Saturday, February 5, 2011

Had a Trigger Incident Lately?

Post By Trai Cartwright

In all films, there is a moment about ten or fifteen minutes into the film that kicks off the story. Before that, it is all character introductions, world building, maybe a sneak peak at the villain. It’s called the Trigger Incident, or the Inciting Incident, or, sometimes, The Call To Adventure (but really that’s something different).

It occurred to me that there’s a reason why stories start here – it’s because there’s a direct correlation between a movie Trigger Incident and the ones we experience in real life. On a psychological level, we recognize and perhaps even crave our own Trigger Incidents.

A Trigger Incident is the moment the hero (because in movies we believe in heroes, not protagonists) has absolutely no choice but to act. It’s a visceral moment, something that we as filmmakers have been trained to identify in our guts – it’s when things get real, and the hero is going to have to start figuring out how to be a hero.

So, for example, in Avatar (because everyone’s seen Avatar, right?), paralyzed Sam is offered a deal: take on his dead twin brother’s mission to invade Pandora and the military will give him back the ability to walk. Or, in Inception, after we get through all the rigamorel of the Teaser (also different than the First Act) where Leo and Joe try to impress Ken Watanabe and fail miserably, Ken offers Leo, our hero (because for all his foibles, he is a hero), a deal: hack his business rival’s dreams and he’ll make the murder charges hanging over Leo’s head go away so he can rejoin his family.

Now we all know lots of things go wrong after that trigger is pulled, because a movie would be pretty boring without dramatic complications, but that too reflects real life. Since when do we accept the Call to Adventure and not suffer on some level for it? Since when do any of us come to a situation a hero – don’t we all have to figure out, painfully, how to master the mission?

When was the last time you got a Call to Adventure? Did you resist, only to be dragged in kicking and screaming? And what happened? Did you grow into a hero? There may not have been a happy ending (in real life there is no such thing), but was there a reward anyway?

As I’ve always said, movies are the most relevant cultural language we have these days, a divining rod for how we see ourselves as a society. They are our best selves, if only we had the chance. If it’s been a while since you’ve heard the Call, maybe it’s time to engineer one for yourself.



Lynn Carlson said...

Visceral, eh? Something you feel in your gut. I'll be mulling that over and thinking about it in terms of my stories, and my life. Thanks for the prod.

Name: Luana Krause said...

Sometimes it seems that everything is a trigger incident. Not to act is to act.

I love watching movies and looking for the inciting incident and the point of no return. Makes going to movies fun and writing film scripts a challenge.

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