Checklist Road Test

The Ultimate Pilot Checklist: Black-ish

Dre Johnson is an advertising executive, married to a doctor (Rainbow), living with four cute children (Ruby, Andre Jr, Jack and Diane) and his acerbic father (Pops). He’s expecting to be promoted to Senior Vice President, and gets it, but finds out that he’s only the SVP of the ‘urban’ division. Meanwhile, his son has gone out for field hockey instead of basketball and decides he wants a bar mitzvah. 

PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (14/20)             

The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?

Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?

Yes, it’s funny and edgy.

Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?

The tourist van driving by sort of does that: This will be a sociological study.

Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?

No.  It’s a familiar sitcom family.

Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?

He wants to be an exemplary black man, but the more exemplary he becomes the less black he feels.

Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?

It’s a very ABC show.

Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)

 The setting is pleasant.

Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?

Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?

Yes, Dre.

If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)

Well, Anderson had given up movies for TV a while before, but he had starred in some movies.

Is the show set in an unsafe space?

It’s made clear in the opening that they don’t feel entirely welcome in their neighborhood and he doesn’t feel very comfortable at work. 

Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?

No, everybody’s rich.  It’s a recurring gag that he wants his son to have poor friends, but that never pans out.

Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?

Not really.  Sitcom mini-dramas will have to be whipped up every week. 

Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?

Not really. 

Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?

Big in their own way: Have I lost touch with my culture and can I save my kids from the same fate?

Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?

Sure, little parenting goals and work difficulties.

The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?

Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?

Yes, it’s sort of a premise pilot, in that his growing dissatisfaction with his son and job reach a bit of a breaking point, and both are established at midpoint.

Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?

The family labeled “The Mythical and Majestic Black Family.”    

Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 

Not really.  It’s basically an update of “The Cosby Show” with a bit more discontent added in.   

Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?

Sort of with Junior wanting a bar mitzvah (that was showcased in the show’s ads), sort of with the Rodney King ad, but it’s generally a pretty gentle show.

Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?

Not really.

Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?

No.

PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (16/16)

Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?

Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)

 His wife looks like a mess in her sleep and he thinks funny stuff about her.  He imagines himself being gawked at by tourists.   Making the Rodney King ad is funny. 

Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?

Everybody knows that he’s going to be Senior Vice President. 

Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?

 He’s still feels like an angry working-class person on the inside.

Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?

”Keep it Real”, Succeed on his own terms, “I’m still going to need my family to be black.  Not black-ish, but black.”

Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?

His job’s metaphor family is clashing with his background.  Ironically at his job, part of his job is to tell them how a black man would talk.  He insists that a black man wouldn’t talk differently (and gets insulted when they start calling him black-sounding nicknames), but on the other hand, he gets offended when his kids say they don’t see color.  To a certain extent, this whole show is about a clash of metaphor families (aka code-switching)

Does the hero have a default personality trait?

Cocky but frustrated

Does the hero have a default argument tactic?

Absorb humiliations unflappably until he snaps.

Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?

Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?

He’s thin-skinned and oversensitive to slights, both at work at at home.

Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?

He’s only going to become more uncomfortable as he gets richer and his kids get nerdier.

Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?

Yes.

Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?

Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?

He sees problems others don’t see. 

Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?

Yes, he proves at the end that he’s good at creating advertising campaigns (“LA is Colorful”), and that he’s a pretty good father (throwing his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”)

Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?

His family has no black pride.  His coworkers are insensitive to race.

Is the hero curious?

 Sort of.  He persists with interrogating his son.

Is the hero generally resourceful?

 Sort of.

Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?

 Sort of.

PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (10/13)

Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?

If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)

Yes, Tracee Ellis Ross is a TV star and Lawrence Fishburne is a movie star.

Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)

The entire cast is strong.

Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?

 Both his wife and his mother make good points, from very different points of view. 

Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?

Yes, we get little glimpses of each character’s backstory, but they’re more defined by their current roles.

Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)

Very much so. 

Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)

No, his boss is not a main character yet, but will become one.

Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?

Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?

No.

Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?

NA

Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?

Dre: Gut, Junior: Heart, Rainbow: Head, Pops: Spleen, to a certain extent.  The other kids aren’t clear yet.

Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?

Junior: the white version of black (he calls his field hockey team the Field-Mob), Rainbow: Upper class doctor (“Breaking down barriers is equally important to money, but just so I’m clear, there is a salary increase, right?”), Pops: Working class (“…before you start in with all that mess.”)

Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?

Junior: Nerdy, Rainbow: Placid, Pops: Sour and bemused

Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 

Junior: Predict objections and prepare elaborate defenses, Rainbow: Hold her tongue, then call you aside, Pops: Mutter snipes, then pretend he said nothing.

Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?

Pops

PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (22/22)                                                                   

Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series

Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?

Yes, 21 minutes

If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?

Yes, 3

If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?

1st: Finds out that he’s on the “urban” vice president. 2nd: He gives a too-black presentation and his job is clearly in danger.  3rd: “Be damned if I’m calling him Andy, though.”

Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?

One day will be common.

Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?

Yes.

If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?

Yes.

Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?

Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?

Yes.

Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?

Yes.

Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?

Yes, he gets the promotion he wants but he doesn’t want to just be the “urban” vide-president.

First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?

Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?

Get his promotion and move his seat to the senior management side of the table. 

Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?

He finds out he’ll be the “urban” SVP.  He finds out his son wants to play field hockey instead of basketball.   

Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?

Yes, in the second half

Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?

His boss and co-workers behave in an inappropriate manner towards him.

Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?

He just complains to his family.  

Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?

His son wants a bar mitzvah.  He decides he’s not integrated enough at work but his family wants to integrate too much. “I may have to be urban at work, but I’m still going to need my family to be black.  Not black-ish, but black!”

Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?

Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?

He decides to give his bosses a very black ad campaign and give his son an African coming of age ritual. 

By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?

Yes.

Are the stakes increased as the pace quickens and the motivation escalates?

He’s almost fired.

Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?

His son and father mock the African ritual.  Rainbow has found out about work and she’s had enough.

After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?

His pops set him straight and he says “Whatever you do, make sure it’s right for who you are.”

Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?

Yes: He decides to do an ad campaign his boss will like and throw his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”

After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?

Yes: His new “L.A. is Colorful” ad campaign is very different, and he thinks as he presents it: “‘Urban’ can mean hip, cool and colorful, just like my family.  Taking a cue from my son, I decided to get my foot in the door and really make some noise.  Funny thing is, I didn’t feel urban.  I just felt like a dad who was willing to do whatever he had to for his family, and isn’t that the American Dream?”

PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (21/22) The scene where his son asks for a bar mitzvah and Dre calls a family meeting

The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?

Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?

Just a little.  He’s been increasing pissed about his family’s lack of blackness.  He’s just endured another humiliation at work and we’re right to be worried that he’ll take it out on his family.  

Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?

No, it begins at the beginning.

Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?

It’s the kitchen/dining room, so they’re fairly active.

Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?

The mom’s cooking is being interrupted.

Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?

Lots of plot elements are colliding.  Junior’s friend Zach is a distracting irritant.

Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?

The kids have made it clear they have other places to be.  

The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?

Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?

Yes.

Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?

Dre’s having a meltdown and upsetting everyone else “Daddy’s scaring me!”

Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?

We sort of agree with him and sort of with Rainbow. 

Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?

Very much so.  Very different ideas about how to be black in America.

Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?

Surface: Can Junior have a bar mitzvah? Can the twins have a playdate? Suppressed: How black should we be?

Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?

Dre calls it out.

Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?

Not for long.

Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?

Pops is subtly egging Dre on. (“But when I say it, I’m wrong.”)  Junior tries to convince his dad to go along with the bar mitzvah by saying “You won’t have to worry about anybody calling me ‘Andy’ anymore, because when I convert, I’ll have a Hebrew name!” 

Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?

He kisses Rainbow, Rainbow hugs Junior, Junior high-fives Zach

Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?

The mom hands out food, Zach takes a grape soda without permission, which symbolizes taking their son from them (and grape soda has previously been associated with ghettoization).  Diane squeezes a squeaky toy to feel safe.

The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?

As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?

”If she thinks I’m finished with keeping it real, well I’m just getting started.”  Dre gets pushed to the edge over the course of the scene.

Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?

The family gathers to commune but ends up upset and alienated from each other.

Are previously-asked questions answered?

Will Junior make the team?

Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?

What does Dre now intend to do at work?

Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)

We have growing fear that Dre’s going to do something drastic at work and with his family.

Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?

”If Stevens and Lido really wants an ‘urban’ SVP, I’ll give them their urban SVP!”  Then we cut to his Rodney King-focused ad. 

PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (13/13)

Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?

Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?

Yes.

Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?

We’re not supposed to fully agree with his attitudes.

Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?

Yes.

Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?

Yes.

Do the characters interrupt each other often?

Yes.

Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?

Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?

Well, he worries he’s not as culturally specific as he used to be.

Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?

Yes.

Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?

Sort of.  We learn about the culture of an ad firm.

Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?

Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?

Yes.

Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?

Yes: “Big butts, R&B, and dancing: Those were the black man’s go-to’s!”

Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?

