SCRIPT BREAKDOWN: Midnight Run (1988)

Screenwriter Phil Parker looks at the the Hero’s Journey in ‘Midnight Run’ (1988)

(this article first appeared on

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!

Midnight Run (1988) – Directed by: Martin Brest Written by: George Gallo

Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto



Midnight Run begins with a 5-minute opener that shows us the main character’s world, his skills and his personality.

Jack (Robert De Niro) picks a lock, ducks a bullet and chases a bad guy. Is he a cop? We don’t know. Suddenly another guy, Marvin (John Ashton) tries to steal Jack’s perp, even pulls a gun on Jack to make him back off. Jack uses a simple diversion technique (PLANT) to outsmart Marvin and in the end walks away with his prize – the bad guy. The end of the sequence also show us his FLAW – he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.


Jack goes to bail bondsman Eddie (Joe Pantoliano) to collect his reward for bringing in the bad guy and we learn Eddie has a history of stiffing Jack for his money. Eddie we will realize is a SHAPESHIFTER character – only looking out for himself, even if that screws over Jack.


Usually these two plot points are separated by several pages, but here they happen together.

INCITING INCIDENT – Eddie informs Jack that the gangster, Serrano (Dennis Farina) that ended Jack’s Chicago police career is after an accountant, Mardukas (Charles Grodin) that embezzled $15 mill from him and plans to testify in court about his mafia dealings.

CALL TO ADVENTURE – Eddie has put up a huge bail payment for Mardukas and Mardukas has skipped town. He needs Jack to go to New York and bring him back to LA for trial or Eddie’s gonna go bankrupt.

REFUSAL OF THE CALL – Jack refuses. He’s tired of nearly getting his ass shot off for pennies. Eddie argues it’s an easy job, a ‘midnight run’! Jack demands $100K and a contract to seal the deal.

TICKING CLOCK – Eddie reluctantly agrees but tells Jack he only has 5 days to bring Mardukas back or the whole thing is off and they’re both screwed.

SKILLS – Jack uses his resources – a good relationship from his days on the police force – to track down where in NY Mardukas might be.

THRESHOLD GUARDIAN – FBI Agent Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) stuffs Jack into the back of a car and reads him the riot act – stay away from Mardukas! Mosely wants the accountant to be a witness in a federal trial, and if Jack brings him in for skipping bail, he’ll miss his trial date. Now we know what the movie will be about – Jack getting Mardukas and the FBI trying to stop him (TURNING POINT #1). It’s also through Mosely that we learn secondhand that Jack was actually kicked off the Chicago police force, but we don’t know why yet. (PLANT)

SKILLS/ CHARACTER – Jack gives Mosely a lot of wise-ass remarks and agrees to nothing. Instead, he manages to steal Mosely’s FBI credentials, which he’ll use throughout the movie.

THRESHOLD SEQUENCE – Jack flies back to New York and along the way inserts his own picture into Mosely’s FBI ID.

And we’re only up to the 12-minute mark (in a 126-minute film)! A very short Act 1, but it shows how you can hit all the right notes in a short period of time.



FRIEND – Jack uses a contact from his police force days to track down Mardukas.

ENEMIES – Thugs working for Serrano corner Jack and let him know they’re looking for Mardukas, too. They even offer him $1m, but Jack doesn’t take the bait.

SKILLS – Jack uses technology and cunning to track down Mardukas. He picks the lock on a house and sneaks in to apprehend him, but Jack is not perfect – he gets cornered in the bathroom by their dog.

Roughly 20 minutes in and the ROAD TRIP begins

STAKES CHARACTER – Jack hauls Mardukas out of the house and heads for the airport to fly back to LA so he can collect his reward from Eddie, the bail bondsman. He calls Eddie to let him know he’ll be back in LA tonight.

COMPLICATIONS – FBI has Eddie’s phone tapped, so they know what Jack is up to. Eddie’s assistant is getting a payoff from Serrano’s thugs, so he calls and tells them where Jack is.

ON PLANE – Mardukas has a fear of flying and chucks a fit, getting them kicked off the plane. Now they’ll have to find other means of transport to get across the country.

The FBI and Serrano’s thugs are left empty handed when the plane arrives in LA because Jack and Mardukas were forced to take a train instead. The chase is on!

