Janine.

Stephen Holden of the New York Times said, “The film’s depiction of the raw fear lurking below the brothers’ braggadocio is the most pronounced emotion in a movie whose focus on the personalities of its criminals suggests an Australian answer to “Goodfellas,” minus the wise-guy humor.” High praise but again, it talks about the uncles, not Josh, and now I know why…


spoilers galore



ACT ONE

Sequence A: Reunited with estranged family. (18 mins)

00:00            Titles
00:22            J watches a game show with his ‘sleeping’ mum.
00:50            Medics arrive. What has she taken? J: Heroine.
01:33            J calls Grandma Smurf: Mum’s dead, I don’t know what to do.
03:00            Smurf arrives: Get your bags honey.
03:41            Titles continue with B&W shots of robbery.
05:44            J’s VO: Mum kept me away from my family because she was scared.
06:22            J enters and greets his uncle Darren and Baz .
07:00             His other uncle, a hyper Craig emerges. Smurf: Give me a kiss.
07:53            J’s VO: Crooks always come undone. Baz hides cash at home.
08:25            J’s VO: Armed robbery squad was after Baz and my family.
08.55            Baz walks to police parked outside. Baz: He’s not here.
09:20            Det. Roach tells Craig to warn Pope to pull his head in.
11:00            Road rage at lights. Craig gives gun to J, “Let ‘em know who’s king.”
12:22            In restaurant, C aims prawn at J’s girlfriend Nic’s open mouth for $200.
12:50            Baz teaches J toilet etiquette.
14:29            Men discuss situation. “Armed robbery don’t do business.”
14:55            They all leave restaurant upbeat.
15:35            Craig offers Nic coke. J answers no for her. Nic: Says who?
16:20            Pope surprises J in the kitchen. “Guess, who am I?”
17:00            Baz tells Pope that armed robbery have nothing on them.
18:00            Craig and Pope playfully tackle but it doesn’t look like fun.


The introduction of our main character and the set up of the ordinary world is very short (1 min) but powerful; the use of montage capturing B&W shots of a robbery during the titles, forewarns us of the special and violent world that J, the tragic Hero, will be entering, consistent with Act One of the Hero’s Journey.

Normally in this sequence the dramatic question is first posed, however, there is no obvious question in AK. In fact, in the VO J says “This is where I was and this is what I was doing.” – an acceptance of events without question.

The inciting incident takes place when J is a passenger in his uncle’s car; at the lights, Craig is insulted by two punks. He hands over his gun to J, before taking off in pursuit. J is told to: Let ‘em know who’s king. It is a Call to Adventure that we do not want him to take. Usually, at this point of the story, our Hero begins to be more aware of his flaw, and so begins his inner journey. This is not present here; instead we see a passive main character more aware of the flaws of his family than any of his own.

He is an observer not a participant.


Sequence B: Retaliation for Baz. (17 mins)

19:35            Baz, careful of police bugs, tells Cath he’s going to meet Pope.
20:35            Baz tells Pope: Our game, it’s over – it’s getting too hard.
22:19            Armed robbery squad: He’s got a gun! Pope sees Baz’s death from afar.
22:49            Craig cries in grief. Smurf comforts him.
23:39            Nic asks her mum if J can stay. “There are things going on.”
26:09            Pope carries a sleeping Nic to bed. J walks in.
27:00            Smurf tells J it was a card game that caused the rift between her and his mum.
28:32            Pope and Craig see surveillance at Baz’s funeral.
30:40            Pope tells Darren they should do something about Baz.
31:25            Pope tells J to get a car and deliver it to Darren’s by 2am.
32:22            J hot-wires a car.
32:49            J tells Pope where the car is and the uncles leave.
33:35            Cops arrive for their shift; radio call – investigate possible stolen car.
34:20            J sits at Darren’s and waits.
35:30            Cops look inside car and are shot.
36:30            J hears D and finds him frantically the scrubbing soles of his shoes.