Yes.

Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?

Yes, even the doctor.

Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?

Yes, when Rainbow finds out he’s almost been fired.

PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (7/8)

Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?

Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?

Family sitcom. 

Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?

There are no unrealistic elements.

Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?

Hip, sarcastic.

If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?

The impression is that there will not be a spectrum of moods on the show.  Both stories are in the same register.

Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?

Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?

There’s a jaundiced voiceover.

Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 

Will he accept the position under the limited terms he’s offered?

Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?

There’s an increasing sense that something will go wrong at work.  They know we’ve seen TV shows and they set us up to expect that the reversal will be that he doesn’t get the promotion, only to be surprised when we get a different reversal (he gets it but it’s only for the ‘urban’ division.) ‘Urban’ has already been set up to a ridiculous term.

Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?

He accepts the job (it’s being etched on his window) as the credits roll.

PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (13/14)  

Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?

Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?

He and his pops have one philosophy (“Sometimes I feel that in order to make it, black folks have dropped a little bit of their culture”), while his wife and children have another (“Don’t you think that’s beautiful? They don’t see color!”)

Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or _ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)

All of the above, plus “Not that I want to go back to being the big, scary, black guy, but I have to admit, it did kind of have its advantages.”

Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?

Make money or be true to your working class roots. 

Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?

Put up with humiliations at work to make money, abandon your religion to have a party, etc.

Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?

 Very much so: He feels like he’s treated too black at work and his family is not black enough at home.

Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?

The meaning of grape soda, etc

Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?

Yes.

Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?

Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?

Well, like its ABC companion “Modern Family”, they’re unrealistically wealthy, so normal rules don’t really apply.

Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?

We become aware of little slights Dre can see from his unique perspective.

Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?

Yes, his first “urban” ad campaign has flashes of Rodney King, etc.

Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?

Yes.

Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?

Yes, he almost gets fired, etc.

Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?

Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?

No, it’s voiceover heavy and he sort of synthesizes it.

Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?

Yes.

Total Score: 116/128

 

 

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The Ultimate Story Checklist: The Farewell

Billiis broke Chinese-American would-be writer in New York, who finds out that her beloved grandma Nai Naiback in China is dying, and, according to Chinese custom, the family has chosen not to tell her of her own illness, but the family has contrived a wedding that will give them an excuse to visit grandma one last time.  Billi decides to tell grandma but gets talked out of it, eventually joining in on the deception.  In the end, Nai Nai doesn’t find out and is still alive when the movie is made. 

PART #1: CONCEPT 15/19

The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?

Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?

A young Chinese-American woman returns to China to see her dying grandma one last time, but nobody will let her tell her grandma the truth.

Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?

Lying for an honorable reason, withholding aggressive medical care with the idea that it would do more harm than good because of the fear it would cause

Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?

Wang says that the more specific she made it to her culture the more universal it become.  We’ve all told lies to family to make them feel better, but not usually with life or death stakes.

Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?

Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?

Yes, there’s very little plot.

Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?

Yes, Billi

Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 

Yes, we see little of her life outside this problem.

Does the story present a unique relationship?

Yes, a girl and her grandmother when the girl is hiding from the grandmother that she’s dying.

Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?

Everyone in the film is opposed to Billi’s wish to tell her grandma.

Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?

It represents her greatest fear: That’s she’s too American for China but too Chinese for America.

Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?

On the inside, she’s having a volatile reaction, but she suppresses it all the way through the end of the movie, which is very non-western. 

Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?

Lying is easy enough to do, but it’s hard to want to do.  (In the end, it becomes hard to do as well when she must go to great lengths to fake the medical report.) 

In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?

Not at all.  She’s the only one who can stop this, but she chooses not to. And ultimately submitting to the will of the group seems to work.

Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?

No, she chooses not to transform the situation at all, but it does transform her.

The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?

Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?

Just slightly.  It intentionally doesn’t deliver the drama it promises because the dam never breaks and the truth never comes out, but along the way it makes us laugh and cry. 

Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?

Not really.

Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?

Not really.  The crazy-wedding-seated-dance-game thing is great trailer-fodder though. 

Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?

Well, the big surprise is that the dam never breaks.

Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?

Yes.

Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?

Yes.

PART #2: CHARACTER 19/22

Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?

Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)

On the phone with her grandma, she lies that she’s wearing a hat to stay warm enough.  Her grandma then warns her that in New York criminals will rip your earrings right out of your ears.  She signs a petition on the street to save marine life just out of pity for the woman asking for signatures, then has a friendly conversation about how she used to have that job, and admits she quit before she could be fired.

Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?

Yes, we never learn much backstory

Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?

Her family has great hopes for her.

Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?

She’s hiding the fact that she didn’t get a Guggenheim fellowship and feels like a failure.

Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?

Sort of, she sounds like a teenager, showing her arrested development.  “Are you always going to live like this?”  “Poor and sexy, I hope so.”  But that amount of personality is atypical.  For the most part, she has little verbal personality.   

Does the hero have a default personality trait?

Glum, which is a very alienating trait

Does the hero have a default argument tactic?

Appeal to Western ethical reasoning.  Tell a lot of lies while insisting others tell the truth.

Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?

She loves her grandma and wants to tell her the truth, but ultimately chooses not to.

Care: Do we feel for the hero?

Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?

 I don’t understand, she doesn’t have a lot of time left, she should know, right?”

Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?

Tell her grandma the truth

Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?

She’s worried she’s going nowhere, she’s worried that she’s too Chinese for America and too American for China.

Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?

Emotionally very much so.  The closest she comes to physical vulnerability is when she comes back to her New York apartment and finds a bird inside, despite the fact that no windows are open.  Later, the same thing happens in her China hotel room.

Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)

Ultimately the movie flips in the final title card, revealing that her flaw was her self-centered, western urge to tell the truth (which we had perceived to be a strength)

Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?

…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?

… and that her strength was her willingness to knuckle under (which we had perceived to be a flaw)

Is the hero curious?

Right away, she’s trying to figure out where her Nai Nai really is.  She keeps demanding to know why they’re doing this, trying to understand Chinese logic. 

Is the hero generally resourceful?

Not really, but when she finally chooses to act, to fake the medical report, she does manage to summon the resources to do it.

Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?

Truth is better than lies, action is better than inaction, the American way is better than the Chinese way.

Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?

No one around her wants to tell the truth.

…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?

Many times

Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?

Sort of, she’s walking through the streets talking on the cell phone with her grandma.

Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?

Just a bit, in that she chooses to fly to China against their wishes.

Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?

Not really.  I mean, you could say she uses her writing skills to fake the document, but not really.

PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 18/21

1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?

When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?

She does not feel at home in America and misses her grandma.

Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?

She gets a letter denying her a fellowship, confirming her fear that she’s not making it on her own. 

Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?

She finds out that she can to visit China and her grandma, but only on the condition that her hide her grandma’s cancer.

Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?

Her parents try to convince her to not to come, sure that she can’t lie convincingly. 

Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?

She buys her own ticket and surprises everybody.

2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?

Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?

Well, it’s not really unforeseen, but her grandma immediately asks her what’s wrong.  Her grandma tries to teach her a Chinese exercise routine but she resists.  

Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?

She puts on a fake smile and tries to keep quiet.

Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?

Not really. She tries to relax at a spa, but without much success.

Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?

Grandma gets sicker and goes to the hospital.

3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?

Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?

She confronts Grandma’s doctor and tries to convince the family to tell her, but the doctor and her family talk her out of it.  

Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?

Her father switches to her side, but is still outvoted.  She feels betrayed by Nai Nai herself, when Nai-Nai’s sister tells her that Nai Nai lied to her husband about his cancer.

Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?

Sort of.  She confronts her uncle, convinced he’s the ringleader. 

Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?

Her uncle convinces her she would have to stay in China to take care of Nai Nai, and she decides to do so…

Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?

…but her mother quickly disabuses her of that notion.  (She can’t cook, clean, or write Chinese.)

4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?

Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?

You would think she would say something subtly showing that she’s coming around during her wedding speech, but her speech is unmemorable.  (The closest thing she gets to a corrected statement of philosophy is her final line of the movie where she comes home and shouts “Ha!” using her grandma’s exercise mantra.)

After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?

She happily joins in a drinking game with her family, no longer feeling disconnected from them.

Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?

Yes, when…

Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?

She finds out that her grandma has sent the maid for her test results and goes running out to intercept the maid.  She doctors the results to further the deception.

Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?

Very much not.  They all gather to watch the grandma read the faked results, but nobody confronts anybody.

Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?

She finally tells her Nai Nai one piece of truth, that she didn’t get the fellowship.  They bond as much as they can without the truth of the diagnosis coming out.

Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)

She returns home to New York, feels overwhelmed, then stops on the street and shouts “Ha!”, which she refused to do before.  We then find out that the grandma is still alive six years later.

PART #4: SCENEWORK 15/20 (Finding out about Nai Nai’s diagnosis from her parents)

The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?

Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?

She thinks that she’ll find out her dad is sick or drunk. 

Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?

Not really.  It starts at the beginning.

Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?

She’s just said to her mom, “Mom, if you’re going to give me shit every time I come home, I’m not coming home anymore,” so she feels intimidated there.

Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?

The dad doesn’t want to discuss it.

Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?

No.

Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?

No.

The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?

Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?

Yes.

Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?

We identify with Billi and want her to find out the truth.

Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?

Yes.

Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?

Surface: Let me go visit grandma.  Suppressed: I’m not too American for China, or if I am, it’s because American values are better. 

Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?

No, it’s all plainly stated.

Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?

The parents pretend not to be too upset.

Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?

Her mom references her dad’s joke, which Billi laughed at before, to mock Billi’s position, which Billi has no response to. 

Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?

There’s reblocking, but nobody touches each other.

Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?

No.

The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?

As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?

Not yet.  They convince her not to go, but not for long. 

Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?

She finds out the truth but humiliates herself in the process, admitting to her powerlessness.

Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?

Answered: What’s going on?  Asked: What will Billi do about it?

Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?

Ends on: ”If you go now, she will find out right away.”  Is that true?

Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)

We wonder if Billi will be able to keep the secret.

PART #5: DIALOGUE 16/16

Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?

Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?

Yes.

Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?

Yes, very much.  Both Nai Nai and Billi have a very limited perspective, in different ways.

Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?

It’s about learning to tell the difference.

Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?

Very much so.

Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?

Yes.

Do the characters interrupt each other often?

Yes.

Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?

Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?

The two cultures are contrasted in their language.

Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?

Nai Nai: Metaphor family: chirpy-but-hectoring grandma, personality trait: wants things her way but also wants to keep things pleasant, argument strategy: tell white lies to get what she wants.

Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?

Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?

Yes.

Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?

Just a bit.

Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?

Yes.

Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?

Yes.

Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?

They’re all three-dimensional.  To a certain extent, the mom is head, the father is gut and Billi is heart, but they’re ultimately more complex than that.

Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?

Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?

Her Nai Nai perceptively sees her problems, and her uncle sees her flaws.  

Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?

There’s no exposition.

Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?

Sort of with her uncle. 

Part #6: Tone 10/10

Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?

Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)

Dramedy

Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?

Big-lie family gathering

Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?

It majorly defies expectations.  We’re totally expecting the lies to come out.  But it satisfies a few as well, with heartfelt scenes and laughs.

Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?

Unfortunately, like too many indie films, it has a blue filter on it, literally and figuratively.  I guess you could say the mood is “indie.”  Mood is the movie’s biggest flaw.  

Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?

Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?

Well, we’re primed for the lie to come out, and, whether or not it does, for her to die, but neither comes.  But the movie is structured around the trip and does end when the trip ends.

Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?

We begin with an intercut phone call between Nai Nai and Billi, establishing the worlds.  The first shot is a picture of a beautiful Chinese landscape, but then we realize it’s just a picture in a hospital, establishing the idea of lies and masking illness.

Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?

Yes, some of the family members seem to have found success either by leaving or staying in China and others seem to have failed by doing one or the other, so lots of possible fates.

Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?

The doctor says that they lied to his mother about her cancer but she died shortly thereafter.

Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?

She switches to joining in the deception, she switches to telling the truth about her fellowship.

Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?

Yes, we see that the lie doesn’t come out, Billi doesn’t tell the truth, and Nai Nai doesn’t die.

PART 7: THEME 13/14

Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?

Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?

Is it better (and healthier) to live a happy lie or an unhappy truth?

Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?

”She should know, right?”

Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?

She keeps being put in moral dilemmas in China.

Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?

Does the story reflect the way the world works?

Yes, it’s a true story.

Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?

Very much so, it’s based on a true story of the filmmaker’s visit to China and shows many authentic things she noticed.  (I mean, it certainly never comes up that this is a dictatorship, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to shoot there if they had mentioned that, but it still has a lot to say about the nature of modern China without mentioning that very big elephant in the room)

Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?

Hints of it for both countries.

Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?

Well, not really, because dictatorship is never mentioned. 

Do all of the actions have real consequences?

Yes, but not what we expect.  Inaction ends up with positive consequences.

Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?

Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?

There are dozens of little lies that both Nai Nai and Billi tell that are counterpointed with the big lie that the other family members are telling Nai Nai.

Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?

When she chooses to join the lie, it’s in the form of an object she has to forge with difficulty.

Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?

Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?

Happy lie is seemingly better, but we’re not sure of that.

Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?

She doesn’t achieve her original goal of telling the truth and decides it was better not to.

In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?

It’s very untidy.  We never find out if Billi finds a way to make it in NYC, etc.

Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?

Yes.

Final Score: 106 out of 122

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The Ultimate Story Checklist: Get Out

Rose brings her black boyfriend Chris home to meet her wealthy, supposedly liberal family: dad Dean, mother Missy and brother Jeremy. He’s creeped out by the black maid Georgina and groundskeeper Walter. Missy hypnotizes him and gets him to admit he did nothing when his mother was dying from a car accident. They have a big garden party where he meets blind art dealer Jim and a wealthy black guy named Logan, who suddenly screams “Get out!” when he gets a flash in his eyes. Unbeknownst to Chris, the party guests have an auction for his body.  (Rose’s grandparents have already claimed the bodies of Georgina and Walter.)  Chris decides to leave too late and ends up strapped to a chair, but finally escapes by plugging up his ears so he can’t hear the sound that has been hypnotizing him. He kills everybody in the house (including Jim, who’s waiting for his body). He’s rescued by his friend Rod, who works for the TSA.

PART #1: CONCEPT 18/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
A young black man becomes increasingly aware that his white girlfriend and her family may have sinister designs on him. 
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
These liberals love black people a little bit too much.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
Very much so.  We’ve all felt like everybody at a party was talking about us behind our backs, even if we’re white. 
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Yes
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Chris
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
Yes
Does the story present a unique relationship?
Very much so.  We’ve never seen a pairing like Chris and Rose before, once we find out what’s really going on.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Just about everybody
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
Greatest hope: Someone finally loves him.  Greatest fear: That he’ll be passively trapped inside a screen again, as he was when his mom died.  (But as a photographer, he hides behind a lens, so his relationship to glass is complex.)
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
His story with his mom makes the sunken place especially horrific for him. 
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Rose is all he has in the world, so he doesn’t want to admit she or her family is evil.  And he doesn’t want to think about his mom.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
Yes, pretty much.  If he’d waited for Rod to show up, it would have been too late.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
In the commentary, Peele says that Chris turns a corner when he tries to rescue Georgina, symbolically finally saving his mom.  He certainly transforms the situation.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Very much: It’s funny, moving, scary and thrilling.  Everybody loves it, even if they hate horror.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
It’s tricky, because almost all of the horror imagery is a spoiler.  Ultimately, they cleverly found a way to promote it by just showing him crying while hypnotized, but Blumhouse also insisted on including in the first trailer a lame shot Peele had cut from the actual movie, showing a skeleton deer in the sunken place, and Peele reluctantly agreed.  They also included a knight’s helmet on the poster that was mostly cut from the movie. 
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
So many!  The sunken place! The auction! The killings!
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
To put it mildly.  We know some shit will go down, but don’t guess what.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Blumhouse did an amazing job marketing without revealing the twist.  (The biggest spoiler was the title)
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Very much so.
PART #2: CHARACTER 16/22
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
He admires himself in the mirror, then knicks himself shaving, which is comically vain. 
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Backstory becomes very important, but it doesn’t come into play until we’ve bonded to him (It does tie in to one reason we like him: He checks on the deer because nobody checked on his mom, but we only realize that on a second or third viewing)
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
An acclaimed photographer.  A self-confidant young black man in love with a white woman.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
He blames himself for his mother’s death and he fears everyone is out to get him.  
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Just very slightly.  He talks a little blacker to Rod than he does to her (“Yo, you at work?”) but for the most part he speaks rather generically.  He’s code-switching, and around white people he’s studiously generic in his metaphor family.
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Leery but too much of a peace-maker to act on his fears.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Not really, and he loses every argument he has in the movie.  He’ll try things like, “That was a dollar, you just threw a dollar out the window” when she throws away his cigarette, but it’s a halfhearted attempt and fails.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
His motivation is that Rose is all he has in the world (other than his dog and Rod) but we don’t understand that until halfway through.  Before he admits that, we wonder why he’s putting up with this.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 She says, “They are not racist. I would have told you. I wouldn't be bringing you home to them. Think about that for just two seconds.” Chris responds, “I'm thinking. Yeah, yeah, yeah good.”
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
He’s not very goal oriented.  In retrospect, we can figure that he might have seen this as an opportunity to have a family again, but he mainly just pastes on a smile in the first half and doesn’t try hard to impress.  He’s very polite but not eager to please.    
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open: that he’ll be “chased off the lawn with a shotgun”, Hidden: that he killed his mother, that everybody wants to kill him.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
Very much so.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
He’s too much of a passive observer.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
His ability to passively observe makes him a great street photographer.  He’s got a great eye.
(I guess you could say that another flaw/strength pair is flaw: he’s not paranoid enough and strength: he’s a peace-maker, but that, too, turns out to be a flaw.  In 2017, the country agreed on one thing: The time for peace-making had passed)
Is the hero curious?
He keeps spotting things that are off, and asking questions, but can’t put it all together.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Not really at first, but in the end he is.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I can make this work, I am an observer, I shouldn’t be so paranoid.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Rod lacks his chill, but Rod is totally proven right.  Rose lacks his racial awareness. 
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
He gently points out to Rose her seeming naivete, but mainly just reacts to everyone with pointedly-quizzical looks.  He laughs off Rod.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
Sort of: He’s shaving.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
Absolutely none, as Dean jokingly points out.  She drove. 
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
He finds his camera flash very useful.  Also,  even since the night his mother died, he’s had a nervous tick of scratching at the arms of chairs, and that ironically saves him.  Even more ironically, once he’s scratched open the chair, he then picks the cotton from inside it, which Peele implies in his commentary is Chris drawing on some racial memory. 
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 20/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
He doesn’t trust Rose that her parents will accept him (but doesn’t realize that he’s trusting them too much.)
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
The cops demands his ID, and he has to rely on Rose to defend him.  He is then constantly humiliated by Rose’s parents.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
It seems so: Rose defends him from the cop, implying that his relationship with her will give him access to her privilege.  
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
He doesn’t trust them or his own perceptions.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
He sort of agrees to let Missy hypnotize him, putting himself in their power.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
He regrets it the next morning.  Georgina and Walter just keep acting more threatening to him.  So does Jeremy.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
He tries to fit in at the party. 
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
Only in the deleted scenes, where Jim offers Chris a gallery show.   I think it was only cut because it overlapped with a long badmitton scene that wasn’t needed.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
To put it mildly! 
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Well, he can try, but he’s pretty powerless.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
Very much so.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
Yes, both for him and also for Rod, who now becomes our second hero. 
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
Very much so.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
Yes, he realizes when he speaks to Jim in pre-op what white people really see in him.  
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
After the ¾ point point, he chooses to save himself.  He discovers that the only way to save himself from slavery is to pick some cotton.
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
He fights them all to the death.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
He briefly tries to be proactive at the midpoint, but doesn’t succeed until the ¾ point point.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
Well, yes, things escalate more quickly than he’s prepared for.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
Yes, everybody’s there. 
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
 Chris chooses to try to save Georgina and thus makes his peace with his mom’s death.  He fails to save her, but “saves” Walter just in time for Walter to shoot Rose and kill himself.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
He rediscovers peace-making and chooses not to choke Rose to death (but Peele points out that he ultimately leaves her to die alone in the road like his mother died).  Rod delivers the moral: “I told you not to go in that house.”  Chris presumably agrees.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 16/20: Chris sneaks out for a smoke in the night, has creepy encounters with Georgina and Walter, then finds Missy up drinking tea.  She implores him to sit down, he repeats that he doesn’t want to be hypnotized, but she does it anyway with her teacup.  She gets him to admit the facts of his mother’s death, then sends him to a “sunken place” in his mind.
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
He’s made it clear he doesn’t want to be hypnotized.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
No, it goes from the beginning.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
He’s at his in-laws’ house, and they’ve been acting weird about him being black.  He’s just run into Georgina and Walter acting vaguely menacing to him.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
He just wants to smoke or go back to bed, not have a discussion with his mother-in-law, and certainly not be hypnotized.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Not really.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Sort of, once we realized what she’s doing with the teacup, and he’s got to get out of there before it gets him.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
It’s both a big plot scene and a big character scene.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
We’re rooting for Chris and don’t trust Missy.  (Maybe if the movie had a different title, white audiences might still be giving her a bit of a benefit of a doubt at this point.)
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
She’s pretending to help him quit smoking, but in actuality she has a very different agenda than him.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface conflict: I don’t want to be hypnotized. Suppressed, it seems at the time: I don’t want a black man dating my daughter.  Suppressed, we eventually realize: I want to enslave you, etc.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
Criticizing him for smoking in front of her daughter has a subtext of accusing him of subjecting her daughter to other vices.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
He’s very reluctant to talk about his mom.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
She gets him to laugh at his stereotypes about hypnotism, but ensnares him as she’s doing it.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
No, they both just sit down and don’t touch.  She pushes him in a different way.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
No. 
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
He gets lured into getting hypnotized, sent to the sunken place
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
She promised him more self-control and left him with none.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
Previously: Will she hypnotize him?  New: What has she done to him?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
Will he ever get out of the sunken place (Then, when we cut to him waking up, we wonder if the whole thing might have been a nightmare, which helps explain why he doesn’t immediately get out of the house.)
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
We’re terrified for him from this point on.
PART #5: DIALOGUE 14/16
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Not really.  We’re only supposed to empathize with Chris and Rod.  Even when we think Rose isn’t in on it, we don’t emotionally bond with her.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Sure.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
Well, Chris just wants to fit in, so he’s a people-pleaser, but ultimately he’s doing this in order to get love for himself, not out of a selfless love of anybody else.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Very much so.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
Yes.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Yes. Rose slyly interrupts Chris every time he starts to speculate.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Not really.  A little bit for the TSA.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
Yes.  Rod, for example: MF: TSA, DPT: Paranoid, DAS: Claiming that his job grants him more authority than he actually has.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Yes, especially Rod.  Dean with his “my man”
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
Hmm, I guess maybe the dad is heart, the mom is head, the brother is gut? 
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
Well, there are several false “I understand you” moments, starting with standing up to the cop. 
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
Yes.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Quite literally.
Part #6: Tone 10/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
Horror and social satire merged from the beginning.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
The “Get out of that house, you idiot!” sub-genre
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
No good guys die (except maybe if you count the victims buried deep within Georgina and Walter) and evil is totally defeated, so it’s more like an action movie ending than a horror ending.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
Creepy, odd, satirical
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
Chris’s dramatic question (Will they accept me?) will be answered definitively (and ironically) halfway through, and then we will default to Rod’s original question (Will he make it home?)
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
We start with the kidnapping of Andre to establish the genre.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
Both Andre and Andre’s white self Logan, when we think they are different people, seem like different possible fates for Chris.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
A tremendous amount of foreshadowing.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
No longer wants to smoke.  Refuses to wrestle brother at first. 
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
He presumably makes it home.
PART 7: THEME 12/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Cooperation vs. vigilance
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
Rod says “You better not come back all bougie on me tho” Will he?  Can he fit in without losing his blackness?
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
She chooses to stand up to the cop for him, he has to decide whether or not to reveal his suspicions about the servants, etc.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
Yes, wild and crazy as it is, it feels like, in some odd way, this is the way the world works.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
Peele, who is biracial, wittily observes universal truths about white worlds and black worlds.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
Very much so. It had a lot to say about the Obama era, when it was written, and the Trump era, when it was directed.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Very much so. 
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Much more so in the original ending, where Chris went to jail for killing all those white people.  Instead they released a better stand-up-and-cheer ending, but we know Chris is going to have a hard time explaining his whereabouts and actions.
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
Oh dear lord yes, as Peele makes clear in his DVD commentary.  Almost every thing we see or hear speaks to theme.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
The teacup, the cell phone, the items in the rec room. 
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
No, it tips definitively: Vigilance is entirely great, cooperation is fatally naive.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
The in-laws love him, after all.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
Lots of them.  Will he be able to explain any of this to the cops?  What about all the other victims?  (Of course, there are even more loose ends in Peele’s next movie.)
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
Chris barely speaks in the final third of the movie and won’t talk about what happened to him when Rod rescues him. 
Final Score: 106 out of 122
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The Ultimate Story Checklist: Lady Bird

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson tries to make it through her senior year (and a bit beyond) at a Catholic school in Sacramento in 2002, fighting with her mom but not her dad. She acts in the school play and starts going out with Danny, but finds him making out with a guy. She ditches her friend Julie for cool girl Jenna and loses her virginity to cool jerk Kyle. Finally, she ditches Kyle just in time to go to prom with Julie as friends. Against her mom’s wishes, she goes to college in New York City, but calls her mom to make peace at the end.
PART #1: CONCEPT 14/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
No, there’s no hook.  It had to depend entirely on reviews and a funny trailer. 
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
Not really.  The cover image is very slightly incongruous: a girl with colored hair at a catholic school, but that doesn’t really rise to the level of irony.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
No, this is just the writer/director’s life story, faithfully recreated with its original place and time, with the same stakes as the true story. 
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Very much so. 
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Lady Bird
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
Basically.  It begins at the moment her relationship with her mom becomes untenable, and ends with the relationship’s peacable resolution.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
None of the relationships are tremendously unique, but they’re all original enough not to be cliché. We’ve seen relationships of the sort we see here with the mom, the dad, Julie, Jenna, Danny, and Kyle, but not with these well-observed unique details.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Her mom is opposed to a lot of what she’s doing.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
Her greatest hope is to leave Sacramento and be cool.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
From the first scene, we see how volatile she’s become as a result of the stresses in her life.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
She knows she will lose her mom if she becomes her own person, and she loves her mom. 
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
Yes, only she can be in charge of her own life in the end.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
Very much so.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Very much so: It’s funny, romantic, moving, etc.  We laugh and cry. 
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
Again, just slightly with the colored hair in catholic school.  So not really.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
Very much so.  The way they sold this movie was by showing her jump out of the car in the middle of the argument with her mom in the opening scene.  It adds a “Holy Crap” moment to a subdued movie and makes you want to see it. 
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
Not really.  A bit with Danny turning out to be gay.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
N/A
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
N/A
PART #2: CHARACTER 21/22
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
She’s mildly funny (saying her brother barely saw the knifing that caused her to be taken out of public school) and vain in a mildly comic way (insisting on her made-up name and saying “I want to go where culture is, like New York.  Or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire.  Where writers live in the woods.”)
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Jumping out of the car defines her
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
Jumping out of the car results in a bright pink cast with “Fuck You Mom” written on it, and she has pinkish hair, so that defines her strongly.  And she tells everybody her chosen name, showing she wants to fly away. 
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
She secretly loves Sacramento and her mom.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Developmental: We first see her listening to Steinbeck on audiobook and her voice is sort of Lost Generation-y (“I wish I could live through something.”)
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Her teacher then tells her “You have a performative streak”.  She’s overly dramatic, likeably shallow and vain.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Mischaracterizes her scene partner: (“I’m sorry I’m not perfect.”) Insists on her own reality if spite of evidence: “What I’d really like is to be on Math Olympiad.” “But math isn’t something that you are terribly strong in.” “That we know of YET.”
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
Her motivation isn’t strong: She strongly wants out of town, but nobody is sure why, including herself.  She waffles about whether she even wants it.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
“I wish I could live through something.”  Be careful what you wish for.
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
Win Danny.
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open fear: She won’t get into an east coast school, that she’ll always look like she’s from Sacramento.  Hidden, private fear: That she’ll lose her mom.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
Very much so: She has a cast, and she’s emotionally open to scenes that hurt her.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
She’s vain, she betrays her friend in a quest to be cool.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
She’s self-confident and goes for what she wants.
Is the hero curious?
Yes, she tries out theater, looks up whatever she can learn about things mentioned by the guys she has crushes on.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Yes, she rehearses for the audition, schemes her way into the world of the cool kids.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I don’t even want to go to school in this state anyway, I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast.”
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Her best friend lacks her confidence.  Her family lacks her ambition.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
Not so much with her friend (which is good), but certainly with her family.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
She jumps out of a car.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
Well, she’s trying to get more of it the whole time but yes, she pretty much in charge of her life.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
To a certain extent.  Her lack of skills is part of her problem.  But she shows uncommon social ability to navigate different worlds.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 17/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
Her first line: “Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?”
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
Her mother tells her she lacks the ability to make it out of Sacramento.  “You should just go to City College, with your work ethic. City College and then to jail then back to City College. Maybe you’d learn how to pull yourself up and not expect everyone to do everything for you...”
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
Sort of.  She pusues the real solution (applying for an east coast school) slowly in the background for most of the movie, but in the foreground she pursues other ways to be sophisticated and happy: Theater and boys she perceives as smarter than her. 
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
No, she’s not a hestiater.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
She’s applying to schools, doing theater, and pursuing Danny.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
Her mom fights her at every turn, and she get pushback from her brother too.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
Sort of: She applies to college amibitiously despite not attempting to better her grades.  She accepts Danny without suspicion.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
She’s in love, loving theater.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
Danny turns out to be gay, she can’t enjoy the play anymore.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Yes, but this is the sort of movie where “the hard way” is also “the bad way” She drops theater and her best friend Julie, pursues a bad friend and bad boy, through subterfuge.  
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
Both of those relationships are unsatisfactory and she goes back to Julie.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
She has to race to Julie before prom ends, sort of.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
Very much so.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
When she ditches Kyle.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 “She’s my best friend” “I’m sorry, I know I can lie and not be a good person but... Please, Mom, please I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you - I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, I’m ungrateful and I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I wanted more...”
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
Well, she pretty much just has to wait and see if she gets off the wait list.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
She goes off to school, despite her mom not talking to her. 
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
No.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
No, she’s off at school in the final scenes without all the other characters. 
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
She accepts her name, but then lies about where she’s from at a college party, then drinks herself into oblivion and wakes up at the hospital.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
She goes to church and then calls her mom and leaves a message admitting that she loves Sacramento and her mom.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 18/20: The scene where she hits on Kyle in the parking lot
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
He said before that he wished she’d been flirting with him, and he’d see her at the Deuce, which she assumed was someplay really cool.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
No, it starts at the beginning.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
She’s a little intimidated, because all of these kids are cooler than she is, and she’s definitely discombobulated to find out that the Deuce is just a parking lot.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
He’s reading a book when she approaches him and he’s reluctant to put it down.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Jenna is making out with her boyfriend, distracting Lady Bird.  His dad has cancer.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Not really.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
Yes.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
Our rooting interest is complicated.  We love Lady Bird, but we’re not really on board with this guy, so we’re starting to want our heroine to not get what she wants.  (But we’re also seeing that the theater activity she’s skipping is now run by a football coach and amusingly lame.)
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Not really in that they both want to sleep with the other, but yes in that he wants her to be something she isn’t, so her desire to be with him puts her in conflict with herself.. 
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface conflict: Will he agree to a date?  Suppresed conflict: Who am I?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
When she pushes her “cool girl” thing too far and threatens to kill his family, he pauses and then says “What?”asdf
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
She’s pretending to be blasé but she’s asdaf anything but.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
He pretends that he’s getting her number so that his band can play his café.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
He has her write her number on his hand.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
A pen to write the number.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Well, he had previously announced that he liked flirting with her, but he wasn’t planning on following up until she pounced on him.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
Not really.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
Previously asked: What’s the Deuce?  How much does he like me? New: Will he call?  Can she continue to impersonate the person he wants her to be?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
We cut out early before they part ways, but not on a question.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
Well, again, we’re proud of her for going after and getting what she wants, but we’re not sure we approve of this guy.
PART #5: DIALOGUE 15/16
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Very much so.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  The dad is the wisest, but even he has his blind spots.  
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
Very much so. 
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Yes.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
Yes.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Coming of age movies don’t really have much jargon.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor families: Mom: mom, Dad: dad, Danny: theater, Kyle: left-wing politics
Personality traits: Mom: Critical, guilt-inducing, Dad: pitiful, loving, Julie: chipper, Danny: friendly, Kyle: Cool
Default argument tactics: Mom: Gut-punching, Kyle: Diminishing the personal in favort the political
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Yes.
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes, even the intellectual speaks realistically.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
All characters are 3-dimensional, even the teachers.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
She and her mom each reach out to the other in one-way ways, her mom with the letters she didn’t intend to send, the daughter with a phone message.  Maybe Metcalf would have won that Oscar if she’d picked up the phone at the end.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
NA: Not much plot, not much exposition.  They never explain why she has a hispanic brother.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Several.
Part #6: Tone 9/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
A straight-up coming of age tale.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
No sub-genres.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
She grows up and moves away, but doesn’t find love.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
Poignant, droll. 
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
Well, we assume based on everything that it’ll end when she leaves town, but it goes a little longer, which tries our expectations a bit, but we accept it.
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
Not really.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
She worries she’ll end up loveless like her friend, broke like her parents, living at home like her brother.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Danny’s gayness is certainly foreshadowed.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
Refusing to be called by her name.  This always tells us that the movie will end with a character accepting her name.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
The story goes a bit past the end of the main dramatic question: Will she leave town?  But then we realize the real question: Will she accept her mom and what her town has done for her?
PART 7: THEME 13/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Contentment vs. ambition. 
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
The first line:Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?”
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Hang onto friends who may be holding you back? Kyle represents justice but not decency.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
Very much so.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
Very much so.  It begins with a quote: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
- Joan Didion
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
They keep watching the Iraq war on TV.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Yes.
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Yes.
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Listening to the end “The Grapes of Wrath” at the beginning (in which California is un-nurturing, but a character is saved by breast-feeding.)  9/11 posters symbolize the danger of New York City.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
Maybe the cast?  The math grade book.  First Kyle’s reading “The People’s History of the United States” then she’s reading it.  Writing boys’ names on her wall then painting over it.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 She chooses ambition but realizes she also needs to accept that she should have been more loving towards her mom and her town.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
She seeks out the comforts of home (church and calling her mom) in New York.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
She still hasn’t found love.  She still hasn’t told anyone the truth about being from Sacramento.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
No, she basically synthesizes it.
Final Score: 107 out of 122
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The Ultimate Pilot Story Checklist: The Good Place

