Setups and Payoffs: Back to the Future

Setups and payoffs in Back to the Future, just in case you didn’t fully appreciate the genius of this movie. There were way more than I expected there to be! Nearly one every thirty seconds for the first act of the movie. This version doesn’t even have all of them in it, but it has most. I’ve since changed the time of the 2/3 act break, but only by a few minutes.

It goes:

00:00 Setup ——– Payoff (time of payoff moment) [time elapsed since setup moment]

Also: Act # break (time of act break) [length of act]


One of the most striking things about this chart is that there are almost no scenes without a payoff or a setup. This is what makes the movie feel like it moves forward at such a brisk pace. You’re constantly being stimulated by either a setup or a payoff which keeps you involved emotionally in the characters.

Scenes that contain neither a long term setup nor a payoff:

1. Marty convincing Doc he’s from the future – unless you count the first introduction of the picture

2. Marty showing Doc the DeLorean – unless you count the follow up of Marty retelling Doc the story of how he invented time travel

3. Marty following George home (when Marty gets the idea to do the Darth Vader thing)

4. Marty being locked in the trunk of the car (except that it’s a setup for Marty playing at the band)

5. Lorraine, George and Marty in the stairwell (The “don’t yell at your future kid for setting fire to the living room rug” thing should have been a setup from the beginning of the movie. Harrumph. Like maybe, “Hey, if your future son wants to take his girlfriend out to the lake for the weekend, just let him.”)

All in all, pretty strong. Wonder why movies don’t do this more consciously these days?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s