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Screenwriter Workshop, Course: Midnight Cowboy (1969) Deconstructed

   By: Kal Bishop

From our deconstruction of hundreds of Hollywood blockbusters....

The Hero's Journey is the template upon which the vast majority of successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters are based upon. In fact, ALL of the Hollywood movies we have deconstructed are based on this template.

Understanding this template is a priority for story or screenwriters.

The Hero's Journey:

a) Attempts to tap into unconscious expectations the audience has regarding what a story is and how it should be told.

b) Gives the writer more structural elements than simply three or four acts, plot points, mid point and so on.

c) Interpreted metaphorically, laterally and symbolically, allows an infinite number of varied stories to be created.

and more...

Sample Movie Deconstructed: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

FADE IN: Hero's Ordinary World: Middle America; open spaces; desolate; cowboy music; drive in etc.

Introduce Hero: Joe Buck in the shower (cleaning off his Old Self?); preparing for a Journey.

Hero's Ordinary World: the restaurant; "you know what you can do with them dishes?"

Signature tune.

Hero on a Journey: Joe with a suitcase.

Obstacle to the Journey: truck in the way.

Meeting the Mentor: in the restaurant; the boss and the head dish washer: "what you going to do in New York?"

Hero's Motivation: "the women are begging for it and the men are Tutty Frutties."

Hero's Back Story: the shop for rent; grandma etc.

Entering the World of the First Threshold: getting on the bus.

Strange Creatures of the First Threshold: the people in the bus.

Backstory: grandma.

Inner Challenge: ex girlfriend.

Leaving the Ordinary World: leaving behind "Jesus Saves."

Hero's True Nature: turning the light back on.

Inner Challenge: grandma.

Pulled toward the First Threshold: Joe's images of women wanting him; we want someone like you…

Fish out of water in the First Threshold: doesn't know whether to give the porter a tip.

Outer Challenge: money.

Authority Figure relates the rules of this World: talking stocks and shares on the radio.

Exploring the First Threshold: out on the streets.

Conflict in the First Threshold: all the women that turn him down.

Pulled into the Inner Cave: invited upstairs…

The Inner Cave: paying for sex as opposed to getting paid.

Meeting the Mentor: meeting Ratso.

Pulled into the World of the Transformation: "you gotta get yourself some management; walking the street that's nowhere."

Meeting Allies: the other people in the bar.

Warnings against the Mentor (and the Transformation) "if he's sitting on the other side of the table, then how's he gonna get his hands in your pocket?"

Developing the Mentor's capabilities in the World of the Transformation: "I'm walking here"; searching for coins in phone boxes etc.

Pulling the Hero into the Physical Separation: Ratso leads Joe to O'Daniel.

Physical Separation: running from O'Daniel and chasing Ratso onto the train.

Warnings against the Transformation: Stay Out signs.

Trial 1: back in the bar; looking for Ratso.

Foreshadow of the Transformation: walking down 42 nd street and seeing the rent boys.

Trial 2: being thrown out of the hotel.

Tempted back to the Old World / Push Back: no money for breakfast: dishwashing.

Strange Creatures in the World of the Transformation: the woman with the kid and the mouse.

Becoming comfortable in the World of the Transformation: Joe gives another directions.

Resisting Trail 3: looking and talking to himself in the mirror.

Trial 3: standing in 42 nd street; getting a BJ in the cinema.

Resisting the Complete Transformation: almost, but not quite, beating up the Jewish boy in the toilet; not taking his watch.

Meeting the Oracle: running into Ratso in the café: he's got 62 cents.

Guided to the Sword: Ratso invites him.

Difficulty entering the World of the Sword: Joe has to carry the fridge upstairs.

Foreshadow of the Final Conflict: "by the time winter comes, I'll be in Florida."

Threshold Guardian to the Swor:d: Joe tries to rest but is wary of Ratso.

Inner Challenge: Joe dreams of the rape.

Seizing the Sword: Joe gets a place to stay; sleep; learning to steal; learning to survive without money.

Foreshadow of the Final Conflict: Ratso coughing.

Pulled towards the Final Conflict; Ratso tries to persuade Joe to go to Florida.

New Self: Getting his clothes washed; the new hat; haircut.

Foreshadow of the Final Conflict: Pimp and hustler in Miami.

Night Sea Journey: getting thrown out of the Beecham Hotel.

Near Death Experience: cold in the flat; having to sell his blood.

Losing all vestiges of the Old Self: selling the radio.

Reward: Joe gets a jacket for Joe.

Near Death Experience: visiting the grave; talking about death in the café.

Atonement with the Father: being asked to go to the party; arranging a hustle with a beautiful woman.

Apotheosis: Can't get it up. This isn't really what he wants.

Ultimate Boon: Joe gets it up and gets paid. And she sets him up with her girlfriends.

Refusal: Ratso is sick. Joe doesn't want to go to Florida now that things are working out for him.

Rescue from Without / Hero Transformed / disgusted with the Changed Self / kills the representation of the Changed Self: Joe buck robs and kills Towny.

Magic Flight: on the bus…"did you kill him, you got blood on your jacket…"

Crossing the Return Threshold.: A New Self: Changing his clothes. Overcoming the Outer Challenge: Clothes are cheaper down here. Overcoming the Inner Challenge: Being hit on by the waitress.

Master of the Two Worlds: he's gonna get a job in Florida; got to be easier than hustling for a living.

Freedom to Live: Ratso dies; no need for a Mentor anymore.


Learn more…

The Complete 188 stage Hero's Journey and other story structure templates can be found at

You can also receive a regular, free newsletter by entering your email address at this site.

Kal Bishop


You are free to reproduce this article as long as no changes are made and the author's name and site URL are retained.

Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. His specialities include Knowledge Management and Creativity and Innovation Management. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached at

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