Okay, about four (five?) years ago, I put "Write a screenplay" on my To-Do List. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to reading Blake Snyder's book on screenplay writing, Save the Cat! published in 2005. While the author's voice seems a little cartoonishly "old Hollywood," slightly misogynistic, and a tad out-of-date (i.e., "Go down to Blockbuster"), the information is still very useful.
You know how you get a great idea, set it up, start writing, then get all muddled on the way to the end? That middle part- the second act- is always so challenging for me. Well, Snyder lays out a "Beat Sheet" of 15 plot points, that can be used for the bones of any story. I don't think I'm giving anything away by showing you the list. There is much more to learn from the book.
For a 110 minute movie (Snyder tends to write Rated G & PG Family Comedies, but this length is also typical for any comedy or horror film, which I would like to write), this is the breakdown:
- Minute 1: Opening Image - Sets the tone for the whole movie/story
- Minute 5: Stated Theme - Usually said by someone to the MC, this is the theme of the movie
- Minute 1-10: Set-up - Establishes starting point of story and main characters
- Minute 12: Catalyst - the inciting incident that sets the story in motion
- Minute 12-25: Debate - MC waffles, debates taking action
- Minute 25: Break into Act II - MC starts action and story in motion
- Minute 30: B-Story - Subplot, Minor Characters, or Secondary story is addressed here
- Minute 30-55: Fun & Games - Exactly what it sounds like
- Minute 55: Mid-Point - This is where things change - if the setup and Act 1 was MC on the upswing, here things go wrong/downhill. If Act 1 was MC on the way down, here is the turning point for the better. In either case, it is a counterpoint to the first half of the story. It also usually involves a reference to death - a near-accident, a fall, a dead pet, even a dead house plant...
- Minute 55-75: Bad Guys Close In - Here is where the MC's path is blocked. The bad guys show up, create obstacles, and do harm.
- Minute 75: All Is Lost - Rock-bottom for MC, rug is pulled out from under, plan seems done.
- Minute 75-85: Dark Night of the Soul: Things just keep getting worse for the MC, they are forced to face their demons, come to an understanding or revelation, change their perception and behavior, etc.
- Minute 85: Break Into Act III
- Minute 85-110: Finale - Tying up loose ends, the payoff, etc.
- Minute 110: Closing Image - Counterpart to opening image, finishing touch and mood
So what I've been doing all week, is watching movies and breaking them down, to see if I can find all 15 points. I still find it challenging just after the Mid-Point, to really name those #10,11,12. And sometimes I'm not sure what the B-Story is, or the Mid-Point, even. But, I'm getting better. And I'm already framing my horror film idea into this structure, so I can finally envision successfully using "index cards" and a storyboard, so to speak. I feel like this homework will drastically cut down on my work load, and get me further into a finished script or story sooner than my old methods of discovery writing. (I will still use that, but for different stages of different projects.)
I've been practicing the beat breakdown on Teenage/High School Films, Comedies, and Horror Films.
Pretty In Pink
Adventures in Babysitting
Austin Powers 2: Goldmember
Nightmare on Elm St.
Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy's Revenge
Nightmare on Elm St. 3: Dream Warriors
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
I think one of the Save the Cat! sequels breaks down a bunch of films, so I plan on reading those soon, and doing some comparison work.
There are several Screenplay Competitions in the coming months, that I may look into, although I've heard for the most part that those are not necessarily the best way to spend your time and money. I want to make sure it is judged by good, productive people, and I actually receive valuable feedback on my submission. I may just skip that stuff, and go straight to pitching...We'll see, once I get the script done!
My working title is "This Little Piggy."