Sunday, April 18, 2010

Screenplay Beat Sheet

So one of my favorite screenwriting books is Save the Cat. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend investing in it. Its easy to read and spells out the screenwriting process in pretty simple terms. Anyways, I thought it might be helpful to include the beat sheet that Blake Snyder uses in here. I am actually using it right now and finding it quite helpful in my own writing process.



1. The Opening Image (pg 1): This is the first impression of what a movie is - it establishes the mood and type of film we are about to watch. The opening image and final image should be opposites, a plus and minus, showing change so dramatic it documents the emotional upheaval that the movie represents.

2. Theme Stated (pg 5): Somewhere in the first five minutes of a well-structured screenplay, someone (usually not the main character) will pose a question or make a statement (usually to the main character) that is the theme of the movie. This statement is the movie's thematic premise.

3. The Set-Up (pg 1-10): The first reel - or the first 10 minutes - sets up the hero, stakes, and the goal of the story...and should do so with vigor! Make a point to introduce or at least hint at introducing every character in the A story. The first 10 page sis also where we start to plant every character tie, exhibit every behavior that needs to be addressed later on and show how and why the hero will need to change in order to win.

4. The Catalyst (pg 12): The catalyst moment that kickstarts the action....these may include telegrams, getting fired, catching a wife in bed with another man, news that you have three days to live, a knock at the door, the messenger, etc. First moment when something happens!

5. Debate (pg 22-25): The debate section is the last chance for the hero to say: This is crazy. Should I go? Dare I go? Sure, it's dangerous out there, but what's my choice? Stay here? The debate section must ask a question of some kind. In Legally Blonde, the catalyst of the fiance dumping Elle Woods quickly segues to her solution: Go to Harvard Law. "But can she get in?" That is the question posed in the debate section of the movie.

6. Break Into Two (pg 25): Act break is the moment where we leave the old world behind and proceed into a world that is upside down version. Something MUST happen on this page.

7. B Story (pg 30): The B story of most screenplays is the "love story." It is also the story that carries the theme of the movie. The B story often introduces a brand new set of characters. Often a friendship story.

8. Fun and Games (pg 30-35): This part of the screenplay is the one that provides the promise of the premise. The fun and games section answers the question: Why did I come to see this movie? What about this premise, this poster, this movie idea, is cool?" This is the place where you include the big set pieces!

9. The Midpoint (pg 55) - the movie's midpoint is either an "up" where the hero seemingly peaks (though it is a false peak) or a "down" when the world collapses all around the hero (thought it is a false collapse) and it can only get better from here on out. The stakes are raised at the midpoint. The rule is: It's never as good as it seems to be at the midpoint and it's never as bad as it seems at the All is Lost point (see beat 11).

10. Bad Guys Close In (pg 55-75): This is the point where the bad guys decide to regroup and send in the heavy artillery. It's the point where internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero's team.

11. All is Lost (pg 75): All is Lost is the matching beat to the Midpoint...these two beats are always inverses of each other. We know it is the opposite of the midpoint in terms of an "up" or a "down." It's also the point of the script that is most often labeled, "false defeat," even though it looks all black, it's just temporary. All aspects of the hero's life are in shambles.

12. Dark Night of the Soul (pg 75-85): This section depicts how your character experiences and feels at the All is Lost point. We've all been there--hopeless, clueless, drunk, and stupid--sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire and four cents, late for the big appointment that will save our lives.

13. Break Into Three (pg 85): Eureka! The Solution! Both in the external story (the A story) and the internal story (the B story), which now meet and intertwine, the hero has prevailed, passed every test, and dug deep to find the solution. Now all he has to do is apply it. An idea to solve the problem has emerged.

14. Finale (pg 85-110): Where the lessons learned are applied. It's where the character tics are mastered. The chief source of "the problem" - a person or thing - must be dispatched completely for the new world order to exist.

15. Final Image (pg 110): The final image of the movie is the opposite of the opening image. It is proof that change has occurred and that it's real.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I'm going to try it out.

  2. There are also other styles of Beat Sheets that you can try. Check out this formula I found for planning out a screenplay:

  3. I think the Beat Sheet is a good guide, but to say stuff like: Break Into Two (pg 25): Act break is the moment where we leave the old world behind and proceed into a world that is upside down version. Something MUST happen on this page. is totally misleading and confusing.

    The standard length Hollywood has always used is 120 pages for a feature-length screenplay. But a script can be 90 pages, 105 pages, 117, 122, etc. So to say anything MUST happen needs to be reworded to around page 25, and for every other page mentioned.

  4. @CAL, As per Snyder, his beats are supposed to be moved / proportional to the length of the screenplay - the above is the stock example for 110pgs or 120 (don't remember of the top of my head).
    Here's two websites that move the page number for the beats for you based on the length of your screenplay / according to Snyder's proportions.:
    I think Snyder's pretty adamant about hitting the beats close to those pages. I use them more as an idea of whether things are dragging or zipping along but don't sweat nailing them exactly. For example, maybe my first act is running a few pages long, but maybe that's OK if it serves the story to get that extra character development / set up in. But at least I'm aware that it's possibly the long side and can consider trimming or not. That's the way I use the beats, as a screenwriting partner to earnestly listen to, argue with, sometimes agree with, compromise with, or override.