A common road map for screenwriting is based on fulfilling the following steps in order:
- LOGLINE – premise / idea
- 3 SENTENCES – beginning / middle / end
- 3 PARAGRAPHS – expanded beginning / middle / end
- TREATMENT – short story version not in script form. > 2-4 pgs, 6-8 pgs, 10-12 pgs
- for business / pitch – just know the story of your movie. You’ll get paid to write the whole script based on the treatment.
- for writers – figure out story ahead of time.
- BEAT SHEET – intended for writers. List of every scene (their loglines).
So, having already decided upon the theme, the logline, what every act’s role is and even a short version of the story in prose, what’s the beat sheet for?
A beat in a script determines a pause in a character’s acting flow, a change of events or the moment either a character or the audience learns new information. A beat sheet, therefore, is intended to justify every moment in the movie as a step for it to advance the story forward. It is a streamlining of events and information in the form of bullet points that conform the skeleton of the story in a way that is very easy to understand if something can be spared and still the action flows, or if, on the contrary, something is missing for the story to be properly told. It is a writer’s tool because when a beat sheet is complete, writing the script becomes easier as you no longer have to invent the story as you go.
Writing a Beat Sheet
What steps should your movie have that represent beats in the story?
There is no rule for this, and it will all depend on the genre, length and style of your piece. But Hollywood films all fall into a classic narrative structure that is divided into 3 acts with clear beginning, middle and ending parts.
Mission-driven Scene Creation
Gathering together knowledge from here and there, I’d say that for a feature you could start with 60 bullet points that represent your scenes and:
- scene #1 entitle it: «The Opening»– Prologue. Preview of forthcoming problem.
- scene #2 entitle it: «Ordinary World»– Intro character and his life prior to facing problem.
- scene #3 entitle it: “The Hook”– Show character’s life, what his stakes are.
- scene #8 entitle it: «The Antagonist»– Off-stage flash of approaching antagonism.
- scene #12 entitle it: “First Plot Point”– Hero’s first hint of darkness.
- scene #20 #21 or #22, entitle it: “First Pinch Point”– Hero is warned to stay away.
- scene #30 entitle it: “mid-Point”– Hero timidly enters the darkness.
- scene #36 or #37 entitle it: “second Pinch Point”– Hero confronts the jeopardy.
- scene#44 entitle it: “the Lull”– Hero falsely reassured.
- scene #45 entitle it: “Second Plot Point”– Hero doesn’t buy in, goes stealth to see for himself.
- scene #50 entitle it: “Climax”– Major darkness thrust upon him, everything changes.
- scene #60 entitle it: “The Ending”– ending image should reflect the arc in the protagonist.
These scenes are the first that you plan. Every other scene is narrative exposition that links these scenes together. But remember that every scene has an expositional narrative mission to accomplish. You can write from one word to entire sentences, as long as you, the writer, know what it means. You don’t even know need to know what the scene will be yet. What you are planning here is the mission for the scene, the information it delivers to the story and to the reader.
The list become a fluid and growing tool as you add and discard story ideas that deepen the stakes, heighten the pace, focus character and set up an ultimate showdown that pays off character arc along with the reader’s empathetic and emotional investment.
Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (BS2)
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is the most common beat sheet template (in his book «Save the Cat»). It breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your overall story.
Snyder thinks every screenplay should follows these beats for a 110 minute feature.
OPENING IMAGE (1 min / 0.9%): A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins. It influences the mood, feel and tone. The opening image has a matching beat: the final image.
THEME STATED (5 min / 4.5%) Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life. This statement is the movie’s “thematic premise”. A good movie has to be about something, and the right moment to say it is now, straight up front.
SET UP (1-10 min / 1-9%) Here is where most of the characters in the A story are introduced. Where every habits or behavior will be displayed to be addressed later on. Everything the hero will need to change and fix to succeed will be explained here.
THE CATALYST (12 min / 11%) It can come in all sorts of forms. In the form of a telegram, a knock on the door, a cheating partner being caught,allowing a monster onboard the ship,meeting the true love of your life, or even a terrorist arriving in the building etc. This is the point where something happens. The moment where life as it is changes.
DEBATE (12-25min / 11-23%) 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 – ACT 2 (25min / 23%) 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 (30min / 27%) The A story is already set up, we have this abrupt jump into ACT 2 and we land in a whole new world. The B story is here to say: enough with this let’s take a bit of a break. Usually called the “love story”, it is also used to introduce new characters not met in the Set Up. Since ACT 2 is the antithesis of ACT 1, they too, usually tend to be upside down versions of those first characters.
FUN AND GAMES (30-55min / 27-50%) This section provides “the promise of the premise”. It’s the core and essence of the movie poster. It’s the part where most of the moments of the trailer are found. At this point the audience is not too concerned with the progress of the story.
MIDPOINT (55min / 50%) Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The midpoint has also a matching point on min 75 called “All is lost”. This is the point the hero has a false victory or defeat.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN (55-75min / 50-68%) Even if the bad guys (people, phenomenons, things) are temporary defeated, and the hero seems to be fine, we are not done yet. 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 (75min / 68%) 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 makes way for something new to be born.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (75-85min / 68-77%) 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 – ACT 3 (85min – 77%) 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.
FINALE (85-110min / 77-100%) 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!
FINAL IMAGE (110min / 100%) Opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
This is a calculating tool that will tell you when in your script should evert important beat come according to how long do you plan your movie to be: http://www.beatsheetcalculator.com.
Finally, some examples of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet applied to some of my faves: