Catch Me if You Can

Inciting Event: Frank’s father loses their house because of his IRS debt. My first instinct when watching this was that the Inciting Event was Frank’s first day at his new school, when he decides to impersonate the substitute teacher—since this is the first time he “cons” someone. It’s true that the substitute-teacher scene gives Frank his first glimpse of the power of deceit. But it doesn’t drive the plot in any obvious way. Rather, it’s the trouble brewing in his parents’ marriage—caused by his father’s debt—that will lead right into the First Plot Point.

First Plot Point: After running away because of his parents’ divorce (and the lawyer’s trying to force him to choose between them), Frank decides to pretend to be an airline pilot so he can allay people’s suspicions when cashing the fake checks on which he’s trying to survive. So why is this the First Plot Point and not Frank’s running away? Because up until his point, Frank hasn’t left his Normal World as a teenager and entered the adventure world of being a conman. In a different story, his running away very well could be the First Plot Point, but that story would be one about his being a runaway—not about his outrageous success at bank fraud. Remember: the plot points determine what your story is about and have to be chosen accordingly.

First Pinch Point: FBI agent Carl arrests Frank, but Frank convinces him he’s really a Secret Serviceman and Carl lets him go. There were several scenes prior to this one that I was initially considered as possibly being the pinch point (the introduction of Carl the antagonist being one of them). But when the attempted-arrest scene arrived, I immediately knew it was the pinch point due to its comparative importance and the onscreen conflict between protagonist and antagonist. When you’re creating plot points, remember that the best stories will always have blatantly obvious structural moments. You shouldn’t have to look at three different scenes and wonder which is the pinch point; it should be immediately obvious.

Midpoint: As Carl closes in (after learning Frank’s name, age, and appearance from Frank’s unwitting mother), Frank decides to stop posing as an airline pilot and instead take on the persona of an emergency room doctor. At the hospital, he meets the nurse Brenda and falls for her. Just as it should, this marks a shift in several areas of the story. We should think of the Midpoint as a swivel: it turns the character around into a new direction. Here, Frank not only takes on a new job (which changes his life and provides new scenery for the story), he also shifts in his personal arc when he decides he wants to settle down and have a family. The middle of this story also gives us the antagonist’s midpoint, as he makes a huge discovery about Frank, which changes the tempo of the story. In a lot of ways, Carl is the one who stops reacting and starts acting in the second half of the story—which is interesting, since he is ultimately the one who triumphs in the conflict.

Second Pinch Point: Frank learns from his defeated father that his mother has remarried, which crushes his hopes and goal of his parents’ reconciling and returning to their old life. Recklessly, he calls Carl on Christmas Eve and tells him he wants to stop running and that he’s getting married. This is a nice pinch point, in a quiet, understated way. It puts its emphasis on Frank’s personal stakes, more than the public stakes of his eventual arrest. The old family he’s trying to reconstruct and the new family that he’s trying to build are both obviously endangered—even doomed—which is then backed up nicely by Carl’s success is gaining an important new clue from Frank.

Third Plot Point: After nearly being arrested by Carl and having to flee his engagement party, Frank waits for Brenda at the Miami airport, only to realize she is colluding with the FBI in order to flush him out. Often, the Third Plot Point can “blend in” with surrounding events, since this section of the story—from the Second Pinch Point on—is all high stakes and big happenings. That’s the case here. But we can pick this particular scene out as the Third Plot Point both because of the timing and because it’s the obvious personal low point for the character. It’s also the turning point that swivels him into his actions in the Third Act.

Climax: After learning of his father’s death, Frank is finally sent to prison in the U.S. Again, this is a clear turning point in the story. Frank is no longer on the run physically, so now he must confront his inner need to keep running mentally and emotionally from his problems. He is also introduced to the potential for a new life. In some ways, this section of the story is actually more of an epilogue, since the entirety of the story up to this point has focused on the conflict of Frank’s escapes.

Climactic Moment: After nearly escaping the FBI once more—only to have Carl tell him “no one is chasing you any longer”—Frank returns to the FBI, where he begins helping them catch other conmen like himself.

Resolution: The Resolution is very brief, focusing mostly on Frank’s final admission to Carl about how he passed the bar exam to become an assistant prosecutor in Louisiana. Postscripts on the screen go on to tell how Frank helped the FBI for years to come.

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