Every once in awhile, a quirky movie comes along that makes you feel like kicking up your heels. For me, this film is STRICTLY BALLROOM. Baz Luhrmann is at his finest here, as we’re thrown into an insane Australian Ballroom Dance Competition, and follow our hero, Scott, and his nerdy but soon-to-be beautiful partner Fran.
Last week, I revealed the 12 steps of The Hero’s Journey– a simple way to structure the arc of your main character through action in your book or screenplay.
This week, I’ll show you how the Hero’s Journey shakes out in a film, and next week, a novel.
In STRICTLY BALLROOM, our hero is Scott, a talented young ballroom dancer who wants to dance “his own steps.” The bad guys are the Head of the Dance Federation, and to a lesser degree, Scott’s mother, both of whom want him to dance the “usual” steps with a “usual” partner.
We are introduced to the world of competitive ballroom dancing in an Australian town. While performing a Samba, Scott gets boxed in and goes wild with some fancy crowd pleaser steps. He loses. His partner, Pam, furious, quits.
CALL TO ADVENTURE
Scott says, “I’m sick of dancing other people’s steps. I want to do my own steps.”
REFUSAL TO THE CALL
He tries to win Pam back through his fancy original steps. He fails. She decides to partner with another dancer. Scott’s dad says he loves Scott’s new steps, but Scott’s mother convinces him to find a new partner and dance “regular” steps.
Alone, Scott dances by himself. Fran, a homely young woman who nobody pays attention to, watches and says she wants to dance with him HIS WAY. She makes up her own steps too. Scott only has 3 weeks to train. Fran begs him for just one hour. They dance the rumba.
He likes her, and works with her secretly as his mother forces him to try out other “normal” dancers. Scott and Fran practice and start to bond. He reveals to Fran that there’s some terrible “backstory” about why his mom and dad don’t dance anymore. After they leave the dance studio, Scott’s dad comes in and plays some music. He does a weird crazy dance with original steps too. Scott’s mother is freaking out that Scott hasn’t committed to a new partner yet. She assures the Head of the Dance Federation (bad guy) that Scott will find a new partner.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
Scott decides he wants Fran to dance with him the next day at the State Championships. He asks her. She says yes, is thrilled. (ACT I Turning Point)
TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES
Fran and Scott walk home. She’s in love with him. He says the rumba is the dance of love but it’s just pretend.
She arrives home and her father is pissed that she stayed out past curfew. He says she can’t go out the next day. She’s freaking out.
The next day, at the State Championships, Scott arrives and the Head of the Federation says he needs to dance with Tina Sparkle.
Fran sneaks out of the house and races to get there.
Scott can’t find Fran and so agrees to dance with Tina. When Fran arrives, Scott’s mom says he’s dancing with Tina Sparkle.
Fran runs away, Scott goes after her. He tells Fran that he has to dance with Tina. Fran watches Tina dance and says, “I could never do that.” Scott and Fran lock eyes and start to dance. It’s super sexy. His mom and the Head of The Federation watch, and pull Scott away from Fran.
Scott’s mom tells Fran to go home, that she’s clingy. “You don’t want to ruin his chances, do you?” Fran leaves.
The Head of the Federation threatens Scott, but Scott runs after Fran, blows off Tina.
Scott tells Fran he wants to dance with her. “We won’t win. I just want to dance our steps.” (Midpoint)
APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE
Fran’s dad is angry at Scott for making his daughter stay out after curfew. Scott tells him they are going to dance the Paso Doble.
Her dad takes off his jacket and does the Paso Doble. He’s amazing!
Turns out the members of Fran’s family are gifted dancers. Grandma and dad teach them rhythm.
Scott goes home. His mother yells at him. Scott tells her he’s dancing with Fran. The mother starts picking on Scott’s dad.
Scott and Fran practice the Paso Doble.
Word gets back to the Head of the Federation that “New Steps” are rumored to be in the mix for the Pan Pacific Championship. The Head of the Federation says NO NEW STEPS!
Scott’s mother tells him what he’s doing can lead to ruin.
Scott doesn’t listen. Fran’s dad and grandma continue to help Fran and Scott practice.
Scott’s dad practices his steps all by himself. He doesn’t want Scott to know the truth about how/why he and his wife no longer dance.
Scott and Fran talk. She’s nervous. He says the rumba’s not pretend. THEY KISS.
It’s almost time for the Pan Pacific Championship. Scott comes to the dance studio and the Head of The Federation is there. Tells Scott the ‘truth’ about his parents– “Your dad could have been the greatest champ, but he threw it away….(flashback to dad and mom)… They were unbeatable. Dad became a selfish dancer. Focused only himself. He did ‘Crowd Pleasing’ steps. He lost touch with reality. Thought he could win the Pan Pacific with his own steps. He lost, then went insane. He destroyed his wife’s career and his life.” The Head of the Federation says to Scott, “If you dance with Fran the same will happen to you. Dance with Pam and win.”
Scott breaks into a vault at the dance studio and finds a photo yearbook of his parents. He sees that they were amazing dancers. And then blank pages.The possibility of never dancing again is too much to bear.
Afraid, he decides to dance with Pam.
He tells Fran and she’s forced back into the “beginners” category and must dance with a girl.
The day of the competition, Scott’s father tries to tell him he’s making a mistake.
Fran calls Scott a gutless wonder.
SEIZING THE SWORD
His dad tells Scott he’s NEVER danced at the Pan Pacific. That the Head of the Federation rigged it for Ken (another dancer). And this competition is rigged now too.
Scott realizes he’s been lied to.
Scott’s dad tells him what really happened in the past is that the Head of the Federation convinced Scott’s mom to dance with Les, rather than her husband. And they lost. Scott’s name is announced to get ready to perform.
Scott’s dad says, “We lived our life in fear. Don’t make the same mistake.”
THE ROAD BACK
Scott races around, looking for Fran. He finds her, apologizes, brings her back into the arena.
Scott and Fran go out onto the floor. They do the Paso Doble.
The Head of the Federation tries to get on the mic to disqualify them. All the kids and friends try to stop him. Finally, the Federation guy gets on the mic and disqualifies them. Fran and Scott stop dancing.
The power cord to the music has been pulled by the bad guy.
Scott’s dad begins to clap a Paso Doble beat.
Scott and Fran finish their dance. It’s amazing! Everyone claps.
RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
Scott’s dad reaches out for his wife, “Shall we dance?”
“Love Is In The Air” starts to play.
The Head of the Federation is vanquished.
Everyone comes out of their seats and starts to dance.
Fran and Scott kiss again.
Take Action! See how the Hero’s Journey provides the basic emotional beats for STRICTLY BALLROOM’s plot? Could you use these same phases to structure your screenplay? Read last week’s blog to find out more about how each of these phases works.
Then… have fun writing!
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