The Falcon and the Winter Soldier SCREENPLAY BREAKDOWN (S01, E01)
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (or FAWS, as the cool kids have been calling it) debuted on Disney+.
The episode was written by Malcolm Spellman, a screenwriter best known for his work on Empire (2015).
The entire screenplay was great, but I want to focus on one particular scene, because in about 90 seconds, Sam 'Falcon' Wilson delivers a monologue that not only sent chills up my spine, but set up the entire season.
If you're familiar with Blake Snyder's 'Save the Cat', you know that stating a compelling theme early in a film (or in this case, series) is critical: it sets the tone for the entire story.
About 12m 45s into Episode 1, Spellman puts Wilson in the Smithsonian, and gives him a compelling speech that accomplishes a lot in a very short amount of time.
Here's an excerpt:
A Vulnerable Hero
Sam is telling us, the viewer, how he internalizes this event. Not only how he feels about Steve Rogers the man, and the Captain America mantle, but he's telling us how he feels about himself.
He's doing what all great characters do: revealing his fears.
We don't love characters for their bad-assness (though that is sometimes part of it) we love them for their flaws.
And Sam tells us a lot here.
The theme for the series is this:
Similar to the arc Thor went through in the MCU with his hammer (and his station as the soon-to-be King) Sam is telling us that over the course of 6 episodes, he's going to earn the shield.
Steve Rogers believes Sam has already earned it, and the viewers believe it, too ... but Sam doesn't believe it himself.
Tearing our Hearts Out
Sam's touching final words before he retires the shield were the best of the screenplay:
This line not only reinforces the theme , but it sends Sam on the Hero's Journey: whatever bag guys he's going to face this season are irrelevant. Window dressing.
What I want to see is Sam vs. his own inner struggles.
And of course, comic book lore is all about symbols: whether it's Superman's iconic 'S' emblazoned on his chest, the Green Lantern's ring, The Flash's lightning bolt (wow, DC really has a great logo game) these all illicit a feeling inside of us.
But in the MCU, no other symbol is as iconic as Captain America's shield.
And that's what we see here: it's just a piece of vibranium with a star on it, but to the world, it means so much more. And to Sam, it means everything.
To bring great screenwriting to life, you need something that can't come off a page: a performance.
Here, Anthony Mackie delivers this monologue with so much emotion that I felt his inner conflict resonating from my screen ... and it was brilliant.
So there you have it: in around a minute and a half, we get the theme, Sam is set on his season arc (whether he knows it or not!) symbolism, some foreshadowing ... and now we're ready for a ride.
And we get a great example of how to expertly set up a compelling story in a slick, streamlined, and well-crafted piece of screenwriting.
Keep writing, keep putting out positive vibes, and I'll see you again soon!