In sequence B, J must grapple with the destabilizing effect of Baz’s murder on the family.

Normally it is the Hero who attempts to resolve the problem, but here, it is Pope, our Hero’s antagonist who makes the disastrous decision of avenging his friend’s death. J is not making any decisions at all and is in fact largely ignored by the family, except when Pope asks him to find a car but is not told why.

His Call to Adventure elicits very little reaction; we do not see J express reluctance or Refusal of the Call to adventure.

Therefore the Act One climax – where the Hero’s action or decision signals a clear and visible goal – is not apparent.


ACT TWO

Sequence C: Sgt Leckie sees through J’s weak alibi. (11 mins)

37.02            At Darren’s J is woken by the phone – caller hangs up.
38:35            J arrives home. Armed police burst in to arrest J and Pope.
39:20            J and Pope see Darren cuffed at police station.
40:00            Sgts Leckie and Norris begin taking J’s statement re: murder of cops.
43:40            Smurf tells Pope he should start taking his pills again.
44:58            Smurf tells C to go to the cops. “Where’s J?”
45:50            J helps out Nic’s mum. “How was your friend’s funeral?”
47:02            J watches news of the murder on TV whilst Nic talks to family.
47:42            Darren comes for J next day. Mum: I do a lot for you Nic.
48:31            J: Where are we going? Darren: To see our lawyer.


There is none of the determination and energy of the Hero’s first attempt at solving the problem, because he is unaware that the murder of the two policemen is his problem too.

In the beginning of Act Two, we see our Hero crossing the First Threshold into adventure when he is arrested. The imagery used for signaling the crossing of the threshold is done in an interesting and deliberate way: Josh along with Pope, are led in handcuffs, slow motion, down the stark white corridor of the police station. J’s interview is where his first test begins, that is, to provide his uncles with a credible alibi, which he can’t do.

There is still no specific goal for J, only mounting events that he has not actively responded to with action. The flawed mentor is introduced in the guise of the conflicted Sgt Leckie.


Sequence D: Police close in and Craig is killed – Midpoint. (14 mins)

48:49            Ezra lays down the law – no talking to cops or to Nic.
50:50            Craig gets spooked at petrol station by cops.
52:00            Craig at friend’s house. “How long are you wanting to stay?”
53:44            Craig: How can there be a bug in your house?!
54:44            Police arrive, Craig runs and is shot.
56:10            Leckie receives call. “Craig Cody’s gone mate”
56:40            Smurf: I’m having trouble finding my positive spin.
58:01            Leckie arrives just as J is about to flee from Pope’s anger.
59:22            Smurf tells Leckie she hopes they find the killers.
59:30            J gets ready to leave with Leckie. Pope: You’re not alone.
59:53            Leckie interviews J. Ezra is present. J says nothing.
61:20            Ezra talks to uncles about J: You got to be worried about what he’s doing.
61:40            J overhears Ezra talk to uncles. “Keep an eagle eye on him.”
62:00            J quickly goes back to his room. Nic is on the phone.
62:19             E: Is he talking to her? D: So he’s my responsibility?
62:42            D tells J that the cops are on to him like a rash.
62:53            Nic walks in on conversation: What’s going on?
63:12            Darren tells J to cut Nic loose. J: This has got nothing to do with me!


This sequence normally finds the main character’s first attempt at resolution failing, but here, J remains passive.

Before the midpoint, there is what is known as The Ordeal, where our Hero faces his greatest challenge. In AK it could be when J decides to end his relationship with Nic, not because he wants to but because he is told to. The midpoint takes place in a location which appears in no other scene which is consistent with this turning point. This location is Zanoni’s where J tells Nic he needs some space.

The midpoint reversal usually signals our Hero following the right approach, but here, J remains silent during the second interview with Sgt Leckie because he is told to by Ezra, the family’s lawyer. Even now, at this late stage J is lacking in executing any specific goal and has no control, which is unusual so late in the film.