Eleanor Shelstrop wakes up in the afterlife and is told by a man named Michael that she has died in a shopping cart accident, but the good news is that she’s gone to “The Good Place”, a heavenly realm reserved for only the best people. Michael shows her to her dream house and her soulmate, Chidi, then leaves them together. Eleanor quickly admits to Chidi that there’s been a mix-up and she’s actually a terrible person. That night they go to a party hosted by their neighbors Tahani and Jianyu, but Eleanor steals shrimp and calls Tahani a giraffe. They awake the next morning to find the realm being attacked by giant shrimp and giraffes. Chidi says that Eleanor’s badness is disrupting this world and she must come clean. Eleanor has another idea: Chidi can teach her how to be a good person so she’ll fit in. He reluctantly agrees.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (17/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
 Well, the execution does, because it’s very funny and the leads are very appealing, so everybody who sees it loves it and recommends it to others.  But the concept is a hard sell.  What was it the Talking Heads said: Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens?   It’s hard to see how the show would work until you see it. 
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
Very much so: A jaundiced view of heaven though the eyes of a terrible person.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
Very much so: A dead woman and her afterlife-manager and her ethics coach.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
Heaven is annoying.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
Sort of?  NBC has never put its full weight behind the show, and seems to have made it as a favor to Schur for his other shows.  I think you could safely say this is a show that meets nobody’s “content expectations.”
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
More so in the second episode, where they learn they can fly, and we get into the “wish fulfillment” aspect of the show. 
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
Eleanor
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Yes.  Bell had a minor movie career.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
Once the shrimp and giraffes attack, we realize that it is.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
Yes, Eleanor has class resentment of Tahani
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
Not really.  It’s not really a strong plot engine, and it would run out by the end of the first season.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
More cerebral, certainly, but we sense from the pilot that they’ll be kept on their toes physically as well.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
Yes, she’s trying to save herself from eternal torment.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
Only slightly: She’ll have a different moral knot to untangle in each episode, and she must solve the mystery of how she ended up there.  (Other mysteries will soon present themselves as well.)
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
Not really.  There’s an awful lot of set-up here and Eleanor won’t really start trying to be a better person until next week.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
Many!  Giant shrimp and giraffes attack!  Even the color scheme and font feel unique. 
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
Oh my yes.
Is there a “Holy crap!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
Sort of: When we find out she’s a terrible person.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
How did she end up there?  Is there something sinister going on? A potential romance with Chidi.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
Eleanor and Chidi enter into their conspiracy.
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (13/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Sort of: ”Did I have a purse?  No, I’m dead.  Right.  Okay.”  It’s tricky, because they haven’t revealed her true personality yet at this point, but they still have to give us just enough to get us to like her in a kind of generic way before they can get us to like her specifically.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
A perfect person
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
A terrible person
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I don’t need anybody, the world is a terrible place, live for today
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Cursing, but she can’t curse here, which means the show actually gets away with a lot of cursing: “Fork me”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Selfish
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Guilt you into doing it.  “My soul is in your hands, soulmate, what’s it going to be?”
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
She’s mean-spirited.
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
Just the opposite, which is why this concept proved to be untenable past 13 episodes.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
What happens when a rotten person who lives for today faces eternal judgment?
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
 She cuts through the bullshit, both on Earth and in heaven.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
Well, she was good at her job defrauding old people.  She’ll be pretty good at her job of conning her way into heaven, but we don’t have much sense of that yet in the pilot.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Yes, everybody seems dippy compared to her.
Is the hero curious?
Very much so.  She’s got a big mystery to solve.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Not really.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
Well, she’s in a unique position, but no, she doesn’t really have any special skills.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (11/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Just one: Michael.  The other roles went to totally unknown actors.
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
Yes, they’re all great. 
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
Very much so, though we only really get to know the three in the pilot. 
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
Well, the whole point of heaven is that you get defined by your backstory, but we don’t get much of that in this episode.  We judge people based on how they act here.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
Well that’s what it’s all about, right?  Eleanor certainly does, and later we’ll learn that the others are doing the same.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
The boss is part of the cast, and Eleanor and Chidi put themselves in charge of their own conspiracy. 
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
Yes, Eleanor
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
Not really.  Everybody tells her.    There’s even a power point.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
Chidi is head, Michael is heart, Eleanor is gut.  (These will change over time)
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
Michael: Kindly gentleman: “Shall we?”  “Funnily enough…”
Chidi: Ethical hair-splitter “Technically…”
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Michael: Warm-hearted
Chidi: Supportive but exasperated
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Michael: Seemingly plain-stated solicitous to all questions. Doesn’t have to talk anybody into anything yet.
Chidi: Appeals to morals
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
In this case, it’s the hero, Eleanor
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (17/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
22 minutes.
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
Yes, three breaks
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
1st act out: She’s invited out to see heaven. 2nd act out: “There’s been a big mistake, I’m not supposed to be here.” “Wait, what?”. 3rd act out: “I just have to go upstairs and steal a bunch of gold stuff.”  4th act out: “Eleanor, this is all happening because of you. “Ah, fork me.” 5th act out: “My soul is in your hands, soulmate.  What’s it gonna be?”  “Oh, stomachache.”
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
Yes, 24 hours will be common.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
There’s just one storyline.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
No.  There’s a lot of set-up and they only establish the premise at the end. 
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
Not really.  She doesn’t achieve any goals.   Her accomplishment is to find a co-conspirator
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
No.  The characters will grow very deep and rich over time, but the pilot is more about plot.  This is a downside of high-concept ideas. 
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Well, the reward is high, but she really doesn’t want to go straight.  She will reluctantly try to be a better person, but she really just wishes she could go to a “medium place.”
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
Fake it, mostly by staying quiet.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
Well, the major change in the status quo happens before the episode begins.  The troubling situation comes when she sees video of Eleanor’s life shot from her POV, which confirms that she’s been falsely identified. 
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
Yes, she confesses to Chidi and asks for his help.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
He resists.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
She thinks it won’t be that hard.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
She just realizes as a result of the party that it’ll be harder than she thought.  
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
She talks with Chidi about how hard it’ll be.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
Not really.  Lots of plot in this episode.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
Yes, when the world starts falling apart.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
Again, the shrimp and giraffes.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
Just at the end: Get coached by Chidi
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
Yes.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
She decides to become a good person.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (18/22)  Eleanor and Chidi react to the crisis
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
We just saw them freaking out.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
No.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
Well, there’s an apocalypse going on outside, and there’s someone knocking on the door, so sort of. 
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Chidi is reluctant to have this conversation.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Not really.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Someone is knocking on the door.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
Very much so.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
He is tortured by it. 
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
We’re sympathetic to both, but ultimately on her side.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Very much so.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface: Help me.  Suppressed: Admit that life isn’t black and white.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
She calls it out.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Yes.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
”My soul’s in your hands, soulmate.”
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
She keeps walking closer to him and pointing a finger in his face, but she never quite touches him. 
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
No.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Well, it stops just before he commits to her plan, but we can tell he will. 
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
Not really.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
What’s going on?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
Will their plan work?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
We’re very afraid.  She’s afraid that the person at the door will see she’s wearing the wrong clothes.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
”What’s it gonna be?”
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (11/13)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Not yet.  Tahani and Jianyu/Jason are looked down on, so far.  It also doesn’t seem that Janet will have any depth yet.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  Nobody can see what the others are going through.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Yes, Janet corrects Eleanor.  “I wasn’t that into him anyway.” “Yes, you were.”
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
Yes.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
Not really with the main characters.  Michael is not associated with any one culture, Eleanor is sort of generically “white trash”, but not in a culturally specific way.  Chidi is African and speaking French which has been translated into English, so his language has been de-culturized.  In the pilot, only Tahani is culturally specific.  Later, Jason will be, brilliantly.
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Well, Chidi very believably speaks like an ethics professor, and his profession will come to dominate the show.  
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
Do ethics professors have tradecraft?
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Sure.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Sure.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Sure.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Well, one of the characters is a professor, but Eleanor speaks very plainly.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Sort of, Eleanor thinks about her parents in hell.
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (6/8)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
Nothing we’ve ever seen before. 
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
Yes, this is basically a show about what it feels like to be on Facebook, where everybody else seems like a perfect person and you feel like a loser-creep compared to them. 
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
Quirky, light, bright, surreal
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
Just one storyline.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
No, we jump right in. 
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
“Will she be found out?”
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
We get little hints that Eleanor isn’t who she appears to be (“You were buying a bottle of Lonely Gal Margarita Mix for One”) and little threats that this place can turn threatening.
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
Not definitively, but now she has a plan for never being found out.
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (12/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
They have their own neighborhood in heaven, where Michael is trying something different than the other neighborhoods.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
Sort of: “There should be a medium place.”  Eventually, she will win over many people on the show to this point of view.   
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Be yourself or be a better person?
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Do you help your soulmate even though you know it’s ethically wrong?
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
There’s just one storyline
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
The sizes of the houses, etc.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
Very much so.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
Life is unfair.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
It’s too weird to say.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
Sort of.  Our hero is not a member of the moral 1%, but feels like she is entitled to their reward, not eternal torment. 
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Yes.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
Strange consequences, but real.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
Yes, it ends hastily.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
No, it does seem resolvable: It’s better (but harder) to become better than to be yourself.  The original premise only lasted 13 episodes because it was not irresolvable.  
Total Score: 105/128
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The Ultimate Story Checklist: Selma

Welcome back! It’s been a few years since we did a movie checklist, so let’s get right to it...
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. pressures President Lyndon Johnson to pass new voting rights legislation, but when Johnson, advised by Lee White, refuses, King’s SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) takes control of a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) voting drive in Selma, Alabama (previously led by students John Lewis and James Forman) and begins nonviolent demonstration designed to trigger a violent response. Johnson has J. Edgar Hoover release a tape of King’s adultery to King’s wife Coretta, and King has to stay home to work it out with her rather than march with the movement the next day. Lewis and others are badly beaten as that march is broken up. King calls out people from all over the country for a second march, but decides to turn the march back and wait for a court to given them the right to march. They win in court and complete the march. Feeling the pressure, Johnson gives his “We shall overcome” speech and agrees to support the legislation, which passes six months later.
PART #1: CONCEPT 18/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 An activist army and its weary general have to convince the president to commit to civil rights.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
A non-violent army.  The most powerless people in the country bending the most powerful man in the country to their well.  The only way they can win is to find a violent sheriff who’s willing to beat them up.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
It’s like a thousand everyday activist stories, but this was the big one.
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Yes.  It’s not an epic bio-pic of either man.  It’s about the emotional journey the two men go on over the course of a month or so.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
MLK
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
Yes, there’s lots of jumping ahead.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
Very much so: An activist and a president.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Lots and lots.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 Greatest hope: Freedom to vote, general uprising.  Greatest fear: That he will be killed and/or lose his family (which almost happens in an unexpected way)
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
He’s not a very volatile guy on the surface, but we sense a quiet fury lurking under the surface of Oyelowo’s performance.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Yes and no.  He tells Coretta he wants out, but is he telling the truth?  He fears he or his family will be killed, which certainly makes it hard to want to continue, but not in the sense that civil rights is something he has to come around to.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
Well, only Johnson can solve the problem but presumably only King could have forced his hand.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
Yes.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Yes.  It’s inspiring, moving, and transporting, with some excruciating chase scenes and violence. 
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
Yes, the three bridge crossings.  (We’ve seen them in documentaries, of course, but they come to life here as they couldn’t there.)
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
Sort of.  The violence, and the revelation of King’s adultery, which most viewers assumed they wouldn’t touch.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
Not really.  Sort of, when King turns back from the second march.   The movie really captures how baffling and disappointing that was, and even when it works out, leaves us wondering if King was playing chess when everybody else was playing checkers, or if he just wussed out and let everyone down. 
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Yes.
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Yes.
PART #2: CHARACTER 18/22
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Only sort of.  King struggles with his ascot and says “Wait till the brothers back home see me like this, they’ll get a good laugh.”  It humanizes him enough for us to care about him, but we never really have a moment of “Oh, he’s just a normal guy like us” The movie never really pierces that historical-figure-gravity.  DuVernay decides she just won’t bring King down to our level.  It’s an understandable choice, but I wonder if it hurt the movie’s appeal to audiences (or cost Oyelowo his nomination)
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Very much so.  We never get much backstory at all.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
Inspirational leader.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
Weary, adulterous-but-committed family man.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
He mostly talks in an elevated way, but you get little glimpses of his Southern upbringing:  “Living high on the hog dressed like this.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Brilliant, inspirational, steely, weary
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
With allies he keeps them onboard by talking about the future: With his wife: “Look here, I’m going to a pastor somewhere soon, college town…maybe the occasional speaking engagement…”  With Johnson, on the other hand, he rejects all talk of the future and talks only about the present.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
Basically.  We see the horror of the problem in the opening scenes (a woman is turned away from registering to vote, four little girls are killed)  We don’t see these directly provoke him, but we assume that these are driving him.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
Sort of.  He acts as if he expects Johnson to do the right thing without pressure, but he’s already planning to apply that pressure (“Selma it is”).  His philosophy is basically farsighted and rightheaded from the beginning.
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
Sort of.  His plan is to use non-violence tactics to escalate the violence against himself until he moves the country to outrage, and that basically works, but reversing course at the second march implies that he’s changed course on that plan.  Again, DuVernay really makes us question that choice, even after it works. 
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open: that he will fail to force the legislation, private: that he will get himself or his family killed, or his wife will leave him.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
Yes.  A white racist cold-cocks him, the FBI damages his marriage, activists wound him with their criticism.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
We get several flaws, but he doesn’t really struggle to overcome them and the movie struggles with depicting them in a compelling way.  When his adultery is revealed, it comes out of left field and we certainly never see him struggling with staying chaste or anything like that.  Another possible flaw the movie seems to imply is his reticence to use his army, but the movie never really pulls that trigger, it’s just implied but never openly addressed.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
The adultery isn’t really the flip side of a great stength (he believes in outreach?)  The possible over-reticence is certainly the flip side of his ability to channel the movement in a non-violent path that can win whites over.
Is the hero curious?
Sort of?  He doesn’t really solve any mysteries.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Yes.  He’s always gaming the situation to his advantage, and using his army in various ways.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
”We negotiate, we demonstrate, we resist.”
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
SNCC lacks his organizing prowess.  Johnson lacks his moral clarity, etc.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
He’s an expert at standing up for himself while still molifying his opponent, whether it be SNCC or Johnson. 
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
Just slightly active: He’s trying to tie an ascot. 
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
He’s the leader of thousands.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
He explains that he’s learned how to antagonize southern sheriffs into violence. 
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 19/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
Yes to the problem: He’s increasingly frustrated with Johnson.  As for the flaw, he doesn’t really seem to be flawed in the first half.  His two big flaws, when they arrive in the second half, seem to come out of nowhere: the revelation of his adultery and his (possibly flawed, possibly not) decision to reverse the second march. 
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
Johnson rejects his call to action.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
He realizes that the sheriff in Selma is the villain he needs.
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
Sort of.  He’s apologetic with Coretta and seems rather weary and unenthusiastic, calling Mahalia Jackson in the night to have her sing to him just to prop himself up.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
He mobilizes his army.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
SNCC is pissed that he’s taking over their campaign.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
He doesn’t provoke very much at first.  He tries to keep everybody happy, including Johnson and SNCC.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
King doesn’t really, no, but some of the other activists do. 
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
King is sidelined by the adultery tape and the other activists are beaten at the march he misses while he’s dealing with it.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
He puts out the call for activists from around the country, though he knows he’s putting them in deadly danger.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
Johnson turns on him and has the FBI send the tape to his wife (though it’s never clear if King blames Johnson for this).  Of the two SNCC leaders, he makes peace with one and breaks permanently with the other.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
His new army increasingly demands action.  Johnson increasingly demands he stand down.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
Sort of?  It’s hard to tell.  Is the decision to reverse the second march evidence that he’s learned from the mistakes of the first march, or a blunder that almost wrecks the movement?  DuVernay leaves that open.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
He reverses the second march.  That night, one of the white northern priests who’s disappointed by the decsion (“He owes me a return ticket”) is killed while waiting for action in Selma.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
Sort of.  He doesn’t frame it as changing his mind, but rather tries to explain his decision as a tactical retreat.  But nobody really buys that he hasn’t reversed himself.
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
Sort of.  He commits to doing it in the courts, but the movie certainly doesn’t portray that as “what he should have done all along”, but rather an avenue that opened because of everything he had done so far. 
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
He’s proactive throughout.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
They’re given a court date they’re not ready for.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
Sort of.  The whole movement marches across the bridge together, but Johnson isn’t there, and King isn’t at his speech.  (He was at Johnson’s side at the bill signing, but that isn’t shown.)
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
The victory seems to assure King that he made the right decision in turning back.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
Johnson certainly shows how much he’s changed with his “We shall overcome” speech.  Has King changed?  He’s certainly wearier and bruised, and feeling more guilty about the deaths.   We see onscreen graphics telling us what happened to everybody. 
PART #4: SCENEWORK 17/20: King meets with Johnson in the Oval Office to try to get him to commit to a new Voting Rights Act
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
Johnson has a pre-meeting with Lee White which opens with him saying, “Aren’t we done? Are we not done with this? Will this ever end?” White says, “Hammer home that impatience only hurts the overall cause.”
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
Not really, it begins when King arrives.  The scene does cut down what was probably a 45 minute meeting to 4 minutes, but the cuts are pretty seamless. 
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
What could be more intimidating than than the oval office?  They do end up sitting down, but they get up a lot for various reasons.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Well, they’re both planning to have it, but Johnson makes clear that he feels he has something better to do (the War on Poverty)
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
No.  A little bit with Nobel talk, but that’s really part of the meeting.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Not really, other than the fact that any president is going to be sparing with his time.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
Yes, the plot is established and they both get emotional, albeit about in contained ways. 
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
DuVernay keeps us on King’s side.  We’ve seen a victim that will be helped by voting rights, but not anybody that will be helped by the War on Poverty.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Very much so.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface: Johnson wants to falsely convince King civil rights is a priority for him, though it has to wait.  Suppresed: He wants to shut King up.  He also calls out a third conflict: He wants to make sure King stays the leader of the movement and not Malcolm X.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
King calls it out. 
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
As two southerners, they were raised to repel and fear each other, but they each suppress that.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
Johnson offers King a job in his administration, by which he would actually silence him. 
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
They re-block quite a lot.  At the beginning Johnson shakes his hand and puts a hand on his shoulder while pointing out, “I’m a tall son of a bitch” Later, when he’s making his big pitch to King, he crosses the room and puts a hand on his shoulder.  “I want you to help, help me with this…This voting thing is just going to have to wait.”
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
Johnson gives him coffee and King takes it but doesn’t drink it.  Johnson tries to hand King a folder with the War on Poverty program but King doesn’t take it.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Sort of.  They both do what they expected to do but didn’t want to do.  King leaves and tells his people, “Selma it is”.  We don’t see Johnson’s reaction but we soon realize that he just continues stewing about an irritation he wishes he’d taken care of. 
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
They each wanted to move the other to join their side but each fails.  Johnson tries to quiet King down but riles him up. 
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
The plot is launched.  What will each man do to persuade the other?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
It ends a little early on King saying “Yes, Mr. President, I understand,” The implied question is “Does he really?”  Then it cuts to King saying “Selma it is”, answering that question.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
We worry that Johnson will crack down on the movement or King, as he does later. 
PART #5: DIALOGUE 14/16
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Very much so, even George Wallace gets a little.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
To a certain extent.  King sees almost everything, but not quite.  Coretta sees the value of Malcolm X more than he does.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
Well that’s tricky.  Our hero is pretty saintly, but of course there is the issue of his adultery. 
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Again, the adultery comes to mind.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
Johnson and King circle around each other.  Johnson and Wallace have a conversation in which each avoids saying things they wouldn’t say.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
A little.  “Well, technically—“ “—Technically, we already have it, yes, Mr. President.” Later: “That’s insanity—“ “—Just like you left in Albany, those people are pathetic down there, just like their Daddy left home—“ “—Hey, what we’re trying to explain is—“ “—You know what I think?  Maybe we should just leave Selma”
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
”We negotiate, we demonstrate, we resist.”
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Johnson:
Metaphor family: Texas
Default personality trait: Folksy but intimidating  
Argument strategy: Flatter, make vague promises, then change the subject. 
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
As I said, a 45 minute meeting is boiled down to 4 minutes.  Being denied King’s speeches gave the filmmakers more freedom to whittle them down to 2 minutes each. 
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Not really.  King is not overflowing with personality.  And of course, it’s hard to have more personality than the real Johnson.
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
There’s lots of “Well, Mr. President,” in the political meeting.  There’s less in the movement meetings but they have to do it to a certain extent so we know who the historical figures are. (“John, James, the way our organization works…)
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Well, you can add presidents and preacher (people used to being listened to without interruption) to the professor category here.  The other characters speak simply. 
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
They’re all three-dimensional.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
Yes.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
The recent history of the movement is not delivered until SCLC and SNCC are fighting about it. 
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
The tape scene, certainly.  Johnson and King, on the other hand, never really lay into each other.
PART #6: TONE 10/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
Historical drama.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
Civil rights.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
Social progress, great speeches (though the King speeches had to be faked, due to his family’s attempts to sabotage the film)
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
Weighty.  Very little comic relief.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
We see the woman denied the right to register and so we build to the moment when she’ll get the right to register.  We see the marchers turn back twice and look forward to them making it. 
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
Showing the woman fail to register to vote and then showing the little girls killed (which had nothing to do with Selma) establishes these. 
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
Various characters are killed by racists. Malcolm X is killed by his former allies.  James Forman lets his pride and lack of team spirit compel him to abandon his campaign.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
The killing of the girls creates fear of more killings.  The mention that King has just abandoned an unsuccessful campaign creates fear that that will happen again. 
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
Johnson certainly has a big verbal reversal when he says “We shall overcome”, but there’s not really a physical behavior that reverses (such as refusing to shake King’s hand and then shaking it, or anything like that.)
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
Onscreen titles about the characters voting.
PART 7: THEME 13/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Be moderate (work together) or be immoderate (take a righteous stand). 
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
Yes, White says, “Hammer home that impatience only hurts the overall cause”  Is that true?
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Very much so: Johnson is choosing between using his political clout on anti-poverty programs or civil rights.  King is choosing between winning over his enemies or keeping his allies.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
It’s a true story.  It shows the adversarial nature of change.  (According to DuVernay, more so than in than the original script)
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
DuVernay, whose family is from Selma, claims that she added this element in her uncredited rewrites (the credited writer is a white British man)
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
Very much so, then and now.  Common does the final song and mentions Ferguson.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
The movie avoids charges of hypocisy by being honest about the hypocisies of both King (in terms of his family life) and Johnson.
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
The world is changed by both King and Johnson.  King and Coretta never really have a rapprochment to show their marriage has changed, but we can tell from their body language.  It’s unclear if King blames and/or forgives Johnson for the FBI tape.  And of course the movie frequently taps into our knowledge that King will eventually be killed.   
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
Every character has to make a moderate vs. immoderate choice at some point. 
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
Well, the tape is exchanged, but just once. Words are passed along: “We shall overcome”
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
Moderation works, this time, but we sense that DuVernay thinks other methods might have worked, too, and maybe we still have severe problems today because the movement was too moderate.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
Yes and no.  For Johnson certainly.  For King, he tells Coretta at the beginning that his whole goal is to wrap this up and settle down to life in a college town with “maybe an occassional speaking engagement,” and he certainly doesn’t achieve that.  But it could be that King was lying to Coretta about wanting to settle down, in which case, he unironically achieves exactly his initial goal.  (Of course the fact that Johnson hurts his marriage is certainly not something he planned on)
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
The tension with SNCC and with Coretta is mostly left unresolved.  It would be great to see a sequel. 
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
Nope.  Both King and Johnson give big speeches summarizing the meaning.
Final Score: 109 out of 122
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The Ultimate Story Checklist: Frozen

