Script Coverage – Secret Life of Walter Mitty

walter mitty

The following is a script analysis of the popular film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The numbers contained in parenthesis reference page numbers, and any digit following a decimal helps approximate the location of a source on the given page. For example, this is how I would cite this sentence (1.3).

At the very least, I hope that any of you who aspire to become published authors/screenwriters will realize that the “higher-ups” who judge the quality of your material make their decisions based on how well a story excels in several distinct categories.

*I am the original author of this analysis.

* * *

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A great premise, strong lead, and witty dialogue make for a lot of laughs in this satirical take on the unrewarding, high-pressure life of a typical cubicle worker. Though it starts off well-paced and rolling, the slow mid-section and divided climax take away the rising tension necessary for an explosive ending. The introduction of too many short-lived side characters and the ease with which Walter tracks down Sean O’Connell’s latest known destinations work slightly against the emotional impact this could have made. This is most comparable to “Stranger than Fiction”.

PREMISE (4)

Walter can’t find the cover photo for the final issue of Time magazine, and travels around the world in order to find it. His job is at stake, which is also the only thing he has going for him in his life, despite its being viewed by others as a meaningless position. The premise provides solid ground for fodder as well as an in depth look at the unrewarding life of a modest, hard-working cubicle worker. The premise would be strengthened if Walter hated to travel and preferred to do nothing more than slave away for Time magazine, a company which he should have initially felt sentimental about. The premise is similar to “Around the World in Eighty Days”.

STRUCTURE (3)

The inciting incident is Walter’s discovery that cut number twelve, the cover photograph that captures the quintessence of life, is missing (9.5). After learning the company plans to retain only eleven employees and his own job weighs in the balance (29.5), Walter makes his first plot point decision by choosing to fly to Greenland to locate Sean O’Connell (30.9). Walter learns that he has been let go before he has found the photograph (79.2), which prematurely releases tension by decreasing Walter’s motivation to continue in his pursuit. The climax is a let down, as Walter casually delivers the photograph to Mark Chatham in a Four Seasons Hotel hallway (113.4).

CHARACTER (3)

Outside of Walter, who plays an awkward, constantly fumbling-through-life protagonist (35.1), there are only two strong supporting roles. One is Doug, whose witty dialogue and personal interest in Walter is funny and original (48.8). The other is Sean O’Connell, who plays a larger than life photographer who is fearless at tackling any obstacle (92.7). Unfortunately, Doug and Sean have little on screen time, leaving Walter to be surrounded most often by briefly appearing side characters.

CONFLICT (3)

Though conflict is present in every scene, and is executed in unique ways, the lack of rising tension amounts to a weak climax. Walter finds himself in one uncomfortable situation after another as he travels the world. In one instance he finds himself in the water with either a shark or a porpoise fin circling him (41.5). in another he is kayaking in the way of triathlon swimmers (51.1). When Walter returns to America to assist his mother with her piano (58.1), he strays from the core conflict for too long. Walter’s discovery that he has been fired long before the climax arrives is a crucial error that kills any hope for a feel-good ending (79.2).

DIALOGUE (4)

Great comic timing and constant belittlement directed Walter’s way keep humor and entertainment high throughout. Walter’s awkward, uncertain character is obvious from the beginning, when he first allows Todd, an Eharmony counselor, to lead him into a private conversation (4.3). His quirky personality is made all-the-more apparent through subtle suggestions and phrases, such as his thanking Rich for “putting his back into it” (moving a piano) (21.8). After the cab driver tells him that she is the queen of Greenland, Walter uncomfortably refers to her as “your majesty” (32.8). Todd from Eharmony frequently offers insights into Walter’s life and character arc through witty lines, such as his realization that Walter can add swims with dolphin to his profile page (48.7).

PACING (3)

The good, well-paced rhythm established early on gets lost in the middle and never fully recaptured by the end. Walter’s decision to locate Sean propels the action forward, starting with a plane flight to Greenland, and soon followed with a helicopter drop off, which nearly results in Walter getting attacked by a shark (41.8). After this series of fast-moving developments, Walter decides to go home and help his mother move a piano (52.9), a subplot that takes up too much screen time (59.5). Though tension builds strongly throughout a series of scenes that involve a riot, a concert, and a dispute with the higher ups of Walter’s company, the climax is a few scenes removed, and arrives in the low-conflict setting of a hotel hallway (114.4), well after Walter’s big character breakthrough (104.9).

ORIGINALITY (4)

Everything about this is original. Glimpses from Walter’s imagination provide for an amusing display of where his mind is currently at. The physical characteristics of musk ox are creative and unique. Tim Naughton’s record for hitting the highest singing note ever is not only unique enough to set him apart from other characters, but serves as a great set-up for the high-pitched weeping he lets out later. Walter’s discovery that his mother has been in contact with Sean O’Connell comes as an unexpected twist. This is most comparable to “The Bucket List”.

LOGIC (3)

Many events and decisions in this are illogical, but because of its being a romantic comedy most of these errors are permissible. For instance, Walter’s Eharmony page will not allow him to wink at another girl online because his personality lacks dimensions (18.3). He takes a picture of an indistinguishable thumb with him to Greenland, and miraculously locates the person whom it belongs to (37.3). Sitting in a Subaru that Sean O’Connell recently slept in, Walter finds a scrap of paper with Sean’s itinerary, of all things, jotted down on it (44.8). Despite his willingness to do just about whatever it takes to track down the famous photographer, Walter casually abandons his quest and returns to America to help his mother move a piano (53.1).

TONE (4)

The tone remains consistent throughout. Frequently Walter struggles with obstacles that are foreign to his nature, making for hilarious scenes that still manage to maintain solid conflict (51.1). The tone lends some strong sub-text to the difficulties a cubicle worker faces in devoting his life to a company that is indifferent towards him (81.5). Walter’s awkward, uncertain, trying-to-please nature (21.9) is fitting given the intended genre as well as the demographic.

WRITING ABILITY (4)

Outside of simple misspellings and occasional grammatical errors, the formatting is solid, as are the scene and character descriptions. (1.5 “wait” not “waits” / 7.7 “music” not “muzic” / 9.2 “Walter unwraps” not “Walter’s unwrapped” / 15.5 “Cheryl laughs” not “Cheryl’s laughed” / 35.3 “your” not “you’re / 36.8 “folk dance” not “folk dance dance” / 41.8 “moment” not “moments” / 49.9 “Rich does” not “Rich has” / 62.6 “your” not “you’re” / 70.9 “lying” not “laying” / 71.4 “Cheryll notices this” not “Cheryll has noticed this” / 78.3 “song has” not “song’s” / 84.3 “information has been” not “information’s been” / 100.9 “Chatham finishes” not “Chatham finished”)

  • Thomas M. Watt

Author of Master

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