At (60:01), our Hero moves towards what is known as Approach to the Inmost Cave, where he overhears important information given by Ezra to his uncles “Keep an eagle eye on him.” When J tells Darren that the situation has nothing do to with him, Darren explodes with “Everything has to do with everyone.”

This moment is when J begins to be aware of his flaw – a young man in denial – who is reluctant to change (62:41) which is traditionally placed in Act One, Sequence A.


Sequence E: Leckie separates J from the family ‘for his safety’. (7mins)

63:41            J tells Nic he needs some space at Zanoni’s
64:33            Leckie interrupts them and tells J they need to talk.
65:22            J leaves with Leckie and Norris.
65:44            Nic in the toilet, upset.
66:29            Nic goes to J’s, accepts hot-shot from P. He smothers her.
70:00            Leckie takes J to a motel for his safety.
70:20            Pope carries Nic’s body through alley.
70:39            J sits in the motel room alone.


At this point, the Act Two climax, we would traditionally see the fulfillment of the Hero’s inner journey where the main character will cease to change.

All action by the Hero is a result of this change, but in AK the ratio of events and action are seriously out of balance.

There is still no attempt at a resolution or a turnaround by J of an objective normally associated with this sequence, but what we do see are new complications and higher stakes created by J’s decision to let Nic go and Leckie’s arrival at Zanoni’s.


Sequence F: It’s all my fault. (19 mins)

71.10            Norris wakes J and asks if he is scared of him.
72:10            Leckie: Let’s go sit outside for a bit, just you and me.
72:30            Leckie to J: You’ve got to work out where you fit.
75:40            J arrives home and lies about where he’s been.
76:11            J overhears Pope on phone to Darren. ”He just walked in.”
76:24            J finds Nic’s bracelet outside. J calls Nic’s mobile and hears it nearby.
76:52            Pope runs out and J runs away.
77:30            Smurf: What’s wrong? Pope to Darren: What’s her address?!
77:41            J goes to Nic’s place. Gus: Nicky’s not her J.
78:27            In the toilet Nic’s things make him cry. D rings J “Get out!”
79:37            J asks Gus for a lift to town.
80:46            Pope hits them with his car. J runs.


Traditionally, in this sequence, the elimination of all easy potential solutions still has not made the road any easier, so our Hero makes a final bid at a resolution and the dramatic question of the movie is answered. But none of this happens in AK, how can it when J continues to be passive?

After The Ordeal we come to The Reward and though we would logically assume it is a high point, here it is a moment of clarity, where J’s begins to see through the deception of Sgt Leckie when he is told to spend the night in a motel; those missing hours will be questioned by Pope and J will have to lie.

When J finds Nic’s bracelet outside his home it is yet another event; J isn’t actively pursuing any goal or resolving any problem. But what we do witness here is J’s moment of truth, when he breaks down and realizes Nic is dead and he must now give up his old life.

However, there is no public redemption where our Hero would traditionally state his new goal, in AK, J remains silent.


ACT THREE

Sequence G: Who do I trust? (19mins)

81:18            J sits at supermarket waiting. Leckie arrives with police.
82:06            J is back at police station.
82:15            Nic’s body lies in an alleyway.
82:34            Nic’s family grieves.
82:48            Darren and Pope are arrested.
83:41            Leckie leaves J in safe-house.
84:05            Smurf at prison. “You’re not getting bail.” P: Do something.
85:35            S gives Ezra address of J’s safe-house. “J’s turned.”
86:53            S tells Roach a story about it being a bad situation for everyone.
88:50            J inside safe house with police
88:53            Armed drug squad get out of car.
89:10            Police inside see them approach and surrender.
89:58            Drug squad raid safe-house. Roach aims gun, J gets away.
90:15             Smerf at her apartment with neighbor – somebody at door.
90:35            J asks if S is alone. “I want P out of jail, I can’t live like this.”
91:00             Outside, J tells S to set up meeting with Ezra but somewhere public.
91:20            J to E “I’m not safe. I’ll take my chances with witness protection.”
91:45            J meets barrister who thinks the case against P & D is flimsy.
93:10            J goes back to safe-house. Leckie: You’re not in any danger.
93:53            L waits with J before going to court. “Are you ready?”
94:49            J arrives at court with army of armed police escorts.
95:23            J rehearses his answers for defense team.
97:24            J is escorted out of court building.
97:54            Policeman points gun at J in van on the way from court – J doesn’t react.
98:48            Leckie: Have you worked out where you fit?
99:22            Smurf gives a TV interview about the acquittal.
100:3            S bumps into L in the grocery. L: You’ll come unstuck.


