Shaun of the Dead: a Blake Snyder beat sheet.


Opening image: Liz confronting Shaun in the Winchester, about how he always brings Ed around when she wants to be spending time alone, and that he never takes her anyplace new.

Theme stated: Does “It’s not the end of the world” count as a theme?

Setup: Shaun spends the day at work, bumps into Yvonne, realizes that he forgot to book the table for his fancy dinner out with Liz.

Catalyst: Liz dumps Shaun.

Debate: Shaun and Ed go out drinking, come back, Shaun resolves to sort his life out, goes around to the store next morning, Ed spots the ‘drunk girl’ in their garden, and they realize that she’s a zombie. Shaun calls around, and realizes that Liz and his mum are both in danger.

Break into Two: Shaun comes up with a plan – and then makes a few revisions in it as Ed points out problems.

B story: Is this Shaun’s friendship with Ed?

Fun and games: Fighting zombies, duh.

Midpoint: Philip dies and becomes a zombie in the car – everybody else escapes, but they now have no blunt objects and no transportation, and they’re far from safety.

Bad guys close in: The zombies are crowding thick around the Winchester, and Shaun volunteers to lead them astray to get everybody else in.

All is lost: Ed gives them away to the vampires, Shaun has to shoot his mother, the zombies get David and Di, Pete bites Ed and the Winchester goes up in flames.

Dark night of the soul: Sitting in the cellar, Shaun and Liz really talk as they wait for the zombies to come in and get them. Shaun volunteers to shoot Liz and then himself, when it comes to it, rather than see her be eaten alive.

Break into three: Shaun realizes that they’re on a lift, and he and Liz decide to go back up to street level to take their chances.

Finale: Yvonne arrives with the army, rescuing them.

Final image: Liz has moved in, she and Shaun both seem happy – and Shaun slips out back to play video games with zombie Ed.

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8 Responses to Shaun of the Dead: a Blake Snyder beat sheet.

  1. lbdiamond says:

    I really liked this movie, LOL!

  2. Phil says:

    I think the theme of Shaun of the Dead is not to walk through life as a zombie. The opening images show people acting like zombie on their way to work. Shaun’s professional and romantic life are stalling, and he’s just sleepwalking through life. Over the course of the movie, he learns that he needs to man up and take charge of his life.

    Are you a screenwriter?

    • I’ve dabbled in screenwriting, but never really tried to get anything produced, so my knowledge of screenwriting is only theoretical.

      • Phil says:

        Same here. I’ve learned tons about structure from screenwriting books and just watching movies. Good post! If you like Blake Snyder’s book, I recommend you read Screenplay by Syd Field. It’s the granddaddy of screenwriting books.

  3. Oooh I really want to watch Shaun of the Dead, but everything conspires against me. I must make a plan.
    :-)

  4. