Two Inciting Incidents – Skyfall Analysis

October 2, 2014

What makes a first act intriguing? How do you hook your audience, and how much content do you need to start a movie? I decided to study the latest Bond movie Skyfall to see what tricks they used to involve the viewer early on. I wanted to see if there were any useful writing concepts to be learned. (The movie is available on Netflix streaming as of 10/2/14 if you wish to watch)

Sequence 1 (13 minutes long)

Scene – Bond discovers bodies
Scene – Car chase
Scene – Train fight – Bond is shot and killed

Credit Dream Sequence (so good) (4 minutes long)

Sequence 2 (4 minutes long)

Scene – M is going to be fired
Scene – M researches hacker
Scene – Headquarters explodes (inciting incident @ 21 minutes)

Sequence 3 (18 minutes long)

Scene – Bond is alive & recovering on an island
Scene – Bond confronts M in London
Scene – Bond trains to get back to duty

The opening Act took approximately 39 minutes (28% of the movie).  That’s right on cue with the standard length.

There was obvious, visual conflict in every scene; Bond vs a Bad Guy, M vs MI6, MI6 vs a Terrorist, Bond vs His Body, Bond vs M, Bond vs MI6. And the main conflict of the Act was Bond’s health, his health was unknown after being shot and then he was recovering.

A concept I noticed that worked really well was the idea of two inciting incidents at the top of the movie. One inciting incident for the entire movie, Headquarters Exploding, and another inciting incident for Act 1, Bond Getting Shot. This was very effective at hooking the viewer into the movie fast, two major things that needed to be resolved.

I was also interested in how much content was needed to fill the first act of the 2 hour movie. It worked particularly well for the act to have its own story, Bond Getting Shot.  And then there were 3 sub stories; Chasing the Bad Guy, Headquarters Exploding, Bond Getting Back to Duty. This idea of 3 sub-stories could be useful if writing a movie and needing to make the first act longer.

The 2nd sequence was a nice break in the story by focusing on a different character than the 1st and 3rd sequences. I found the variety to be interesting.

One final observation was the Act started opening questions to the viewer immediately and always left some to answer; Who is Bond Chasing? Will he get him? Is Bond dead? Will M be fired? Who blew up headquarters?

Overall the opening act seemed to have a textbook structure with 3 sequences made up of 3 scenes each. The movie had all the action of a typical Bond movie, but also posed new questions to the characters, such as the theme of getting too old for the job. Also, the concept of cyber-terrorism kept the movie relevant and grounded.  I found the two inciting incident concept to be particularly effective.

– Matt Rittorno


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