The foundation of every great road-trip movie is the contrasting nature of the main characters. These people, under ordinary circumstances, would never be friends let alone want to be stuck with each other for days. By creating a situation that forces them to travel together, you create drama and humor.

ON TRAIN – And so it is with Jack and Mardukas – Jack is slovenly and selfish; Mardukas is clean cut, caring and a bit anal. All Jack cares about is delivering Mardukas any way he can and collecting his money. Mardukas does his best to bond with Jack so Jack will see him as a human being and not just a dollar sign, while simultaneously annoying Jack by trying to correct his unhealthy habits. Jack pushes back and says Marukas isn’t any better than him, but Mardukas points out –

STATEMENT OF THEMEyou do bad things because it makes you feel better; I did a bad thing because it made others feel better (he says he gave most of the money he stole from Serrano to charity). This statement makes it clear to the audience the INNER JOURNEY Jack needs to make by the end of the film for the story to be emotionally satisfying.

It’s also through Mardukas’s questions that we learn, bit by bit, the mystery behind why Jack was booted off the Chicago police force and what that had to do with the gangster Serrrano (that Mardukas stole $15 million from).

SHAPESHIFTER – When Eddie finds out that Jack hasn’t arrived with Mardukas as promised, he panics and calls up a second bounty hunter, Marvin (from the intro action sequence) to go get the accountant.

STAKES RAISED – Now Jack has the FBI, the mob and a competitor trying to stop him from reaching his goal.

SKILLS – Marvin catches up with Jack on the train and tries to steal Mardukas from him, but Jack outsmarts him with a diversion tactic again. Jack calls the cops and tells them to come arrest Marvin while he gets away with Mardukas.

ENEMY – the FBI now knows Jack is on the train and they go to intercept, but Jack gets off a few stations earlier and the FBI are left empty handed, again.

We’re at the 40-minute mark

SHAPESHIFTER ALLY – Jack calls Eddie and rails on him for two-timing him with Marvin. We also get a reminder of the deadline Jack is up against (TICKING CLOCK).

ENEMIES – Through the phone tap on Eddie’s phone the FBI learn where Jack is, and Serrano’s thugs learn via a phone call from Eddie’s greedy assistant.

Another common device used to create drama in road-trip movies is transportation hiccups. By forcing the characters to constantly find new ways to travel the story is kept fresh and the tension is raised.

COMPLICATION – When Jack tries to use his credit card to buy a bus ticket, he finds out someone’s cancelled it.

Marvin is question by FBI Agent Mosely about Jack but doesn’t have much he can tell them. FBI finds out Jack tried to use Mosley’s stolen FBI creds to get on a bus.

ON BUS – More forced bonding between Jack and Mardukas as the accountant questions him about why his marriage failed. We learn it’s connected to his problems on the Chicago police force somehow. Mardukas schools Jack on his unhealthy habits more.

ENEMY – Serrano’s lawyer gives him (and us) a STAKES REMINDER- if Jack is not stopped, Mardukas will testify and Serrano will go to jail. Serrano yells at his thugs to find Jack!

FACE TO FACE – The FBI and Serrano’s thugs meet the bus when it arrives in Chicago. Jack and Mardukas are arrested but Serrano’s men try to shoot them, causing chaos and allowing J&M to escape.

COMPLICATION – Jack has no money so he’s forced to visit his ex-wife to get help, a reunion that Mardukas has been encouraging so Jack can heal his wounds from the past.

VISITING THE WOUND – During the visit with his ex, we learn part of the reason Jack’s bitter and wounded – his wife got remarried, and to a fellow cop from Chicago who Jack thinks is corrupt. Jack briefly reunites with his estranged daughter, and her continuing love for him and her offering him her babysitting money to help him, humanizes Jack for the audience (HERO LOVED BY OTHERS). Ex-wife gives him some cash and a car to use.

SHAPESHIFTING ALLY – Jack calls Eddie and tells him his phone is being bugged by the FBI. Tells him to wire him some cash so he can get back to LA. Eddie gives him another deadline reminder (TICKING CLOCK).


IN CAR/ WOUND REVEALED – Mardukas interrogates Jack for more info on his wound. Jack finally tells the story – his fellow officers were taking bribes from Serrano, and when Jack refused to, he was forced to leave.

FLAW RECOGNIZED – Jack says that’s why he doesn’t have relationships, because he doesn’t want to be betrayed again. He relies only on himself.