Traditionally in this sequence, the stakes escalate and unexpected complications can arise from any resolution made in sequence F.

Also, the film’s energy revs up and it’s all action driven as the Hero goes for the win, but in AK, the pace slows as we see J calmly calling the shots and pursuing a specific goal for the FIRST TIME.


Sequence H: Josh’s retaliation. (3 mins)

101:4            J surprises Smurf after absence. “Is it ok if I move back in here?”
102:3            J greets his uncles in the backyard. J: I’m gonna lie down for a bit.
103:0            Pope walks into J’s room; J knows he’s there.
103:2            Pope: It’s a crazy f*#=’n world. J shoots him dead.
103:4            J exits the room. He hugs a shocked Smurf and looks calmly out at Darren.
104:2            Credits


In this last sequence we usually see the resolution of a movie, where the tension is resolved and any loose ends are tied off.

At the conclusion of the Hero’s Journey there is normally a feeling of catharsis, but by not following a traditionally structured screenplay, I believe we are robbed of what could have been an even more emotionally intense ending.

The Road Back, where the Hero must make the choice whether to remain in the special world or journey home, is answered when J pulls the trigger. J’s Resurrection in the Hero’s Journey is one of rebirth as a vengeful killer who ‘hugs’ his grandmother after killing her eldest son.


Conclusion:

By examining how the plot of AK deviates from structural principles (Vogler and Gulino), we can better understand the comments made by the various critiques, which single out the characters of the uncles and Smurf.

The aim of the screenwriter is to design meaningful events into the story in order to observe how the main character responds, thereby allowing the audience to become involved and engage with him.

In AK we don’t see J actively resolving any issues until Act Three; instead we begin to follow and engage with the more interesting characters of Pope and Smurf. Perhaps it is why the ending appeared abrupt; we were not actively involved in J’s personal story which unwittingly robs the audience of any anticipation and dread of the possible outcome.


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).

Comments 24

  1. I completely agree. And made similar observations about it here. I have suffered considerable abuse from Animal Kingdom fans who don’t seem to like the genius of this film being questioned, but if you want to be a screenwriter I think you’re obliged to try to understand why this film has earned praised for everyone other than the protagonist.

  2. I haven’t seen the film yet, so my comment is probably moot, BUT

    even Vogler makes it clear that the structure he “espouses” can be broken, as long as it is done intentionally. Know the rules WELL so you can break them.

    In the end the emotional payout is what matters. It seems from reading this analysis that this film fails in the conclusion in capitalising on any emotional payout or the delivery of an underlying theme or purpose.

    Like i said thought I haven’t seen it, so probably talking out of my proverbial.

  3. Post
    Author

    I enjoyed the film. My only issue was with the fourth act ‘tagged on’ at the end.

    However, looking at it from a political perspective I believe it should have cost a lot less. Films like these don’t support the industry. They support individuals and, guess what, the next thing these individuals go to the US and make the type of films they should have been supported to make HERE in the first place (which WOULD have supported our industry).

    Outside Australia I believe the film has not done very well other then earning an Academy Award nomination for Jackie Weaver.

    I also checked the particular prize it won at Sundance. I had never heard of any of the other films who won this prize over the past few years. Check it out for yourself. Have you?

    1. yes i did note the fact that it performed very, very poorly internationally (SOURCE: http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2010/ANMLK.php) and was so surprised it received a nomination.

      I agree it only helps the film makers/actors and not the Australian industry.

      The issues stem from the top though. The big wigs in this country have some serious issues. It is such an in-group that the only way I see it getting any better is with complete reform. Fire everyone and replace them with fresh blood that has the experience and the right mindset.

      Imagine Alex Proyas or Robert Luketic leading our film making industry rather than the governmental lackeys who constantly throw money at useless projects?

    2. Karel, do Industry Awards or lack of, help novice film makers learn critical analysis of films like this?

      Yes, I am being tongue in cheek here, I share your frustration with local films but I don’t think this comment helps us understand why this film is flawed.

      Personally I don’t feel I learn much from studying flawed films, rather films like The King’s Speech or The Social Network demonstrate excellent structure for the budding script writer.

  4. I think J’s character is well established in the opening scene. His experience of living with a mother who is a drug addict has robbed him of emotion. He has become a passive protagonist.

    When he is thrown into the violent, criminal branch of the family he is out of his depth. All his mentors, both criminal and police, are false. If he changed from a young, confused kid to an active, problem solving protagonist his character would seem false and inconsistent and the story would fail.

    I am sure David Michôd is well aware of the hero’s journey, but chose not to apply that model. I think he was right. There are hundreds of ways the story could have been told, but as the hero’s journey does not work well with a passive protagonists I think Michôd was right to go his own way.

  5. The screenwriter’s decision to keep the main character passive until Act 3 lessened the impact of the final scene, for me. I concur that Josh’s passivity is understandable given his background.

    The obstacles that are placed in front of our hero provide the triggers for him to react and take action, thereby showing us his motivation and transformation into a calculating killer in the final scene. But here, the abruptness of the transformation and the fact that it happens so late in the movie, robbed me of the added anticipation and dread that our hero might do something horrific, even by the standards of his milieu.

    In a movie with a conventional “Hero’s Journey” structure, we empathize, understand and engage with the hero as s/he responds to events and takes action. However, in Animal Kingdom, for much of the movie I followed the more active characters of Pope and Smurf instead. Judging from their comments, film reviewers seemed to do likewise.

    All in all, I still liked the movie and enjoyed it greatly.

  6. Nina apologies about Saturday I had to leave for am engagement party…

    But in reference to AK I have to totally agree with Jack. It doesn’t fit the Hero’s journey or most other traditional structures but it does fit the journey of the character and that is what is paramount overall.

    You can break the rules as long as you’re true to your character which I think this is.

    This kid was pushed over the edge from be passive to aggressive when they took his girl friend and then were willing to put him in the ground.

    So it makes perfect sense.

    On another note I have to disagree about the inciting incident. When you said on Saturday that you had a disagreement with Jack over this I was expecting it to be between the start when the mother dies, which can be said to be the inciting incident for J and when Baz is killed which it could be said is the inciting incident for the entire film.

    I never entertained the idea of when there was road rage at the lights and J is told to pull the gun on them. Although I think the scene poses someone interesting subtext and metaphors I don’t believe it to be considerable enough to entertain the idea of an inciting incident.

    As for the film overall I did like it but didn’t get the hype, the acting deserved the hype and the awards but not the film itself.

    I also agree with Karel that we make small minded films and never think big here in Aus.

    We also seem to suffer from this syndrome that we don’t think our work is good unless someone from overseas validates it.

  7. I too have a niggling problem with Josh’s transition, from passive to active. Not because his change was sudden and late in the movie, but because it was sudden and late and accomplished.

    Josh suddenly acquired an extreme level of competence as an assassin. He coolly entered the home turf of his dangerous family, with a concealed weapon, and *waited* on a bed, in a vulnerable position, for the deadliest member of his family to enter the room.

