SCRIPT BREAKDOWN: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

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In my blog articles known as the ‘SCRIPT BREAKDOWN’ series, I give a breakdown of a film script as seen through the eyes of a screenwriter (who moonlights as a video script copywriter). By understanding how different physical and emotional plot points play out in movies, I believe screenwriters, and even video script copywriters, can better figure out how to map their own scripts and brand stories. It’s not a formula for storytelling; you can’t just add water and stir, but it can be helpful as a guide.

For greater insight into the building blocks of the Hero’s Journey paradigm, I recommend reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

I also recommend watching Winning the Story Wars, a TED Talk by internationally recognized storyteller, author, designer and entrepreneur, Jonah Sachs, the co-founder and creative director of Free Range Media.

If you’d like to leave a comment at the end, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share this post using the buttons below. Cheers!

The Treasure of The Sierra Madre (1948)

Director/ Writer: John Huston (winner of Academy Award for both)



Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is a down-on-his-luck drifter, playing the lottery and begging for money He meets and befriends another drifter, Curtin (Tim Holt).  The two work on an oil rig job together but get stiffed out of their wages by a crooked boss.

CALL TO ADVENTURE: Dobbs and Curtin meet Howard (Walter Huston) (MENTOR), an old-timer who’s filled with stories about gold prospecting. He ruminates on the way greed for gold can consume a man, but Dobbs swears it would never have that effect on him. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL)

Dobbs and Curtin take revenge on their crooked boss and steal from him the wages he owes them. When Dobbs ALSO wins a small local lottery, he and Curtin now have enough money to finance a gold dig, and with the help of Howard, they head out into the wilds.



On the train ride out to the gold fields, Dobbs, Curtin and Howard come under attack by a gang of Mexican bandits led by ‘Gold Hat’ (Alfonso Bedoya) (OUTER-CIRCLE ANTAGONIST). They beat off the attack, but Gold Hat lives to fight another day.

Dobbs can’t take the hardship of the desert and wants to quit. Despite the moaning and groaning, Howard eventually finds gold for them and they set up a successful gold dig. It’s not long before Dobbs’ insecurities set in. His earlier claim that he would never get ‘gold fever’ is shown to be a lie. He’s the most paranoid of the bunch, causing the otherwise level-headed Curtin to be on guard, too.

MID-POINT: While shopping for supplies in a nearby town, Curtin runs into Cody (Bruce Bennett), a prospector who’s eager for gold news and suspects Curtin knows more than he’s saying. Cody follows Curtin back to his camp and confronts Dobbs and Howard, who must decide whether to kill him or include him in their hunt for gold.

Dobbs, Curtin and Howard decide to kill Cody but are forced to work with him to fend off an attack by Gold Hat and his bandits. The Federales eventually chase off the bandits, but Cody’s been killed in the fight. In his pocket, Curtin finds and reads a letter from Cody’s wife. It talks about how love and family are more important than riches. The thematic message in the letter seems to convince Dobbs to be satisfied with the gold they have, so the threesome pack up and leave the mine behind.

Local Indians beseech them to help save the life of a young boy who is unconscious after nearly drowning in a river. Dobbs, more worried about his gold then Indians, refuses but Howard (MENTOR) agrees to go with them to help, leaving Dobbs and Curtin to take his gold to town for him.

LOWEST POINT: Left with the old man’s gold, Dobbs gold fever returns ten-fold. He wants to steal it and run, but Curtin refuses. Dobbs shoots him and leaves him for dead, taking all the gold for himself. Clearly Dobbs is the INNER-CIRCLE ANTAGONIST, and if things go as the audience expects, he’ll meet a tragic end. But how?

Curtin drags himself to the Indian village, informs Howard of what’s happened and the two of them head out to find Dobbs.


Dobbs is within sight of the town where he can sell the gold and get the riches he wants so badly, but at a watering hole he’s found and killed by Gold Hat and his men. (Bogart is dead?! Whaaat?!)

Gold Hat and his gang steal Dobb’s donkeys, who are carrying piles of animal skins to hide the bags of gold. For some inexplicable reason, Gold Hat empties and discards the bags of gold. It’s a B/W movie, so it’s hard to tell when what’s inside the bags hits the dirt whether it’s gold or sand, but if it’s not gold, where is the gold?

Anyway, they seem more interested in selling the donkeys and animals skins in town, but they’re discovered for the bandits they are and executed swiftly.

CLIMAX: Curtin and Howard arrive, eager for news of what happened to the bags that their donkeys were carrying. They rush off to a spot outside of town where the locals say they saw some bags on the ground, but when they get there, whatever was inside them is gone, swept away by a windstorm, back to the earth from which it came.

DENOUEMENT: At first distraught, Howard and Curtin laugh at the irony After all that effort, paranoia and death they end up with no gold. So what will they do now?

After curing the drowned boy earlier, Howard’s now revered as a healer by the local Indians and has been invited to live with them. Howard encourages Curtin to go find Cody’s wife and bring her news of her husband. Maybe she can give him work on the fruit farms she owns. Since owning a fruit farm has been a long-time dream of Curtin’s, he likes that idea.

With the thematic message that love and family is far more important than the destructive power of greed, Curtin and Howard wave their goodbyes and go their separate ways.


Do you need help turning your brand story into some great video script copywriting? Contact copywriter Phil Parker for a free chat at

SCRIPT WRITING: Is your hero too perfect?


I’ve seen The Martian twice now. The first time I really liked it. Gave it a 8.5/10

The second time, I liked it, but not as much. Gave it a 7.5/10

And now, looking into the future I’m wondering… will this be one of those films I watch again and again?

This is coming from a guy who has watched other films, like Aliens, probably 15 times over the years and will watch it once a year till the end of time.

Both films have smart heroes doing smart things trying to survive and outwit something that is trying to kill them. They’re ultimately survival stories, primal in their universal appeal to an audience. But The Martian is not grabbing me the way Aliens did. Why is that?


What made The Martian a lot of fun the first time – besides the great VFX and cinematography – was watching a really smart guy figure out really smart ways storiesbyphil on martians 1to outsmart death. It was like watching an interplanetary episode of CSI, except in this show the investigator dies if he doesn’t solve the puzzle. It was definitely a cinematic version of ‘competence porn’.

But I liked it less the second time because the hero’s struggle lacked an emotional component beyond just that need for survival. Once I knew how he solved all of his problems, I lost a bit of interest. He didn’t seem to have a flaw that would prevent him from reaching his goal and thus increase the drama and the emotional stakes  He was almost too good at everything.

aliens sci fi screenwriting 2With Aliens, despite knowing every second of the film, I keep coming back to it because it makes me feel something extra. Why? Because I admire Ripley’s courage and heart. She has to overcome her instinct for self-preservation and go out on a limb to help others. Mark Watley, the hero of The Martian, is courageous in the face of death but he mainly just cares about his own survival. He’s alone, so that’s fair enough. But we’re never given a real chance to connect with who this guy is on the inside.

The humans back on Earth care about him, but does that mean I’m supposed to see humanity as the hero? Because they care about something other than themselves? The old US Marines’ credo of “no man gets left behind”? Yeah, ok, that made me care about him too. It did make me feel like, “I AM that guy! Come save me!” But ‘humanity’ is such a large (and ironically) impersonal concept to cast as your hero. I need something smaller, more identifiable and emotional to help me connect with a protagonist.

In Tom Hanks’ movie Castaway – another survival story – at least the hero has his anthropomorphized volleyball ‘Wilson’ to care about (though I never felt the need towilson screenwriting storiesbyphil watch that movie again). Same goes for Cruise in MI5: Rogue Nation: he didn’t have an inner flaw but he had people close to him – the girl and Simon Pegg – to care about, so we cared about him.


The fact that Matt Damon’s character in The Martian didn’t have a flaw didn’t bother me the first time. The film put me in his shoes. I cared because I WAS him, struggling to survive out there all alone. I just liked it less the second time BECAUSE he didn’t have a flaw and I knew all of his smarty pants tricks. I wouldn’t bother watching a CSI episode twice for the same reason.

martians sci fi screenwriting 3In the end though, is it relevant to talk about the effect a movie has on you the second time? Shouldn’t initial reactions be enough? If you enjoyed it, you enjoyed it, right? Well, I have Aliens on Blu-Ray. I will probably get MI5, too. I doubt I will get The Martian.

Hey, I still enjoyed it. But I kinda wish I’d only seen it once. And yet I’m happy the filmmakers got me to buy two tickets. They deserve every penny.

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