All the President’s Men

Inciting Event: Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward discovers that the man Hunt—mentioned in the belongings of two of the Watergate building burglars—worked for the CIA. As a result of his hard work, he and another unknown reporter, Carl Bernstein, are given the story.

Of especial note here is the fact that opening scene—in which the “burglars” are arrested—is inciting in the sense that it begins the story and kicks off the plot. But it is not the event that engages the protagonist with the conflict. Although they have varying degrees of contact with it throughout the First Act, the Inciting Event here, as the turning point in the First Act, brings them solidly into contact with it.

Note, too, how even though Woodward offers no “rejection” whatsoever of the Call to Adventure, we still get the necessary pushback from the editor, who resists the idea of Woodward and Bernstein being given the story in preference to more experienced journalists.

First Plot Point: Woodward meets with his deep-cover contact from the White House—soon to be codenamed “Deepthroat.” The man won’t share new details, but he indicates that Woodward is onto something big. He tells him to “follow the money.”

In a discovery/detective story such as this one, all of the structural moments are much “lighter” than in other types of stories. The distinctions between the moments aren’t as defined (e.g., the First Plot Point here is only a departure from the Normal World in a very vague sense). Rather, the structural moments are all simple turning points, advanced by revelations that lead the protagonists closer and closer to the truth.

First Pinch Point: The Post’s editors choose to keep the story buried inside the paper, instead of giving it the front page. They discuss the possibility of its being “dangerous”—which creates an obvious threat to Woodward and Bernstein’s ability to continue pursuing the story.

The turning point comes thanks to their discovery that money associated with the “burglary” was being paid by Nixon’s reelection committee.

Midpoint: Woodward and Bernstein get their hands on a list of the reelection committee’s members. They start actively going from door to door, trying to get one of the members to talk to them, but everyone consistently—and fearfully—refuses.

Second Pinch Point: Bernstein finally gets a very paranoid bookkeeper to give him names, dates and numbers. The reporters themselves begin to grow paranoid.

Third Plot Point: Deep Throat tells Woodward that the conspiracy goes “all the way up.” This is the “biggest” moment in the story. It doesn’t provide a personal low point for the protagonists, beyond simply the implication of massive corruption in their country’s government.

Climax: The Post runs the story implicating the former attorney general Haldeman, which the White House promptly denies. Woodward learns from Deep Throat that he and Bernstein are under surveillance and may be in danger.

Climactic Moment: The Post editor, upon learning of their potential danger, tells Woodward and Bernstein to continue their investigation.

Resolution: Nixon is re-elected, but a typewritten epilogue reveals he eventually resigns. Why is this not the Climactic Moment? Because the impetus of the plot is about the investigation, not its resolution. The movie clearly ends with the protagonists still working on their story. The outcome is only a postscript.

Notes: This was a difficult movie to analyze. It’s very detailed and complex, it’s not character driven in any sense, and its plot points are all comparatively delicate. I would need to see it again (and maybe again) to be 100% certain of my analysis of the latter plot points, so take these with a grain of salt in your own viewing of the film.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.