Movie Structure Breakdown: The Shallows

Format: Movie

Released: 2016

Written By: Anthony Jaswinski

Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra

Run Time: 86 Minutes

Character: Nancy Adams


A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Med student, Nancy Adams lost her mother to cancer (the imperfect situation) and is scolded by her father (oppressive opposition) for dropping out of school to travel aimlessly and surf her mother’s beach in Mexico (initial goal). But when Nancy spots a whale carcass in the ocean and investigates it, she’s bitten by a shark (the disturbance) and stranded alone on a tiny island (the dilemma) as a marooned shark attack survivor (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: Med student, Nancy, dropped out of school when her mother died from what appears to be cancer. The doctors’ inability to save her mom has caused Nancy to lose her faith in the healing power of modern medicine. For the last however many undefined units of time, Nancy has been either backpacking or globetrotting in an attempt to run away from the loss of her mother.

Initial Goal: Nancy goes to Mexico, America’s untidy beard, to surf her mom’s beach in an effort to bring closure to her mother’s death.

Oppressive Opposition: Nancy’s father wants her to come home and face the fact her mother is dead. All the locals refuse to tell Nancy the name of the beach she’s at. Her friend flakes out on her to nurse a hangover and hang out with a hot guy.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: After catching some gnarly tube and having a snack, Nancy reenters the water, missing the text from her harlot friend that she won’t be coming to the beach. Waiting for a wave, she is startled by a pod of fleeing dolphins. Nancy sees a colony of seagulls flocking to something and swims toward it despite the ominous music playing. The object turns out to be a dead whale. Nancy gets a bad feeling about this and tries to catch a wave to shore only to be attacked by a great white shark and lose her surfboard.

Walk it off, Nancy.

The shark bites her leg and swims off. Nancy swims to the whale carcass and climbs on top of it just as the shark closes in.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: 25:45 (30%) Nancy sees the two local surfers she met earlier hop into their jeep and attempts to flag them down. There’s a false moment of triumph when they stop, but they’re only tucking something in and have no interest in the hot, single girl they were surfing with earlier. Nancy is now stranded and all alone. As the shark begins to drag the whale carcass into the sea, Nancy looks around for something else to swim to and spots a tiny island. The frustrated shark rams the whale, and Nancy dives into the water to swim to the island, narrowly escaping the shark, but stepping on some of the gnarly fire corral.

The New Role: Nancy becomes a marooned shark attack survivor.

If only Samuel L. were he- never mind.

Act Run Time: 30 of 86 minutes (35%)


The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: 30 of 86 minutes (34%)

Stranded on a rock and injured (the unfamiliar situation), Nancy contends with freezing temperatures and her damaged leg (incidental opposition) while she waits for someone to come to the beach to help her (transitional goal). But when the shark prevents her from recovering her surfboard (the reality check), she spots a drunkard on the beach who robs her instead of helping only to be eaten by the shark (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Gravely injured, Nancy is now stranded on a rock in the bay with a bloodthirsty shark preventing her from reaching shore.

Transitional Goal: Nancy intends to wait it out on her little rock until someone comes to the beach to help her.

Incidental Opposition: Nancy now faces opposition from the elements and her injuries, performing a hasty surgery on her leg. When the sun sets, Nancy is defenseless against the cold. She must deal with her injured leg, the squawking seagull, sea crabs, and her hunger.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check: 37:30 – With the shark nowhere in sight, Nancy sees her surfboard and tries to swim to it. On her way, she sees the shark’s fin and makes a hasty retreat back to her island. She now knows escape is impossible.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: 40 (46.5%) Nancy spots a drunk man passed out on the beach and calls for help. When he awakens and sees her, she motions him to her backpack. Seeing all her fancy Gringo things, the man decides to rob her instead of helping. He sees her surfboard in the water before he leaves and swims out to steal that too, only to be dismembered by the shark as Nancy looks on in horror.

The doctor said he’ll never surf again.

She has now been involuntarily committed to her marooned shark attack survivor role.

Act Run Time: 16 of 86 minutes (19%)


The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: 46 of 86 Minutes (53%)

Nancy realizes it’s truly her versus the shark (the central conflict) when the shark eats everyone who enters the water (intentional opposition) as she tries to prevent others from becoming shark food so she can survive (false goal). But when her surfer friends enter the water only to be eaten as well (the turn), Nancy fights to retrieve the dead surfer’s camera and decides to fight with all she’s got (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: The People v. Shark

False Goal: Nancy now wants to prevent others from being eaten by the shark while also rescuing herself.