Mardukas reveals a secret in return – he kept Serrano’s tax records. It could be a way to get Serrano off his back.

We’re 60 minutes in. Long-ass movie. Good thing it’s a great one!

Serrano’s thugs catch up with Jack and Mardukas. Marvin catches up with them, too. He knocks out the thugs and tries to take off with Mardukas, but Jack handcuffs himself to Mardukas, forcing Marvin to take them both.


ENEMY – Serrano’s thugs catch up to Marvin, Jack and Mardukas via helicopter and start shooting.

SKILLS – Jack blows up the helicopter.

Jack handcuffs Marvin to their wrecked car and has to jump in a river to catch up with Mardukas who is floating downstream.

STILL FLAWED – Mardukas offers to help Jack out of the river if he promises not to turn him in to the cops. Jack agrees, but quickly recants once he’s out of the river. Jack has betrayed him.

ENEMIES – Mosely finds out where Jack is when Marvin is brought in by local police. Serrano gets an update from his hopeless thugs.

BECOMING CLOSER – Jack stops Mardukas from stealing a plane belonging to local Indians; and Mardukas stops Jack from stealing their car without paying for it. They realize they’re more similar than they thought, e.g. Jack wouldn’t take a payoff from the mob and Mardukas wouldn’t work for the mob. Jack develops an ulcer and Mardukas offers to find him food in the next town.

COMPLICATION – to get food, they need money. Mardukas convinces Jack to give him the FBI badge (HERO OVERCOMING FLAW) and Mardukas cons a bartender out of money so they can buy groceries.

ON FREIGHT TRAIN – they hop a freight train. Mardukas tries to lock Jack out, but Jack has mad SKILLS and gets in anyway. Jack feels BETRAYED again so he handcuffs Mardukas. (FLAW RETURNS)

ENEMIES – Marvin held by cops. Mosely gets word of J&M on freight train. When Marvin’s released, he follows the FBI in pursuit of J&M.

ON FREIGHT TRAIN (APPROACHING INNER MOST CAVE)– Mardukas uses humor and caring to heal the rift between him and Jack. He teases Jack for hanging on to an old watch that doesn’t work, and Jack admits it was gift from his ex that he’s hung on to in vain hope they might reunite.

Mardukas finally realizes that Serrano, the gangster who wants to kill him, is the same guy that fucked up Jack’s life in Chicago. Mardukas then accuses Jack of sacrificing him for his own selfish desires (wanting to open up a coffee shop with his reward money). We see this hits closer to home than Jack would like. We can see Jack is no longer blase about Mardukas. He’s starting to care for the guy. They might have even been friends in another life. (HERO OVERCOMING FLAW).

J&M jump off the train before it reaches the station, leaving the FBI, Marvin and Serrano’s thugs empty handed, AGAIN.

Jack hot-wires a truck (SKILLS) and heads for the nearest airport with Mardukas, but Marvin and the cops are in pursuit.

LOWEST POINT – Marvin steals Mardukas from Jack again and the FBI catch Jack. He’s under arrest for impersonating an agent. It looks like Jack’s quest is impossible now.

Jack calls Eddie to fill him in, but when he finds out Eddie doesn’t know that Marvin has Mardukas (TURNING POINT #2), this gives him an idea to get the accountant back. (ACT 3 GOALSET UP)

Jack calls Serrano’s thugs and makes a deal – he thinks Marvin is working for them because they offered him more money than Eddie the bail bondsman. If they give back Mardukas, Jack won’t leak the disks Mardukas gave him of Serrano’s dodgy dealings. He sets a time and place to make the exchange – Vegas Airport in 2 hours.

Jack makes a deal with Agent Mosely – he’ll wear a wire during the meeting with Serrano so they get him on destruction of evidence IF they let him take Mardukas in for the bail reward.

We don’t know it yet, but later we’ll realize this is when Jack overcame his flaw – he’s now doing something for someone else, not just himself.


Marvin’s planning to blackmail Serrano – he wants $2mill for Mardukas, but the thugs figure out where Marvin’s keeping the accountant, so they knock him out and leave him with nothing.

Serrano orders his thugs to get those disks from Jack then kill Jack and Mardukas. Serrano’s lawyer urges him to reconsider, but Serrano’s not listening.

