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I think structure is crucial. But there is no such thing as one single structure that everything needs to fit.
Blake Snyder says the inciting incident needs to be on page 10. He's exaggerating a point to sell a book. But he's also saying, from experience, that many amateur scripts fail because they take too long to get to the meat of the story.
In Rocky, the inciting incident is about half hour into the movie! That's when Apollo Creed draws a random name from some list of fighters. He chooses Rocky because he can promote the name Italian Stallion. This random event gives Rocky one shot to change his life.
Why does it come so let in the film?
Stories most conform to their own logic. Rocky is about a down and out boxer who gets one shot at redemption. It's critical that we CARE about Rocky's shot at redemption, so the story carefully sets up two things: Rocky really is down and out, and Rocky is a good guy. It takes time to set all that up. About 30 minutes of it.
But this is a problem. A story that wanders through 30 minutes of set up is a bad idea. It will lose the audience without any kind of narrative stakes.
But Stallone had a solution: the mini-love story. So the first half hour is built around the wooing of Adrienne. Around that is sandwiched little scenes that show Rocky is down and out, and that he's a good guy.
I read one of the gurus explaining that Rocky is really a love story, not a boxing story. This is what results from gurus always trying to make every story fit the commonly accepted model. Because Rocky is not a love story. How do we know? Because after the scene where Rocky and Adrienne hook up, which is near the end of the first act, they become a couple, and nothing challenges that. The love story is over.
So structure is crucial, but structure serves you and the story, not the other way around. In Rocky, Stallone wanted a long set up so he could make us really care about his character. In order to have the space to do that, he built in a mini-story, a love narrative.
An interesting post. As a note: Rocky is one of my favorites. I am only guessing, but I'll bet when Stallone wrote this he wasn't thinking about beats or structure as much as he was story.
To me - you hit on the point exactly on why this movie resonates. Because we care about our main character - Rocky. To me (remember - amateur/unschooled) it is emblematic of the problem with formulas - Now, in a lot of movies I see, the "inciting incident" happens to our main character before I ever really give a shit about them and why I subscribe more to story concepts then formulas of specific structures. e.g., the first task is to make us care about or hate or at least get to know your characters. Sometimes that may take pages, sometimes that may take 30. The second task is to tell us what happens to them, etc..... So while I agree with a lot of what you said, I don't think Stallone "had a solution" per se to get around introducing an inciting incident late. I think he simply was using the Love Story to tell us more about who Rocky was - pure and simple.
As a note. one of the best part of the movies was him losing the match. It broke the stereotypical ending and showed that winning life was more important than winning boxing.
Interesting stuff, and we really don't disagree on this. I don't think Stallone necessarily had a thought process that went "Ok, I want to have a late inciting incident, so maybe I should structure in a mini-story". My guess is these things are instinctive for most good story tellers. He understood...instinctively...that you can't have 30 minutes of pure set up. There has to be some kind of narrative, which means goals, stakes, obstacles. And Stallone likes to make it sound like he was living on the street peddling this script, but he was schooled in acting and also had help from studio types with this script.
This is also why, IMO, QT started telling stories in non-chronological fashion. It buys him more time to play with characters. It's also why many films begin with the flash forward, which is kind of a cheap trick now, but the purpose is to establish the tone and grab our attention, which buys some more character building time in the set which follows.
Back to Rocky: wouldn't it normally be the case that the question over whether the hero gets the gal be extended through the movie, and he finally wins her love either at the start of the third act, or at the very end? That's how it's done 99% of the time.
I don't think it's an accident that Stallone did it different. He constructs a whole ministory in the first act. It has its own 3 act structure: Rocky asks girl out, girl finally agrees, the date is very awkward, the brother gets in the way, and fianally they end up together. That all happens in the first act! That's weird...and perfect.
I like to describe the 3 act structure this way: setup, obstacles, resolution.
But during the set up, if we don't start bringing in stakes and maybe the intro to the antagonistic force, the audience loses interest. In Rocky, we get temporary stakes: the love of Adrienne. And just as we get some satisfaction for seeing this resolved, the main story begins.