    From a passive, conflict-avoiding, young man, who has handled a handgun once or twice, he turns into someone with an extreme level of skill as a killer.

    Killing for revenge is one thing. Waiting, lying prone, for another accomplished killer to approach, before taking revenge, is something else.

    People do make sudden changes in their lives. What they don’t do is suddenly acquire mastery of a difficult and risky domain that they have never practiced. In this case, assassination.

    But wait, you might say, this is the movies, it’s allowed – no-one complained about James Bond being the Snowy Baker of urban combat, able to excel at any weapon in any setting with little prior experience.

    Fine, I would say, but let me as an audience member enjoy it more: give me clues that Josh is gifted with this kind of talent, and let me enjoy the dread of what that talent might accomplish if put to horrific use.

    I enjoyed the movie, and still think about it.

  8. Carl when you have the motivation that Josh does, I don’t think it would be terribly difficult to lie in wait and kill someone.

  9. I’m reading all this, reading all this stuff about this film only favours the actors, the directors not the industry…and I simply say “What the fuck are you guys talking about?” A well respected film does wonders for this industry. I liked AK, didn’t love it, I think it had flaws here and there, but what film doesn’t by a first time director but I watched it again on DVD after seeing it at the cinema and have since read the script as well and it impresses me with its subtext and performance everytime. I think what annoys me the most about reading all this is the cookie cut approach to screenwriting and filmmaking, like having a road map wheeled out by Vogler or Mckee or Campbell is some kind of insurance against.
    writing something that is nothing but a boring, obvious well worn narrative of nothing.

    I mean reading stuff like this

    ” Traditionally, in this sequence, the elimination of all easy potential solutions still has not made the road any easier, so our Hero makes a final bid at a resolution and the dramatic question of the movie is answered”.

    its like taking a narrative x-ray to everything and sizing it up…this has to happen here and this happens in Act three and this is the inciting incident. I think innovative and diverse filmmaking, like AK is moving on from all this tosh..and thank god…its so utterly boring. Film is about sequence, character and transition, something Mr Michod handled very well for at least 90% of the film.

    I mean Karel..what do you mean by this ” They support individuals and, guess what, the next thing these individuals go to the US and make the type of films they should have been supported to make HERE in the first place (which WOULD have supported our industry).”

    I think the fact that AK was made here was pretty supportive, I know a lot of people who worked on it and they were pretty happy it helped them support the effort in paying the bills

    Any film is a collaborative act..any…big or small..and if you’re the writer/director of a film why shouldn’t you benefit from your creativity? Adam Arkapaw who shot this film did an amazing job and is now probably working in the USA, whats wrong with that?

    I came here looking for some interesting insights about screenwriting and have just been blown away by how mainstream the thinking is…yawwwwwwn!

  10. Carl: “People do make sudden changes in their lives. What they don’t do is suddenly acquire mastery of a difficult and risky domain that they have never practiced. In this case, assassination.”

    You obviously don’t read the newspapers or watch the six o’clock news. Having worked in trauma for six years I can tell you…people pushed to the limit are capable of doing anything..especially murder, especially assault. Happens all the time..look at Judy Moran. Didn’t pull the trigger but she did everything but. Killing somebody isn’t as hard as you would think if you have the intent…especially revenge. AK is a study of sociopaths..a kingdom, a brood of sociopaths, just because you’re the dominant nutter in the group doesn’t mean somebody else hasn’t got the same potential for cold blooded killing. Pope started killing somewhere..probably when he was young..now J has taken over the mantle..hence the Animal Kingdom.

  11. Post
    Author

    Tom,

    Thank you for your detailed comment. Let me clarify a few things.

    I have loved watching Animal Kingdom but it has not reached Australian audiences in the way e.g. Underbelly on TV has. Why? Because it’s a film that doesn’t TRY to reach a mainstream audience. Therefore it is not contributing to a financially healthy industry. And when filmmakers continue to leave their country to make their commercial successes overseas, something’s very wrong. Can’t you see this? We are paying taxes to fund the careers of individuals, yet the industry as a whole keeps on struggling.

