Breaking and entering

I’m trying to organise a museum heist at the moment … and it’s proving to be a bit tricky.

It’s for a film, obviously.

Unless this is a double bluff? Some kind of feeble online alibi?

Which it’s not.

The problem starts with the production demanding six characters be used in the heist; and on my first attempt I managed it with only one. This won’t do and, frankly, is quite worrying since I appear to be a criminal mastermind.

A few years back I spent the afternoon casing the British Museum for a different feature project, with a view to writing an action sequence which interrupts a heist. I wandered around for an afternoon, making notes and feeling decidedly dodgy; my business card was gripped tightly in one hand, ready to be offered as an excuse for marking security features on the maps they handily provide. Funny how some research comes in handy years later.

Fourteen years ago, a friend and I planned a robbery of the cinema we worked at. I thought it was a purely intellectual exercise, something to while away the long summer days when the films were shit and everyone had gone to the beach instead. Unfortunately, he was deadly serious. A fact I only found out when he actually started buying some of the equipment.

I’ve had some interesting friends.

Funnily enough, I did eventually get sacked from that cinema for theft and vandalism; but that’s a different story.

Suffice it to say it involved Maltesers and Kurt Russell – another tale for another time.

But I digress.

So I’ve managed to crack a large museum with only one character, making the other five completely superfluous – time for a rethink.

I’m now up to five characters and I’m really struggling to find a job for the sixth. Or rather, I can think of something for her to do, but therein lies another problem.

This is only a heist film up to a certain point, after which it changes track and the heist is (more or less) abandoned. The problem there is the first half of a good heist film is full of little things which make no sense until they’re put into play near the end. Suddenly the seemingly random action becomes a clever and secret way of avoiding a pitfall.

Good heist movies keep you guessing all the way to the end.

But what if you haven’t got an end? What if none of the seemingly random and pointless set-ups have a pay off? All you’re left with is a set of random and pointless scenes. I don’t want people coming out of the film going:

“Great film, but what the fuck was the point of the rubber chicken?”

The sixth character would look decidedly odd and completely unnecessary because the reason for her being there won’t ever be revealed.

One way round it would be to spell out exactly how they’re going to do it and what everyone’s role is; but that won’t work either. Apart from being boring and talky, it takes too much time and I need that for something else later. I could do something funky and clever, a flash-forward which shows what her job is going to be, but again, I hit the page count issue.

The other snag is this has to look and smell like a heist film to begin with and that includes leaving little things a mystery for later.

Funnily enough, writing it down like this, it doesn’t seem like a problem at all – I can think of several ways round it; but when I sit down to write the treatment they just slide away and the logical flaws are revealed.

So it’s back to the drawing board.

I’m sitting here, surrounded with little bits of card with things written on them like:

Shut down the alarm system.


Take out the phone lines.

And another pile which explains what can go wrong with every step and how they’d need to switch to a back up plan. I’m trying to divvy them out between the characters but I keep hitting the same snag – it only takes five people and that’s stretching it. I will get there eventually; but it’s taken longer than I originally thought.

It’s funny what skills you need as a scriptwriter: I’m mentally designing a museum and its security system; then I’m trying to crack it. The temptation is to design flaws which I can then exploit; but since that’s a bit on the shit side, I’m trying not to. The key is to make the security clever and the criminals very clever.

Unlike real life where heists generally involve a group of masked thugs wandering in somewhere and hitting people – no style. Security firms are rarely that clever in real life either.

Another friend of mine, a security consultant, one day found himself consulting on security (because that’s what he did) for a large department store. He spotted a camera which could spin through 360° – a useful tool, if it hadn’t been placed up against a pillar which blocked the view of half the shop. He dutifully pointed it out to the store manager who thought about it for a bit, agreed with him and had the camera moved to the other side of the pillar.

When faced with stupidity of that magnitude, my friend did the only sane thing – he robbed the store blind and walked off with £18,000 worth of goods. Like I say, I’ve had some interesting friends.

Meanwhile, back at the point: I’m still not finding a role for this woman. This museum now has better security than the Bank of England and it’s still rob-able by five people.

And rob-able isn’t even a real word.

Maybe I’m being too picky? Maybe I should just go with a flawed plan which makes no sense?

Worked for all the ‘Ocean’s 1#’ films and no one seems to notice or care. In the first film it took 11 of them to do about 4 jobs. For example: two people pushed the cart with the little Chinese guy into the vault while another guy put the explosive in completely separately – why? Why not put the explosives in the cart and have one guy push it?

The second film?

Don’t get me fucking started.

Sorry, back to the point again.

This woman, what the hell do I do with her? I’ve half a mind to make one of the other guys deaf, mute and blind so she needs to go along as an interpreter – but it’s not that sort of film.

Maybe she could just provide the catering?

I will crack this eventually, but right now it’s bugging the hell out of me. Still, it’s an interesting problem to have and screenwriting is all about solving interesting problems.

If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

Categories: Random Witterings | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Breaking and entering

  1. Its great that you can call it an ‘interesting problem’, I usually use at least five expletives before the word ‘problem’.

    She needs a reason to be there? I guess you have a few options:
    1) give her someone else’s role in the heist (or a bit of it)
    2) Have another reason to have her there like the mute one but instead maybe she’s the sister of a polish/russian crack member of the gang and needs to translate – that isn’t too heavy
    3) Invent a new role like ‘the watcher’ or something where no one will suspect that she’s covering a heist. ie use her gender.
    4) Maybe she’s blackmailed her way to be involved and this can be explained later – all the gang can also be on edge that she shouldn’t be there
    5) completely ignore the above as you’ve probably solved it by now! 🙂

  2. Gordon Robertson

    That sounds like a great problem to have to solve, Phill. It really tests the creative juices. I’d love to help, but knowing bugger all about the story and its potential outcome, it’d be next to useless.

  3. She is one of the teams annoying girlfriend who is going along to bug the shit out of the guy/woman…you just need a reason why she wants to keep track of him/her (I’m all for lesbian relationships in films!).
    Then she can vanish off, do her bit of the heist, and come back to bug the heck out of him/her again?
    Or she can be being a fake security guard?…Okay, so you’ve already got 3 of the others doing that….Um…Look out?…That’s what one of the other’s is already there for… Hmm…

    Dunno gov.


  4. There should have been an apostrophe in there somewhere…

  5. crustynomad

    Make her a twin of one of the other five which means she can act as an alibi for her sibling by being in Menorca on holiday. 😉

  6. That one I almost like – although if she’s a co-joined twin then she can be in the film without needing a job.

  7. 6) She’s carrying the sandwiches
    7) Maybe she’s got photographic memory so she can remember codes or blueprints of the building (helpful if you need to create tension in the heist scenes by something almost going wrong.) She’s the insurance.

    One of those two are probably the best I’ve come up with so far.

  8. JB

    She’s the daugther of one of the others, and it’s Take Your Kid To Work Day.

  9. You may laugh, but I’ve already got that one.

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