Screenwriting Structure: The Beat Sheet

Every great filmmaker has to master a range of different production roles. From writer to editor and pre-production to post-production. The long list of different job roles it takes to make a movie goes on forever. Today I’ll be discussing a little bit of the of the writer’s process.

Even though you may have a good idea for a feature script, when it comes to sitting down and actually writing something that may all change. In order to start this process and get everything out on the table, you must have structure behind your writing or you’ll be all over the place. A good way to contain your script and what I’ve learned from Blake Snyder’s book SAVE THE CAT is to follow “The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.” The beat sheet acts as a foundation for your screenplay allowing you to dissect your story beat by beat. This 1-page paper is broken down into 15 different beats to help outline your story. Bellow, I’ll briefly discuss this plot structure template.

  1. Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
  2. Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
  1. Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth.
  1. Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, change is underway.
  1. Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge?
  1. Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
  1. B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest.
  1. The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
  1. Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful.” But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
  1. Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
  1. All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning.
  1. Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. You must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
  1. Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
  1. Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
  1. Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

For more information on Blake Snyder’s screenwriting process check out his website and book SAVE THE CAT.

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