Beat Sheets: The Most Effective Tool for your Script
If you've already perfected your logline, the next step is to write a beat sheet. Without having a beat sheet, it can be difficult to structure your film from beginning to end. Sure anyone can write a film off the top of their head, but if you want to have a great film, a beat sheet will guide you through your script, hopefully with ease. Before I begin explain the beat sheet, it's important to know that this method is a bit different from Blake Snyders "Save the Cat" beat sheet method. Although there are similar elements, the following beat sheet contains extra beats, which are basically filler scenes. First, allow me to share the beat sheet I was taught in my screenwriting courses.
- Opening Image: First thing we see on screen (Pg. 1)
- Ordinary World: Sets the tone of the world. Introduces protagonist. 3 positive traits and 3 negative traits. Likes/dislikes. Fatal flaw. Emotional void. (Pgs. 1-10)
- Opening Hook: Theme of the film. Also known as “the lesson” the character learns. It’s the message you want the audience to learn. (Example: Life is full of second chances.) (Pg. 5)
- Inciting Incident: Story begins. Big/Bad news destroys protagonist’s life. (Pg. 10)
- Big Debate Part 1: Shows fallout from Inciting Incident (Pgs. 10-17)
- Mini Crisis: Tangable goal is recognized. How the protagonist is going to fix the problem (Pg. 17)
- Big Debate Part 2: Scenes that lead up to PONR (Pgs. 17-26)
- Point of No Return: First step in taking the journey. (Pg. 26)
- TRAILER/TEASER/POPCORN MOMENTS: Protagonist gets limited to new world. Elements of conflict based in fish out of water. Advances the story. Develops the characters. (Pgs. 26-45)
- B Story: Character/emotional/alternate story. (The “love” story.) Mentor helps guide our protagonist along the journey. Things go badly because of characters fatal flaws. (Pg. 30)
- Testing: A story is tested in major way and fails due to fatal flaw. Mirrors climax with higher stakes. (Pg. 45)
- Sequence to One Hour Turning Point (Pgs. 50-60)
- One Hour Turning Point: Big change in character. Antagonist raises the stakes. (Pg. 60)
- Bad Guys Close In: Stakes raised. Protagonist still flawed. (Pgs. 60-75)
- Hero Melts: Big pit and Rock Bottom (Pgs. 75-90)
- Big Pit: “Almost” moment. Either A story or B story fails. (Pg. 75)
- Rock Bottom: All is lost. Protagonist loses everything and has an epiphany. (The “ah ha” moment.) (Pg. 90)
- Climax: Facing fear, making sacrifice choice, and forcing enemy action head on doing the right thing the right way. (Pgs. 90-95)
- New World Order: Mirrors ordinary world. See new stakes and new life. (Pgs. 95-100)
- Closing Image: Last thing we see. (Pg. 100)
The following above is what a beat sheet would look like if you were writing a feature film. It's important to note that when you're writing a short film, you don't need the B Story because there won't be enough time. In a later blog, I'll go over a bit more about the protagonists "Ordinary World". But let's compare this beat sheet to Blake Snyders "Save the Cat" beat sheet method.
SAVE THE CAT METHOD
Opening Image: A visual that represents the struggle and tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Set Up: Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated: What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth, not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
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, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
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? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
Break Into 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.
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. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
Fun and Games: The main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Midpoint: Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is great or everything is awful. The main character either gets everything they think they want or doesn’t get what they want at all. But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
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.
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. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old make way for something new to be born.
Dark Night of the Soul: The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The “Why hast thou forsaken me Lord?” moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
Break into Three: Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last minute thematic advice from the B story, the main character chooses to try again.
Finale: This time around, the main character incorporates the theme, 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.
Final Image: Opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
I hope this information has been helpful! If you have any questions or would like me to take a look at your beat sheet, feel free to reach out to me. My door is always open!