In the FBI plane headed for Vegas Airport, the FBI wire Jack up for the meeting. Jack feels like a cop again and he likes it.


Hitting the 109-minute mark here (out of 126 minutes)

Serrano meets Mardukas in the back of a limo and promises he’ll be dead before the end of the day for betraying him.

The exchange of disks for Mardukas is going down in the airport lounge. Jack is there, the FBI are watching, Serrano arrives, Marvin arrives. After a face to face standoff between Serrano and Jack, all hell breaks loose when Marvin tries to intervene. Jack tries to warn him to back off but Marvin thinks he’s just using his usual diversionary tactic (PLANT PAYOFF). Serrano nearly gets away with the disks but the FBI swoop in and nab him.


Jack takes Mardukas to LA, but once they’re at the airport he calls Eddie. Jack knows Eddie was two-timing him this whole time and nearly got him killed. Eddie, like the Chicago cops, betrayed him so “screw you” Jack tells him and hangs up.

Jack lets the accountant go. Catching Serrano gave him the right kind of inner peace that he needed. Turning in Mardukas for cash would be wrong. He gives him his old watch, the gift his ex-wife gave him, realizing he doesn’t need it anymore. He knows it’s time to move on. (FLAW OVERCOME)

Mardukas reveals he’s been carrying cash with him this whole time and wants Jack to have it. It’s not a payoff, because Jack already let him go, so Jack accepts $300K (HERO’S REWARD)


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

Big Break Competition Update!

21-11-16 UPDATE: The Third Bomb beat out thousands of other scripts to make it to the semifinals.

One of the world’s top 10 screenwriting contests – Final Draft’s Big Break Competition – announced its quarterfinalists earlier this month and my WWII action/ adventure script ‘The Third Bomb’ made the list! Very excited!

All script-writing contest results for The Third Bomb

Normally the quarterfinals are nothing to crow about, but this time is different. Someone from a top Hollywood agency saw my script and read its logline (a brief description of the story) and contacted me. They were intrigued and wanted to read it! #blownaway

So of course I signed their release form and sent that, plus a copy of my script, back right away. Having this agency represent me would be a dream come true… but I’m under no illusions. I’ve already been at this game for a few years now, pitching my heart out, winning competitions and getting script requests, only for it all to lead to dead ends. It’s enough to put grey hairs on your head and a bit of jade in your soul. So, the chickens have not been counted yet.

Not by a long shot.

However, in order to survive, just like in any tough industry, you have to keep pressing on despite the incredible odds against you. Otherwise, what’s the alternative, right? Give up? Go back to a normal 11hrs-a-day industry job working for someone else? F**k that 😉

Besides, I’m already incredibly fortunate that ‘The Third Bomb’ and its success on the contest circuit has helped change my life.

I’m a working screenwriter!

…and that was the whole reason I slaved over that script. So that I could pursue my dream and make it real.

I’m incredibly stressed, but it’s an excited stress, because the long hours and uncertainty about where my next pay check will come from are fuel for my brand, my business, my passion. Not someone else’s.

If you’re chasing the same dream too, keep at it! Keep studying your craft. Keep practicing your craft. Network with other writers. Read tons of scripts and analyze tons of movies/ TV shows.

And do it today. And everyday after that.

Booyah! 😉


Script writer Phil Parker hired again!

Job complete. Client thrilled. Hired again! That’s the kind of news I love to hear!

Recently, the award-winning filmmakers at Tent Pictures Productions contracted me to write a comprehensive treatment/ outline for their animated feature film, ‘A Street Cat Named Anbar’. With only minimal character outlines and a basic concept to go by, I set about creating a compelling adventure, sprinkled with both comedy and drama. Think ‘Lady and the Tramp’ meets ‘The Pink Panther’.

My client was thrilled with the results:

“The story is perfectly constructed, with compelling characterizations and appealing plot. My story would NEVER have happened without the assistance of Phil. I am very grateful to work with him, and still continue to do so. Thank you for running such a fine business. Great work!” – Fadel AlMheiri, Director (TPP)

I’m very pleased to announce that TPP has hired me again to write a comprehensive treatment/ outline; this time for a road-trip comedy/ drama feature film. Work begins soon, and I can’t wait! I live and breathe for great storytelling.

If you, or someone you know, need the help of a passionate and in-demand screenwriter, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to working with you!

For more information about me, please visit


“My story ‘Kindred’ is now a unique, fun, powerful, meaningful and kick-arse screenplay because Phil challenges your story to be the most potent it can be. He really knows structure and how to write with economy, flair and versatility. Your script will be in great hands!” Josh Bryer, Creative Director

“Directors and production companies from around the world are hiring Phil! And rightly so. His ability to turn a good idea into a great screenplay is a talent anyone would want for their project.” – Karel Segers (Founder,

Black List Praises Indigenous Sci-Fi ‘Kindred’

Indigenous Australian sci-fi story Kindred impresses critics!

Great feedback continues to roll in for our Indigenous sci-fi feature-length screenplay, ‘Kindred’!

The prestigious (and notoriously hard to please) film industry website, The Black List, had this to say:

“Kindred is imaginative, action-packed, and exciting… filled to the gills with obstacles and action, never letting the stakes or danger let up for even a moment… a thrilling story in a world with an interesting mythology and plot that doesn’t stop moving.”

We’re thrilled the reader gave ‘Kindred’ a much sought after and prayed-for score of 8/10! Less than 5% of scripts on The Black List get that!

When you combine that with the great feedback we got, and the fact that producers are already requesting the script, we’re pretty pleased.

Set in the Australian Outback – and with Indigenous Australians in several lead roles – Kindred is a rollicking adventure in the vein of District 9 and Star Wars. It tells the tale of one man’s failed alien abduction and how he must work with his would-be captor to save humankind from extinction before the monsters from his past catch up with them.

Other Indigenous sci-fi has made the news recently with the exciting new series, ‘Cleverman‘ showing on the ABC in Australia and being picked up for a second season by SundanceTV in America. We’re on the lookout for interested producers and agents to help bring our sci-fi tale to life, too. If you know anyone that might be right for us, we would be super stoked if you shared this post with them. Or feel free to contact us directly 🙂

Kindred – written by Phil Parker, story by Josh Bryer


Script Writer Phil Parker Earns High Praise for KINDRED

Off the back of his multi-award winning screenplay, ‘The Third Bomb‘, screenwriter Phil Parker was hired to write ‘Kindred‘ – an action/ sci-fi story by director Josh Bryer. Set in the Australian Outback – and with Indigenous Australians in lead roles – Kindred is a rollicking adventure in the vein of District 9 and Star Wars. It tells the tale of one man’s failed alien abduction and how he must work with his would-be captor to save humankind from extinction before the monsters from his past catch up with them.

Already, high praise for Kindred is coming in from industry sources:

“(Kindred is) fantastic, adventurous, and loads of fun as it takes readers across The Outback, introduces them to uncommonly featured peoples, and manages to tell a story of grand proportions… The action and conflict were absolutely awesome… The stakes were high, the energy was great, and the fights were thrilling to read.” – reader

Indigenous Australian sci-fi has made the news recently with the exciting new series, ‘Cleverman‘ being picked up for a second season by SundanceTV. The brains behind ‘Kindred’ – Josh Bryer and Phil Parker – are also on the lookout for interested producers and agents to help bring their action/ sci-fi tale to life. Your help in spreading the word will surely be appreciated 🙂


Script writing job complete. Client thrilled!

After being selected from a short list of script writers, I was hired to turn the outline of a great story into a great script. But only pages 15 to 85! The client was to write the rest.

However, once I finished – the client was so happy with my work – we renegotiated, and I was commissioned to write the entire script.

The result?

‘Kindred’ – a feature-length, action/ sci-fi script. Kindred written by Phil Parker story by Josh BryerWritten by Phil Parker. Story by Josh Bryer

Logline: After a failed alien abduction, a headstrong Indigenous Australian must join his captor in a fight for humanity’s future, before they’re destroyed by the monsters from his past.

“Kindred is unique, fun, powerful, meaningful and kick-arse because Phil challenges your Story to be the most potent it can be. He really knows structure and how to write with economy, flair and versatility. Your script is in great hands.” – Josh Bryer (client)

Needless to say, I am also thrilled! I cannot wait to see this exciting and timely story reach the big screen one day.

I’m also looking for another great project to sink my teeth into. If you, or someone you know, is looking to hire an award-winning writer to make their story kick-arse – let me know.

Feel free to use the social-media buttons below to spread the word. 🙂

Many, many thanks!