Young Anna enjoys her sister Elsa’s magical ice-powers, but after Elsa hits Anna in the head, Elsa closes up the castle and goes into hiding. Years later, as Elsa reluctantly becomes queen, Anna gets a chance to leave the castle and meets Hans, a handsome prince. They quickly decide to get married, but Elsa refuses her blessing. In the ensuing fight, Elsa’s ice-powers go out of control and she flees into the mountains. Anna pursues her and joins with ice-merchant Kristoff and brought-to-life snowman Olaf to find Elsa, who sends them all away, striking Anna’s heart in the process. Hans tracks down Elsa and imprisons her. Anna is told by trolls that she’ll die without an act of true love. She goes to kiss Hans, but he tries to kill her instead. Elsa escapes and Anna almost dies to save her from Hans, and that’s the act of true love that saves them both.
PART #1: CONCEPT 18/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 A princess must save the world from her sister’s out-of-control ice powers.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
Having to stop (and maybe kill) the person you most love.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
It’s a very believable difficult sibling relationship
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Not really, there’s a ton of plot, and many of the plot turns are somewhat awkward.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Anna, though it does a good job of also allowing it to be Elsa’s story in secondary way.
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
Yes.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
A princess and an ice merchant must team up to stop another princess.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Hans.  The movie would have been much weaker if not-really-bad Elsa was the only antagonist.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
Greatest hope: She finally gets to be around her sister, in a very ironic way.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
She finds love, betrayal, etc. 
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
It’s hard to fight your sister.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
Yes, only her love for her sister is strong enough to break the curse.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
Yes and yes.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Yes, it’s got great songs, a fun upbeat tone, etc.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
The ice palace, the fractals, etc.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
The Hans reveal.  
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
Hans is evil.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Yes.  It’s actually really concerting to see the promotional materials in which Hans is smiling as part of the gang.
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Yes.
PART #2: CHARACTER 20/22
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
She has many, but no one big one.  I would say it’s the unique-but-universal emotion of being shut out by someone who used to let you call the shots, and saying “It doesn’t have to be a snowman”  I’ll talk more about this soon.
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Yes.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
The people’s princess.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
She’s tortured by her relationship by her sister and her suppressed sexuality.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Adolescenece: “It’ll be totally strange.” “For the first time in forever”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Sunny, awkward
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Naïve insistence
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
Yes: save her sister.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
”What if I meet the one?...I know it all ends tomorrrow, so it has to be today.”
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
Just ask Elsa to turn her powers off.
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open: never get married, never bond with sister. Hidden: Have to hurt sister.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
She is damaged physically and emotionally in the opening minutes.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
Naivite, haplessness
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
Hope, pluck, positivity
Is the hero curious?
Yes.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Not tremendously, but she recruits allies that have the skills she needs.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 This’ll be easy, I need love quickly, I need Elsa.  (The first two turn out to be problematic, but not the third one.)