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Structure: Boy

Kiwis get film. Even apart from PJ’s blockbuster machine at Weta, they’ve had a good decade, with Whale Rider, The World’s Fastest Indian and more recently, Boy, a film by Taika Waikiki, inspired by his short Two Cars, One Night.


by Dave Trendall (structure breakdown) and Karel Segers (notes).

Boy is a funny and moving drama about young Alamein who learns to see his father for who he really is. It was nominated for the Audience Award at Sundance and won the same award at the Sydney and Melbourne film festival. The film made more than $9m in its domestic market, which is great for a local indie.

But Boy never got big. Why not? The film is well-directed, brilliantly acted and beautifully shot.

Let’s have a look at the story and see if this tells us something.


ACT ONE

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Sequence A – Boy’s Ordinary World, without dad. (15 mins)

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00:00 “You could be happy here… we could grow up together.” -E.T.
01:00 In class, Boy introduces his friends, family and Michael Jackson.
02:00 Nan leaves for a funeral, leaving Boy in charge.
02:30 Favourite subjects and some “after-school gardening work”.
03:00 The amazing dad… Boy shows his ideal image of his dad to class.
04:00 While in class Kenny, a bully, taunts him about his dad.
05:00 Boy is rejected by Chardonnay, even after his MJ moves.
06:30 Boy lashes out at Kenny and is dragged to the principal.
07:30 The principal gives him advice… but what does the word ‘potential’ mean?
08:30 Kenny’s brother Holden threatens Boy.
09:30 Boy gets Rocky from their mum’s grave.
10:30 Boy wants Rocky to stop hanging around the grave.
11:00 Crayfish again. Mealtime! The kids are living by themselves.
11:30 Storm’s coming…
12:30 ‘Who are you?’… the kids meet Dad, Juju and Chopper.


In the first sequence of the film, we learn that our hero may have a somewhat idealistic image of his father. Is this is flaw? He also fancies the girl Chardonnay, whom he tries to impress with Michael Jackson moves. Around the 12min mark – Hollywood timing – the inciting incident occurs: father returns. This is going to change Boy’s life….


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Sequence B – First impressions of Dad (14 mins)

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15:00 Dad is in the house. Tries to bond with the kids.
16:30 Presents and sparklers for the children.
17:30 Dad offers to cut Boy’s hair.
19:00 Rocky and Boy remember the day mum died at Rocky’s birth.
19:30 Boy throws stones at ‘mental fella’ but Rocky refuses to.
20:30 Dad gives Boy advice on how to do the carving… Boy hasn’t done the eyes.
22:00 Rocky shows his suspicion of his dad.
22:30 Dad drops Boy off and disappears, much to Boy’s disappointment.
24:00 Auntie gets angry at Dad for not visiting his wife’s grave.
24:30 The love story: Boy gives a sparkler only to Chardonnay.
25:00 Boy and kids pick bunches of weed to help Dynasty – it’s her job.
26:00 Rocky befriends the ‘mental fella’.
27:30 Dad, Juju and Chopper dig for the stolen treasure.


Boy’s response to the return of his father is more enthusiastic than Rocky’s, who doesn’t trust his dad. Boy doesn’t trust the ‘mental fella,’ though, while Rocky befriends him. Rocky seems to be more in touch with reality than our hero. At the end of the sequence, Boy adopts the same main goal as his father: to find the stolen treasure. Meanwhile, he is also pursuing Chardonnay further.


ACT TWO

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Sequence C – Digging for the dream (11 mins)

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28:30 Boy starts digging for the money.
29:00 Boy gives Dad weed he took from Dynasty’s patch in the field.
30:00 ‘I’ll spend more time with the kids.’ Dad promises Nan.
30:30 Dad cuts Boy’s hair.
31:30 Dad teaches Kenny and Holden a lesson.
32:00 Dad and Boy pick Rocky up… quality time.
33:30 Boy wants to be in the Crazy Horses but Dad rejects him.
34:30 Beach fun! Rocky knocks Dad over with his mind – his powers work?
35:00 Rocky disagrees with Boy’s idea of what to do with the money.
36:00 Don’t call me dad… call me Shogun.
37:30 Dad gives Kenny and Holden beer and welcomes them… Boy is put out.
38:00 Dad alienates Juju and Chopper.
39:30 Michael Jackson lives!


Boy looks at his dad as a role model, without realizing (yet) how immature the man really is. In fact, his dad is not really a man; he is just as much a ‘boy’ as he is. Rather than taking his role as a father seriously, Alamein Sr. escapes into the fantasy of being Shogun.


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Sequence D: From Boy to Man (10 mins)

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40:00 Boy tries everything to get Chardonnay but she’s interested in Holden.
41:30 Wanting to impress his dad, Boy gives himself a hickey and shows dad.
42:00 Boy gives some weed to his dad and neglects family duties.
43:30 Dynasty gets into the car and updates him on what he’s been missing.
44:30 Rocky and ‘mental fella’ at mums grave, Rocky starts to doubt his powers.
45:30 Dad leaves. **midpoint**
47:00 Boy, rejecting Rocky as helper, digs… and finds the money.
48:30 He counts the money and shares the news with Leaf, the goat.
49:00 He checks the dictionary for ‘potential’ but doesn’t understand.


Once Boy finds the money, everything will change. The outer goal is fulfilled and Boy sets himself a new goal: to enjoy the found money without revealing the secret to his dad, while continuing to court Chardonnay.