Intentional Opposition: Though Nancy does manage to flag down and warn the surfers she met the day prior, the Shark intentionally opposes her plan of sending them for help by eating them up. It also tries to stop her from getting the GoPro camera and seems excessively upset when she does.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: Nancy wakes up to the seagull squawking. She shushes it, only to realize it’s just trying to tell her the surfer dudes have returned to the beach. Nancy stops them before they swim too far offshore, but when they attempt to offer assistance, the shark intervenes by eating them.

Nom nom nom

Nancy now has no hope of rescue from the secluded beach.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: 51 (58%) – Nancy returns to her medical training we first learned of in Act One by fixing the seagull’s injured wing.  When she sees the dead surfer’s helmet cam in the water she uses her superior human brain to time the shark’s movements. Although she gets the camera, the shark returns and nearly eats her. Nancy watches the GoPro footage before recording a message to her dad and little sister saying she intends to fight to survive like her momma did.

Act Run Time: 15 of 86 (17%)


The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: 61 of 86 minutes (70%)

Nancy attempts to swim to the buoy (the doomed plan), intentionally passing through a swarm of jellyfish (self-inflicted opposition) in attempt to prolong her life until rescue arrives (penultimate goal). But when the lone ship passing through the harbor doesn’t see her flare and she gives up (the lowpoint), she recalls her mother’s resolve and decides to fight for survival (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: Nancy attempts to swim to the buoy, but only succeeds in pissing off the shark.

Penultimate Goal: Nancy wants to use the buoy to prolong her life.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Nancy swims directly into a bloom of jellyfish as means of avoiding the shark and is stung in the process. The shark is stung as well, which further infuriates it at the tasty morsel’s tenacity.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: 69 – Nancy sees a ship sailing past the lagoon and tries to get its attention by unlocking the flare gun compartment aboard the buoy. After initially dropping the flares in the water, she manages to collect them and impotently fires the gun. The ship has sailed behind the mountain and doesn’t see it, setting off on a course away from the bay of death. Nancy collapses in defeat, seemingly acceptance her fate.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: 70 (81%)

On the beach, a little boy finds the GoPro camera Nancy recorded her last goodbyes on. Meanwhile, Nancy flashes back to her conversation with her dad and decides to be a fighter like her mom taught her.

Act Run Time: 10 of 86 minutes: (12%)


The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: 71 of 86 minutes (83%)

Nancy decides to fight the shark (the longshot) who is basically the king of the ocean (ultimate opposition) in attempt to defeat it and continue living (ultimate goal). But when Nancy sets the shark on fire and it destroys the buoy (all is lost) she hatches a plan to kill the shark with the buoy’s anchor (the final push).

The Longshot: Nancy decides to fight a great white shark. In the ocean. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Unless of course, you’re Batman.

Ultimate Goal: Defeat the shark and continue to live.

Ultimate Opposition: The shark now wants Blake Lively desperately. Perhaps it’s internally a sixteen-year-old boy.

Nom nom nom.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: Nancy further enrages the shark by using the flare gun to ignite the oil from the whale carcass and momentarily setting the shark on fire. The shark attacks the buoy and knocks it over, spilling Nancy into the water and destroying her little safe haven.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: 74 (86%) – Now in the water with the shark, Nancy sees the frayed rebar anchoring the buoy below the surface and comes up with a plan. She tethers her surf band to the buoy chain and uses it as a propellant to drag herself to the bottom. The shark with its inferior little brain, races after her only to impale itself on the rebar when she changes direction at the last moment.

The GoPro boy returns with his dad, who is revealed to be Carlos who drove Nancy to the beach in the Act One. Carlos plucks her from the water but doesn’t perform any kind of CPR or cover with his shirt, leaving it up to her to survive. Nancy sees Steven Seagull made it safely to shore. She also sees her dead mother smiling down on her and says she’s alright.

Act Run Time: 8 of 86 minutes (9%)


Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: 79 (92%)

Nancy is now a doctor. Her father tells her that her mother would be proud of her; and her sister as well. (the new situation).

The New Situation: Back in Galveston a year later, Nancy is now a doctor and she and her kid sister prepare to go surfing as their dad looks on proudly.

Act Run Time: 7 minutes (8%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *