Batman vs. The Paradigm

Dylan Hintz
Dramatic Writing for Media
Dr. Moeder

Batman vs. the Paradigm

In his revised and updated The Screenwriter’s Workbook, Syd Field discusses his idea of the story-telling paradigm and how it is broken up into three parts containing two plot points. Field (2006) puts it bluntly by saying that in all works of the dramatic medium, in this case screenplays, “There is a beginning, middle, and end” (p. 41). Those three parts are Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3. These three elements make up the structure that is central to Field’s paradigm: an open system that “is a model, a conceptual scheme of what a screenplay looks like” (p. 43) (Field, 2006). This model provides a screenwriter with the basic idea of pacing, where to insert plot points that change the story, and what page lengths are appropriate to conclude each arc of the story. Each act serves a function.

Act 1, also referred to as “the setup”, starts at page one and continues all the way until plot point one. It can be anywhere between twenty to thirty pages long, setting up the story for the rest of the feature. The main ground to cover as stated by Field (2006), is to “introduce your main characters, establish your dramatic premise (what the story is about), create the dramatic situation (the circumstances surrounding the action), and set up the relationships between you character’s professional life, his or her personal life (relationships), and his or her private life (private time and hobbies)” (p. 46). Act 1 comes to a close when Plot Point 1 enters the story.

Plot Point 1 is a story progression point that can be anything from a dramatic incident, a line of dialogue, an action sequence, or even a silent moment in a film. Plot Points 1 and 2 both consist of “an incident, an episode or event that ‘hooks’ into the action and spins it around into another direction” (p. 50). From Plot Point 1 that direction is into Act 2, and from Plot Point 2 that direction is Act 3.

Act 2 is made up of dramatic action in the context of Confrontation. Beginning at Plot Point 1 and ending at Plot Point 2, Act 2 is the main meat (and longest part) of the story. Field (2006) says it can be anywhere from 50 to 60 pages long, and should be a time of obstacles and challenges while the main character attempts to fulfill his or her dramatic need. For the script to remain interesting, these “obstacles can either be internal (fearing a confrontation) or external (caught in a dangerous situation…)” (p. 52) and are based around the character and his or her needs. Act 2 should build the dramatic action of the film through tough and interesting conflicts. It is also split into two parts by the midpoint- a centerpiece to the action that occurs around page 60 and breaks the action into Part 1 and Part 2. It bridges the start of the conflict with the results of the conflicts. These conflicts continue all the way through until Plot Point 2, in which the story is once again “hooked” and spins in a new direction, beginning Act 3.

Act 3 contains the Resolution, going from the 50 or 60 pages in that plot point 2 occurs all the way to the end of the script. Field (2006) says that when writing a resolution, a screenwriter should be able to answer these questions: “What is the solution to your story? Does your character live or die, succeed or fail, go on a trip or not, get the promotion or not, get married or divorced…” (p. 56). Whatever ending is intended needs to be wrapped up in the resolution and needs to answer the questions posed by the first Act and confronted by the second Act. These elements can be found in nearly all films.

In successful 1989 movie Batman directed by Tim Burton, the Act Elements are readily apparent—easy to swallow for the mixed audience of child, adolescent and adult that would attend a comic book adaptation. Taking place in the fiction Gotham City, Batman chronicles the rise of a new vigilante hero against the forces of crime and evil that has been ripping Gotham apart. The main plot is based around the battle between Batman and his nemesis The Joker. It all begins a few months after being established as an urban legend, Batman (Michael Keaton) begins his crime fighting taking down small time bandits and works his way up to the mafia monarchy, the kings of which are boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) and Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson). Napier is Grissom’s top goon and Batman’s primary nemesis—a psychopath who kills for money and power, biding his time until he can take Grissom’s place at the top of the food chain. Batman confronts Napier during a raid for evidence at local factory, Axis Chemicals, fighting bad guys and scaring the police with his very appearance. The battle ends with Batman dropping Napier into a vat of chemicals, causing the police to finally get a good look at him. Batman disappears into the night, with Napier no where to be found as well.

Later, Batman has been busy courting a new woman, Vikki Vale (Kim Basinger), under his secret identity of Billionaire Playboy Bruce Wayne. Bruce and Vikki become close, while at the same time new evil begins to surface. Jack Napier comes back from the dead as a deformed clown-man, green hair and white face, having a new found taste for chaos brewing in his palette. Now going by the alias of The Joker, he takes down Grissom and asserts himself to the top of the mafia crime families, and begins his rain of terror on Gotham in an attempt to finish what the crime lords started and claim revenge upon Batman.

At this point the movie becomes a power play between the two larger than life characters: the Joker trying to scare or kill mass numbers of people in Gotham with theatrical tactics such as poisoning the beauty supplies of the city and announcing it on the public news station is possibly the most memorable. He also begins to make moves on Vikki Vale, which creates a more personal conflict for Batman. It only gets worse as the Batman and the Joker meet face-to-face and share a moment that reveals to Bruce Wayne that the Joker was once a young thief who killed his parents and started him down the path of vengeance and justice that would turn him into the Batman.

The Joker gets away from Bruce Wayne (not able to fight openly as he is now not wearing the cape and cowl), and moves on to his master plan: To Nerve Gas everyone during the Gotham 200th Anniversary Parade. Batman arrives on the scene just in time in his BatWing plane, steals the Joker’s gas-producing balloons, and saves the city. Before all can be wrapped up however, the Joker shoots down Batman’s plane and attempts to escape, taking Vikki Vale with him. They enter Gotham Cathedral, and Batman, ascending from the wreckage like a phoenix, follows shadily behind to finish what he started.

Up in the tower the conflict comes to a close—Batman fights the Joker’s goons, saves Vikki, and confronts the Joker, confronting his personal demons by throwing him off a ledge to plummet to the base of the Cathedral to his certain death. Having saved the day, the Gotham City police force holds a celebration for Batman in lieu of a press conference where they shine the signal in the sky, declaring that he is now an organic part of Gotham City, and that they will call on him in times of need.

The main plot of Batman follows the age old confrontation between Good (Batman) and Evil (the Joker). In adherence to Field’s paradigm, Batman follows along at an almost formulaic perfection. The first act of the film works as a setup for both Batman’s background (apparent in just the first few pages), and the creation of his nemesis, The Joker. It is the culmination of the Joker’s creation that ends Act 1 through Plot Point 1: Batman dropping Jack Napier into the chemical bath. At nearly a half hour in and existing on page 30 of the screenplay, this event is clearly the turning point in the  story, where Batman must now face a higher-league of criminals: The Super Villain, and begin to fight a more personal battle. Thus, Act 2 commences with Batman losing anonymity and the Joker surfacing as a public figure as well. They begin to do battle over the course of the act, with the midpoint surfacing between pages 57 and 67, where the Joker and Batman fight over Vikki Vale in their first face-to-face-to-face conflict. Once all the main characters have become acquainted the action becomes more personal, the Joker’s schemes become more brutal, and the Batman’s methods of fighting them become more exciting.

On page 88 Bruce Wayne comes across two sources of information. He discovers that the Joker plans on hosting his own 200th Anniversary Celebration (surely a trap) in which he challenges Batman to a public duel, and also looks up a file on Jack Napier. The two actions coincide through intercuts and make up Plot Point 2. The final conflict has been announced and has even been made as personal as it can get with the realization that The Joker is responsible for the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and for turning him into The Batman. This follows closely with the Paradigm, as it occurs within the 90 pages Field gives his Act 2 range in which to wrap up in. Act 2 concludes with Batman blowing up Axis Chemicals in an attempt to thwart the last of the Jokers schemes.

Once this is concluded on page 94, the third and final Act begins on page 95. Its quite obvious by now that the formula Field has proposed for his paradigm of structure is apparent within Batman. The last 23 pages are spent with Batman facing down the Joker one last time, full of personal moments that wrap up all the questions: Why did Batman become what he is? Is the Joker going to destroy Gotham? How does Batman stop him? Does Batman save or get the girl? Will the town ever accept Batman as their Dark Knight? Does Batman exact his revenge upon the people who murdered his parents? It also relates back to the first act by declaring how both opponents made each other and motivated each other’s lifestyles. There really are no loose ends left by the resolution, resulting in a satisfying film as based around the idea of the Paradigm.

Field (2006) says that structure “dramatically establishes the relationship between the parts and the whole” and that “each part is a separate and complete unit of dramatic action” (p. 57). Based on the case of Tim Burton’s Batman and its screenplay by Sam Hamm, Field’s paradigm accurately lays out movie plot structure. The three main parts of the film last as long as they should and, given the context of the paradigm, succeed in giving the movie and exciting Three-Act feel where no scene feels out of place. Based on the success of the film itself both critically and financially and the fact that it has to date spawned 3 sequels, a cartoon show, and a series of spiritual successors, the formula is obviously a useful tool for screenwriters. It’s a memorable theatrical work, with just the right moments happening at just the right times to carry a two-hour movie about a man in a Bat suit into the memory of the popular audience for nearly two decades.

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Batman vs. The Paradigm by Dylan Hintz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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