The new goal creates some tension but there’s a problem: it is open-ended. Boy can potentially keep the secret forever if he plays it smart. (The director has visually foreshadowed what will happen with the money by showing Leaf, the goat, immediately after the discovery.)

Boy’s perception of his dad is gradually changing. The fact that he doesn’t tell his dad about the money illustrates this. His dad is more concerned about himself than about his sons, therefore Boy realises he’ll have to look after himself.


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Sequence E: From Boy to Man (10 mins)

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49:30 Boy buys ice-creams for his friends at Auntie’s shop.
50:00 ‘Don’t call me Boy anymore’, he threatens Holden.
51:30 Dad confronts Boy: Where did the money for the ice-creams come from?
53:00 Back to responsibility: cooking dinner and making food for the family.
54:00 Dad goes to window and apologises.
55:30 Mum’s grave: Dad contemplates outside the fence, Rocky watches.
57:00 Leaf has eaten the money!
57:30 Boy watches the microwave melting down doorknobs.
58:00 “There is no more time”, Dad says.
59:00 Dad rips the hidden weed batch up but Boy is seen by Dynasty.


He doesn’t want to be called ‘Boy’ any longer and he cooks for the family again. Boy’s maturation is well underway. Slowly, he is growing up to reality and showing responsibility, yet he still doesn’t confess about finding the money…


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Sequence F: Confessing hard truths(11 mins)

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1:00:00 Dad goes to bar.
1:02:00 A fight breaks out as Dad is rumbled. Boy watches from the car.
1:03:00 Coming back from the bar, they run over Leaf, the goat.
1:04:00 “It was just a dog” – Boy no longer buys his dads promises.
1:05:30 The goat is dead. Boy and Rocky drag it back home.
1:06:30 Rocky helps dig Leaf’s grave with Boy.
1:07:00 Boy drinks and smokes by his mum’s grave.
1:07:30 The gang members, packing the car, drive off leaving Dad with nothing.
1:08:30 Dad trashes the house.
1:09:00 Remembering his mum, Boy falls off the bridge.
1:09:30 Dad desperately digs, searching for money.
1:10:00 Boy sees mother… but it’s not, it’s ‘mental fella’. Boy has to get home.


Dad is involved in a brawl and comes out the loser. For the first time Boy sees the truth and his world slowly collapses.

As if it were Leaf’s punishment for eating the money, on the way back home they drive over the goat. With his pet friend dead and his father not the idol he adored, Boy lets himself fall off the bridge, into the river – literally reaching the story’s lowest point. But now he reaps the reward: he sees the world as it is, including the ‘mental fella’ who saves his life. Boy’s journey of maturation is complete.


ACT THREE

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Sequence G: Boy faces his father (4 mins)

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1:11:00 Rocky apologises for what he did to his mum.
1:12:00 Boy gives Dad the chewed up notes and lets loose his anger on his dad.
1:14:00 Boy, and family, rebuild the house.
1:15:00 The carving is left, his dad has added the eyes.


With his inner journey fully complete, Boy has the strength to face his father in honesty. He takes responsibility for finding and losing the money but he also challenges his dad to be responsible and admit he is a thief. Once they see each other for who they really are, they can live together again.


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Sequence H: Rebuilding and reconciliation (3 mins)

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1:15:30 Nan comes back.
1:16:00 Reconnecting with mates, and Dynasty.
1:17:00 Boy and Rocky meet their dad at mum’s grave.
1:18:30 Thriller done Haka style.


With the return of Nan, the circle is complete. The family is reunited and in the few days while Nan was away, Boy has grown up a little.

The film sees Boy go through a significant inner journey but his external goals are weak. His first goal (finding the money) is not really his own objective as he simply takes on his dad’s objective.

The stakes are never really high in this film, either. Even past the mid point, when Boy tries to keep his secret, there is never much for him to lose.

As to the love plot, apart from doing some Michael Jackson moves and offering Chardonnay sparklers, Boy never really fights very hard to get his love.

In conclusion, the story issues described above make what could have been a more deeply emotional maturation film feel fairly light-on.


Structural Analysis: Dave Trendall
Notes: Karel Segers


About the Author

Dave Trendall

Comments 2

  1. The structure analysis of this story is very useful for screen writers, as are some of the insightful notes into the story.

    The introductory paragraph to this structure analysis posits that the failure at the box office internationally may be revealed in the story structure. However, there is no real science as to why a film succeeds or fails commercially at the box office. As William Goldman says in his book “Nobody knows anything.

    The concluding notes provide some observations on the story structure and drama but don’t really address the introductions premise on box office failure.

    I would also contend that the stakes for the characters are significant
    – Boy & Rocky have no parental guidance, Dad comes back but looks like he is leaving
    – Boy & Rocky witness the unsavoury world of adults, drugs, child beating, alcoholism et al
    – Dad is slowly losing his appeal throughout the story, all he cares about is his money

    What the film makers may have failed to do is to make the story dramatically engaging.

    What do others think?

  2. I think that the money is a substitute for his father. And if he can find and keep the money, he can keep his father. He knows deep down, even if he doesn’t admit to himself, that the moment, he gives his dad the money, he’ll split.

    And I think that most of the time, why none of these absolutely STUNNING movies don’t succeed internationally is because we jolly well don’t know they exist. I only knew this film existed because a friend of mine who was living in New Zealand at the time posted a Facebook status about it.

    I yearn everyday for some kind of worldwide channel for indie films and some kind of update mechanism so we as filmmakers know of each other’s existence. Twitter/YouTube is very Western-world-centric.

    My two cents, though they are not worth much.

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