    How long has it been since a film supported by the agencies really reached a broad audience?

    I’m Belgian and the local industry in that country (population 10m, divided between 2 cultures of 5m each) is a good example of a mix of commercial and arthouse cinema, all supported by the local agencies. Belgian films regularly reach the masses and/or receive critical acclaim. One of my clients is a Flemish writer/producer who has 19 credits to his name, including local box office successes and films that received acclaim at major festivals such as Cannes. How do they do it? They learn what works and apply it.

    Calling The Hero’s Journey a ‘cookie cutter’ approach shows that you don’t understand it. If you’re in Sydney, I invite you to join my weekend seminar where I demonstrate that this not the type of formula that puts the Inciting Incident on page 12 and the Act One Climax on page 30.

    In those seminars I often give Sundance winner FROZEN RIVER as an example of an indie Hero’s Journey that achieved so much more than Animal Kingdom did, yet showed similar depth, nuances and subtlety in its characters.

    Australian filmmakers can do this too, without needing to sell out. However, it requires a level of craft that we very rarely see.

    There surely is a place for films like ANIMAL KINGDOM but they need to be balanced by films that aim for an audience large enough to recoup their cost.

  12. Karl…thanks for the reply. I know all about the Belgium Film Industry, I lived in Holland for three years and spent a great deal of time in Belgium, I’m not sure I agree with you about your local industry, I’ll get back to that at a later date. As for not understanding the Heroes Journey, that is utter bollocks, I think I’ve read the book three times, seen every documentary about the man and admire his views enormously. With regard to “Cookie Cutting”, I’m talking about the kind of story analysis going on here and other sites, its so analyzed and so worn out, like trying to add a blueprint to creativity, if you follow this structure you arrived at X. There is a place for films like this and there is a place for films to be made like AK in this country (thank god) but they are predictable to the point you could set a watch to it..YAAAAAWWWNN. Having met David Michod, I know for a fact he would like to make all kinds of films..all kinds..AK was a launching pad into a tough industry. He showed style and a willingness to experiment…that’s what will drive our industry, not cookie cutting.
    That said George Miller is making Mad Max 3 and he’s a huge fan of the Heroes Journey so that should warm your cinematic soul.
    Comparing Underbelly to AK is chalk and cheese..Underbelly was cheap and poorly written (I can go in detail about this) and if you compare it to the brilliant Blue Murder it looks what it is..pathetic…it found broad appeal because it was on TV, not the cinema.

    I mean this alone “my weekend seminar where I demonstrate that this not the type of formula that puts the Inciting Incident on page 12 and the Act One Climax on page 30.”

    Where I demonstrate this formula…a formula? Great go for it, ten years of working in this industry have taught me two things..there is no formula and this is an industry where “Nobody knows a thing” except what their imagination is capable of.

    Go to McKee and it has turned into this religious sermon…any education is worth the money…but a formula..I’m sorry, but with regard to writing…you’ve simple lost the plot…don’t believe me…check this out:

    http://coreymandell.net/

    He’s actually saying something I think has real value…inciting incidents and formula is all tosh

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      It was the Corey Mandell article that inspired me to (re)write my last post “The Structure of Character”.

      We’ll continue to disagree Tom, and that’s fine. After all, I’m working with a few successful writers who see value in my approach. It works for them and for their audience.

      The genius writer can ignore everything. Are you one of them? Like in any other part of culture or life in general, it pays to understand the ruling principles in addition to relying on your gut.

      In screenwriting, at the end it all comes down to anticipation. To paraphrase E.M.Forster: “make sure your reader/audience always wants to know what’s happening next”. There are proven techniques to achieve this.

      BTW: Corey’s metaphors are flawed. When thousands of successful movies share aspects that seem to be lacking in failed ones, it is only common sense to learn from this.

      Then again, of course you don’t have to.

      1. Karel..we will simply continue to disagree that’s for sure, and that’s is totally fine, all creativity needs an element of healthy debate. I’m definitely not a genius writer, just another filmmaker trying to carve a path forward like millions of others. Having spent the last ten years focusing on writing and having read all the books, analyzed them and attended countless seminars I have simply come full circle and see the merit in some of it but feel a great deal of this repetitive “cookie cutting we have the blueprint to narrative success” has become so predictable to the point you could set a watch to it as it plays out on the screen or read it on the page.

        But when I read this:

        BTW: Corey’s metaphors are flawed. When thousands of successful movies share aspects that seem to be lacking in failed ones, it is only common sense to learn from this.

        I just feel justified in what I’m saying, you’re flogging an approach that works for you and that’s fine…I’d like to see a list of these thousands of films..because I’d also say that there are thousands of others that follow the same model and fail miserably. Audiences are becoming increasingly cinema savvy, when you arrive at a technique and wheel it out repeatedly, they begin to see the pattern. I’m glad there are filmmakers like David Michod and hundreds of others out there willing to make films that challenge the audience to think.

        I suppose you would take issue with this

        “Whenever I bring in an agent, manager or producer to speak to one of my classes, they always say they can immediately spot a script written to one of the this-must-happen-by-this-page, paint-by-the-numbers structure formulas, and these scripts never succeed.”

        -Corey Mandell http://coreymandell.net/skillsets.htm

        Now that I’m spending a lot of time reading screenplays for a private company, the ones that I find the most boring are the ones that are written to a formula, they read fine, everything happens when IT SHOULD..the hero struggles and hits his mark on this page and that..YAWWNN…Producers are looking for the crazy idea..not the formula.

        all the best

  13. Animal Kingdom’s brothers bicker and panic and jostle for power, but best of all is the manipulative matriarch, played by veteran Australian actor Jacki Weaver, who’s all the more monstrous for her sunny disposition; she could be straight out of Neighbours. Elsewhere, though, the tone is sombre and menacing, in the vein of Polanski or Scorsese. “I was very well aware that in making a crime film, I was in well-trodden territory,” says Animal Kingdom’s 39-year-old writer and director, David Michôd. “I didn’t want to get lost in the minutiae and procedural details. I wanted to make a film where all the crime was defensive and retaliatory. I was more after a palpable underlying menace.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/feb/19/animal-kingdom-david-michod

  14. Thank-you for this analysis, which I found extremely helpful.
    You mentioned: ‘At this point, the Act Two climax, we would traditionally see the fulfillment of the Hero’s inner journey where the main character will cease to change’.
    I am abit confused.
    I may be wrong, but with the testing of the resurrection stage – stage 11, surely, isn’t there more change which comes from that?
    Afterall, this represents a severe ordeal for the hero, and one which you would think would affect and change him/her.
    Or, am I wrong here??

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    If you’re following the 12 stages, then the Ordeal is stage 8. This tests the Hero and s/he commits unconditionally and irreversibly to the new belief and behavior. After this (in Act 3) the Hero will only SHOW the result of this change in belief. There will be no further change of the character’s approach.

    Does this make sense?

      1. Hi Karel,

        As I continued to try to grasp the hero’s journey, I was flipping through ‘The writer’s journey’ by Chris Vogler, 2007, with the maze on the front. I got to page 19, and this is what it says:
        TO RECAP THE HERO’S JOURNEY:
        1. Heroes are introduced to The ORDINARY WORLD where…
        then it does 2-10
        11. they cross the third threshold,
        experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience

        p.197- Chapter on the Resurrection
        Heroes have to undergo a final purging and purification before reentering the Ordinary World. Once more, they must change.

        p.207-
        The resurrection is the hero’s final attempt to make major change in attitude or behaviour.

        I’m still chewing over it, but it is certainly food for thought.

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