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Everybody Wants Some: Structure Without Structure – Part 1
By Jacob Krueger
Everybody Wants Some: Structure Without Structure - Part 1
This week we’re going to be looking at Richard Linklater’s new film Everybody Wants Some. Richard Linklater has called this film a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused. He has also referred to it as a sequel to Boyhood, his brilliantly structured (although very unusually structured) film, which basically ends right before this film begins: at the end of boyhood and the beginning of college.
Everybody Wants Some picks up the baton where Boyhood left off, and centers around a freshman baseball player who is just starting college in the days leading up to the first day of classes. And though the main character may be different from the character in Boyhood, and though the structure may be different than the structure of Boyhood, confined to a few days, rather than evolving over many years, Linklater is once again building a sprawling, multi-character journey around young kid in a different kind of family, at defining point of discovering his identity and what gives meaning in his life.
But the question remains: does Everybody Wants Some actually work?
Because Everybody Wants Some basically does nothing that a movie is supposed to do. It has virtually no plot. In fact, most of the film is simply spent watching a bunch of bros hang out. It’s built mostly around dialogue, much like a play, rather than the action and images we’re used to seeing as the primary building blocks of structure in movies. It kind-of has a discernible main character (it certainly seems to center around Jake) but the truth of the matter is, Jake doesn’t really drive most of the action.
In fact, most of the structure isn’t really driven at all in the way we traditionally expect, with one character chasing a particularly challenging goal against increasingly difficult obstacles. Instead, it’s driven by random events like, “Let’s go dancing,” “Let’s go to baseball practice,” “Let’s pick up some chicks.” Which feels a hell of a lot like the free-flowing structure of any respectable drunken freshman’s introduction to college, but not much like the version of that story we’re used to seeing in a movie.
The overall effect is that we’re watching (and for many people, enjoying) a film that seems to have very little structure at all. And this is not because Richard Linklater can’t do structure. Because if you’ve seen Boyhood, you’ve seen a film that survives upon its rock solid structure as it jumps from year to year to year in a young boy’s life.
It’s because Richard Linklater is doing a different kind of structure: he’s doing a movie that feels like its area of exploration: a meditation on what it means to find meaning.
The traditional engines of structure are powered by characters pursuing strong wants against huge obstacles, conflicts that build through hot relationships, tightening the vice on your characters until things get harder and harder and harder and finally things explode.
Well this movie just doesn’t do that. Instead what this movie does is this: it looks at a bunch of kids, and not the kids we want to look at: not the amazingly sweet and innocent boy of Boyhood, and not the cool hippies of Dazed and Confused, but a bunch of bros. A bunch of overly cocksure, baseball playing, chauvinistic jocks. We’re hanging out with a bunch of frat bros. And as we follow these frat bros, we’re gonna go on a journey that is not driven by plot and not driven by the traditional kinds of action and structure we’re used to seeing.
Instead, we’re going to go on a journey in which the most unlikely characters wax poetic about what makes meaning in their lives, even as they pursue the most meaningless diversions possible.
We’re going to watch a movie about competition, and how giving so much for something as ultimately meaningless as college baseball can actually give meaning to somebody’s life.
We’re going to watch a movie about, “How do you find your own voice inside of a structured life?” And in this way we’re going to watch a movie about screenwriting.
There’s a beautiful sequence at the center of Everybody Wants Some. You’ve probably seen a bit of it in the trailer if you haven’t yet seen the movie.
The dudes are hanging out getting stoned, as dudes tend to do, and they’re rocking out to a little bit of Pink Floyd, and Willoughby, the the resident stoner of the group, a guy who is literally bouncing from college to college to play baseball (because he doesn’t want to grow up, because he doesn’t want to leave and go to the real world, because he doesn’t want his baseball career to end, because he doesn’t want the thing that gives his life meaning to end) speaks about the chord progression in Pink Floyd. He talks about how they found that little thing that was them inside the structure of a song.
And as I was watching this scene, I thought, “You know what? That is what it is to be a screenwriter.” For some of us, structure can be as wild as Richard Linklater’s structure. And for some of us, structure is much more contained. Some of us are writing Hollywood movies; we do need to hit certain beats at certain points, we do need to serve certain genre monsters, we do need to serve producers and commercial responsibilities, and not all of our last names are Linklater.
But even inside of the most rigid structure, there is room for voice, there is room for meaning, there is room for finding yourself, finding that little thing that nobody else saw.
And at the same time, what Linklater is showing us is how far outside of the box structure can actually go, how far outside the box a movie can go and still potentially work.
So how does he do it? How does he take a film that is this meandering, that is this slow, and quite frankly that is this long (almost two hours) and not bore his audience to death? How does he make it work?
Well, some people have argued that he didn’t make it work. Some people have called this movie structureless, boring, slow. And yet, others have been totally charmed. And I’m not talking about art theater audiences, I’m talking about audiences going to the local AMC and seeing this film and falling in love with it. What made them fall in love with it? A couple things:
The first thing is Everybody does in fact Want Some.
Even though the only thing that these characters are really chasing is women (and even though the women they’re chasing, with maybe half an exception for Jake’s love interest, Beverly, are pretty much stick figures of characters: they’re women the way that these boys see them) the simple fact that everybody wants to get laid is actually enough to build a structure around.
Because the simple fact that everybody wants to get laid gives these characters something to do. It gives them an action.
And it gives us something to understand, to root for, or root against, them doing.
And even though the traditional conflicts are not there, and even though quite frankly it ain’t that hard to get laid when you are a baseball player at a Texas college, at least not in this movie, that simple desire for sex is enough to drive the film.
So the first thing you want think about, whether you’re building a traditional structure or something as loosey-goosey as Everybody Wants Some is this:
Is it clear what your character wants? Is that want front and center? Because out of that want comes meaning.
Everybody Wants Some is a movie about meaning, and the meaning of the movie grows out of the want. And one of the beautiful things about Everybody Wants Some is that the want is not a beautiful want. For the most part these characters are not looking to fall in love; they’re looking to get laid.
The main character, Jake, does end up finding a lot more than just sex in his relationship with Beverly. But unlike in a traditional Romantic Comedy, in which the structure would be built around that love story, the thread of that relationship is largely absent for the first two thirds of the movie. For the most part, Jake’s not trying to fall in love; he’s just hanging with the guys.
These characters are not looking for deep profundity, they’re looking to win baseball games. These characters are not striving to be the best they can be, they’re striving to beat each other at knuckles games and ping-pong.
But those simple wants, as mundane as they may be, actually end up allowing the film the feel meaningful, just like our wants allow our lives to feel meaningful, if we’re only willing to pursue them.
There’s a wonderful moment at the end of the film in which Jake talks about meaning and baseball, meaning and competition: how when we are striving for something, the striving in itself, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere, gives us meaning.
And if you are a screenwriter, you know that this is also true about screenwriting.
Because most of what we do as screenwriters is striving. We spend thousands of hours alone in a room with our characters. We spend years and years trying to get our films sold and made, and many of them don’t get made. But the meaning doesn’t come from the product. The meaning comes from the process.
If we act like Niles, the madly aggressive pitcher in Everybody Wants Some, who obsesses only about his professional baseball career, if we put our focus as writers only on the destination, we not only make it no more likely that we’re going to end up where we want to go. We also rob ourselves of the joy along the way, and the meaning we find, often in the least likely places.
And while, in a lesser film, we might dismiss these boys as dumb jocks, squandering their college years sleeping through classes, trying to get laid, competing with each other and playing a game that holds no sure promise of a future, as Everybody Wants Some so elegantly captures, the striving itself, the seeking, the searching, the competition, the pushing themselves, the camaraderie, the teamwork, the friendship, even with a bunch of bro assholes like themselves, brings a meaning all of its own.
If you want your film to feel meaningful, if you want your audience to care about your characters, they need to have clear wants. It doesn’t matter what those wants are. It matters that they want them and they try to get them.
Because those wants, even in the most loosey-goosey of structures, give us the infrastructure to actually care, and find meaning in your characters’ journeys, no matter how misguided or mundane they may seem.
And of course the same thing is true for yourself. If you feel like your own life lacks structure, if you feel like you’re coasting and lost, you want to spend some time looking at your wants.
You want to ask yourself: “do you know what you want?” And if you do know what you want, you want to ask yourself “are you pursuing it with everything you’ve got?”
Are you pursuing it like these guys are pursuing getting laid?
This is a movie about a bunch of guys trying to get laid and having a great time doing it. Doing it messily, doing it badly, and not really worrying too much about the consequences: not really worrying about rejection, not really getting upset when things don’t go their way, allowing people’s opinions about them to just bounce off of them, and not getting so caught up on who they’re supposed to be, but rather reinventing themselves again and again any way they damn well please.
We watch these characters reinvent themselves in so many ways: they go disco dancing, they go country-western dancing, they go to a punk concert, they go to a musical theater party. And they do it all with equal enthusiasm, not trying to play for their audience, but trying to play for themselves.
They spend the movie not worrying so much about what people want from them. And instead focusing, as one of the characters says, on being who you want for you.
Like us, they need to try on different characters, and different voices, in order to find their own voice. Like us, in order to succeed, in order to have that meaning, they have to pursue what they want with both passion and with a light heart. They have to make their own rules, even inside the rules. They have to enjoy the process, even when the process isn’t working out, and even when it’s hard.
This is how you find your voice as a writer. And this is how you find your structure. Not by following a formula or a bunch of rules, but by striving and searching until you find the you within the genre.
And that’s vital for your success as a screenwriter, both on the artistic and the commercial level. Because nobody can control whether your script will sell, whether you’re going to make it to the big leagues, or when the luck you need, and the writing you’re doing, are going to line up.
But what you can control is the journey you create for yourself, and the journey you create for your characters, finding out who you are on the page, and who you are as a writer.
And at the end of the day, that’s what somebody’s buying when they buy your script, even if your last name isn’t Linklater. Because a formula they can buy from thousands of writers, all with better resumes and more powerful agents than yours.
But you, and your voice, they can only buy from you.
I hope that you enjoyed this podcast. We make this podcast available totally free and with no advertising at all so if you got something out of it, please go to iTunes and write us a review. You can also find a complete transcript of this podcast on my website, writeyourscreenplay.com. And if you’d like to study with me in New York City, online, as part of our international retreats, or our one on one ProTrack mentorship program you can learn more about that at our website writeyourscreenplay.com.