Three Screenplay Structure Tools

and A Quick Movie Case Study


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As Seen On

Sometimes a straight-up action movie is exactly what you’re in the mood for. Combine that with the glimmer of an idea for this article, and what you get is today’s quick movie case study: a look at three screenplay structure tools we’ve discussed recently… through the lens of Netflix original movie Extraction.

Now, I’ll be honest – there’s isn’t a whole lotta story here. (A lot of killing, not a lot of story.) But when we’re talking about story structure and the way screenplays or movies work (or don’t), sometimes a less-complex example comes in handy. There are fewer parts and nuances to consider.

It’s a lot easier for us to quickly see how this machine works:Than this one:

So consider this your SPOILER warning, and let’s get into our case study.

Extraction follows a black ops mercenary (played by Chris Hemsworth) who must rescue the kidnapped son of an Indian drug lord, and extract the son from Bangladesh.

Tool #1: The Inciting Incident – Break into 2 Story Connection

The relationship between the Inciting Incident and the Break into Act 2 can be most simply described as “problem-solution.” The Inciting Incident creates a problem and/or opportunity that the protagonist must contend with. The Break into 2 is the protagonists’ chosen solution to deal with that problem or opportunity, and launches us into the main thrust of the story.

What are Extraction‘s Inciting Incident and Break into 2?

Inciting Incident: Nik, the mercenary-business partner of Chris Hemsworth’s character Rake, announces their next job – the extraction of the kidnapped young son of India’s biggest drug lord.

Break into 2: Rake has retrieved the son, Ovi, from the kidnappers’ the stash house (after a major shootout) and Rake and Ovi depart for the next leg of the mission – the extraction itself. This is what will take the rest of the movie. We might say the story goal is to complete Ovi’s extraction from Dhaka.

Does the Inciting Incident – Break into 2 connection work?

(And does the movie work for us, regardless of whether it follows this “rule” or not?)

Yes, the connection is in place. The Inciting Incident presents the opportunity of the extraction job. The Break into 2 shows us how Rake has chosen to handle this opportunity: he’s taking it, he’s doing the job.

Why must Rake do this? Remember, in any story we want a sense that the characters are really, actively, desperately pursuing whatever they’re pursuing. So if Rake’s goal is to extract Ovi, why does he want this so badly?

It’s his job, sure. But is that enough? Would we be engaged enough to watch Rake pursue this dangerous mission simply because it’s his job? Maybe. But these filmmakers, at least, thought they would do better to try to get us emotionally involved too.

They do this by creating a little backstory around the death of Rake’s young son and the trauma Rake still carries over that. So extracting an endangered child feels like a little more of a “must” for him.

They add something else to bolster this story logic and our interest level, too: Rake may just want to do this job. When Nik presents the new job to Rake, she says she suspects he may not have much left to live for and that’s why he takes on these essentially suicidal missions. Knowing that, we may lean in a little more just to see how dangerous the job is (pretty much the main entertainment hook of this movie – the fighting and action stuff).

By the Break into 2, Rake has retrieved the “package” (Ovi) and he’s ready to embark on his “solution”: extracting Ovi from Dhaka.

Key to this is that Asif, the big bad guy who ordered the kidnapping, has just learned of Rake’s rescue attempt in progress. Asif orders the city closed and we know he’s not giving the boy up without a fight. This is the central conflict of the movie.

The protagonist deals with the Inciting Incident by entering into that central conflict. Rake gets the opportunity to extract Ovi, and to do that he must go up against Asif.

Tool #2: An awesome Midpoint

In case you’re in Midpoint Overload after the last three emails, I’ll keep this one short. A powerful midpoint comes down to creating new tension to get us re-engaged and re-invested in the story. The two most common and effective ways new tension can be created at the midpoint are:

In Extraction, the mission has started to go sideways and right in the middle of the movie we see a scene where Rake is given an opportunity to be extracted by his team, but he must leave Ovi behind to do so. Rake refuses, choosing Ovi’s safety over his own.

We then see Saju, the main henchman who is coming after Ovi, call his wife and son to say goodbye. So we know that he’s planning to die trying.

Together these scenes raise the stakes and increase the opposition. We know it’s even more important to Rake now to deliver the boy to safety – it’s no longer just about the job he’s been hired to do, it’s personal. And the opposition (in the form of Saju) is gearing up for a fight that someone isn’t walking away from; if there was any doubt before, we know now that Rake is in a fight to the death.

Because the protagonist cares more, we care more. And because the mission just got even more difficult and the life-and-death stakes dial is turned up to 10, there’s enough tension to keep us leaning into see how it will all turn out.

Tool #3: A satisfying Act 3

And finally, Act 3. A few weeks ago we talked about what makes a satisfying Act 3 and how to build one.

So we know there are a few things Act 3 needs to accomplish:

  • Act Three answers the question posed in Act One.
  • It satisfies the audience emotionally.
  • It shows proof of the transformative experience.

Does Extraction’s Act 3 accomplish these goals?

  • Yes. The question in Act 1 is something like, “Will Rake extract Ovi from Dhaka?” And we see that he does.
  • Yes, in context. As I mentioned before, there’s not a ton of story here and I wouldn’t say Extraction is the most emotionally-engaging movie, certainly. But for what it is and what it does, the ending is satisfying because we see Rake has successfully extracted Ovi and through that act, he has found some redemption for himself.
  • Yes. Again, we’re looking at a simple machine here, but Rake’s starting point is basically, “failed as a father by not doing enough.” And by the end he’s done everything he can to protect Ovi, a son in need of a real father.

What happens in Act 3 flows from whatever happens at the Break into 3. (Plot turns should turn the plot!) And like in Extraction, the Break into 3 turn is often characterized by the protagonist coming up with a new plan to achieve the story goal.

Here we see Rake call Saju – the henchman he’s been battling throughout Act 2 – and propose they work together. What?! That’s definitely a new plan to achieve the goal.

And the way that plan plays out follows the pattern of many an Act 3 and is broken into 2 sequences or sections. There are two common versions of this Act 3 pattern and I’d say Extraction‘s Act 3 is a “False Execution + New Final Battle” type. We see the two sequences essentially break down as:

Phase 1 of the plan: Rake draws fire so Saju and Ovi can escape across the bridge. (False Execution)
Phase 2: After they’re detained at the bridge, Rake must get to the bridge to help them escape what’s become a shootout there (New Final Battle). This is the climactic final battle where Rake is ultimately killed… or is he?

Keep these tools in your kit

Extraction is just one example, but you can use these tools to understand how and why any of your favorite movies work. And, hopefully, use them to make your own screenplays even stronger.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.