How To Plot A Story Like "8mm"
In the film,"8mm," private investigator Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is hired by an old woman named Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) and her lawyer, Daniel Longdale (Anthony Heald), to determine if an 8mm film owned by her rich, deceased husband, is authentic and depicts the actual murder of a teenage girl.
The girl in the film is the subject of the story and provides clues that enable Tom to focus on the origin of the girl's alleged murder.
In order to conduct a successful investigation, Tom must identity the teenage girl and discover how she came to star in the film.
So, he treats her as the subject of his investigation and deems her to be part of a missing persons case.
He later identifies her as Mary Anne Mathews (Jenny Powell), a teenager who ran away from home to escape conflicts caused by her stepfather and her mother, Janet (Amy Morton).
While searching through Janet's home, Tom Welles finds Mary's hidden diary, which gives him clues about who Mary left home with, what made her run away from home, when she left, where she went after leaving, and why she left.
From the diary, Tom finds that Mary left home with a teenage boy named Warren Anderson (Norman Reedus), who then dumped her.
Mary's troubled relationship with her stepfather was what made her run away.
She left when her mother slapped her for being rebellious.
The place where she went was Hollywood, California.
And, the reason why she left was to become a film actress.
Ironically, the first film in which Mary agreed to be an actress is the 8mm film in which she's murdered.
Learning about the creators of the film will provide clues to the crime.
For that reason,Tom Welles tries to learn more about who made the film, what it really shows, when it was made, where it was made, and why it was made.
He travels to Hollywood, California and discovers that the murder victim, Mary Anne Mathews, pursued her acting career by applying for a job there with Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini), a small-time porno filmmaker.
Tom uses surveillance equipment to discover who Eddie conspired with to make the film in which Mary is stabbed repeatedly.
To find out what role Eddie may have played in Mary's disappearance and to pinpoint the time period when Mary was killed, Tom phones Eddie and says, "I know all about it. About that girl. Six years ago. I know what you did to her. You murdered her…you and your friends. You killed her on film."
Eddie panics and phones a business colleague.
Tom traces the phone call to someone named D. Velvet.
Tom learns from Max California (Joaquin Phoenix), a clerk in a porno bookstore, that D. Velvet is Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare), a weird porno filmmaker who lives in New York.
Max California agrees to help Tom, and they travel to New York, where they hire Dino to create a porno film starring Machine (Chris Bauer), the man who killed Mary Anne Mathews in the 8mm film.
On the day filming is scheduled to begin, Dino sets a trap. He has Machine hold Tom hostage.
During this hostage situation, Dino introduces two new co-conspirators: Eddie Poole and Daniel Longdale, the lawyer for Mrs. Christian (the woman who hired Tom to investigate the origins of the 8mm film).
Eddie and Longdale have taken Max California hostage in order to get Tom to give up the 8mm film of Mary Anne Mathews' death.
Mrs.Christian's husband, a wealthy industrialist, had hired Longdale to have a snuff film made for him. And, Longdale had hired Eddie Poole and Dino Velvet to kill a young girl and film the murder.
That girl turned out to be Mary Anne Mathews.
When Tom Welles asks Longdale why Mr. Christian wanted a film of a girl being murdered, Longdale says: "He did it because he could."
Then Machine kills Max California, and Dino Velvet burns the 8mm film.
A final struggle ensues, and Tom gets Dino and Longdale to kill each other. Tom then wounds Machine with a knife and escapes from Eddie.
Later, Tom returns to California and tortures Eddie, who describes how Mary was exploited and where Mary was killed: in an abandoned building.
Tom is horrified and worries about the vulnerability of his own family. He wants his wife and baby daughter to be safe. They are just as innocent as Mary.
So, Tom phones Mary's mother, Janet, and asks for permission to hurt the men who murdered Mary.
He later takes justice into his own hands, killing Eddie inside the abandoned building where Mary was killed.
Then Tom kills Machine, the man who stabbed Mary to death in the snuff film.
In "8mm," the protagonist, Tom Welles, treats Mary's disappearance as the subject of his investigation and her role in the snuff film as the focus of his investigation.
He methodically answers questions such as who, what, when, where, and why to reveal her identity and whereabouts, and to find out if she was indeed murdered.
Those same questions can be used to create a screenplay that's just as riveting as "8mm."
Here's a step-by-step guide to plotting:
A. Find news articles in which an innocent person's death is being investigated.
The person who was killed will be the subject of your story.
The focus of your story will be the protagonist's attempt to determine if the death
was murder or an accident.
B. Define the characteristics that make your protagonist (the hero) smart enough to
prove that it was murder.
1. Who does the protagonist work with to find the murderer? A street hustler? A
forensics specialist? A wealthy executive?
2. What does he do to protect his family and the family members of the murder victim
from any further injustice? Does he conduct a dangerous undercover investigation?
Does he work with the authorities? Does he become a vigilante?
3. When does he realize that he must risk his life to protect his family and obtain
justice? After he sees evidence being destroyed? After his business colleague is
murdered? After his family is threatened?
4. Where does he realize that he must redefine his idea of what justice is? Is he in a
place that reminds him of his family? Is he at the scene of the crime he's
investigating? Is he in the hospital, recovering from wounds?
5. Why does he seek vengeance against a murderer? Did the murderer threaten to
hurt his family? Does the protagonist want to avenge the death of the murder
victim? Is the victim's family suffering?
C. Describe the process in which the protagonist learns that he has been deceived.
Define this process by:
1. Showing the protagonist investigating the way in which a murder victim died.
2. Showing the protagonist tracking down the murderer.
3. Showing the protagonist killing the murderer to obtain justice.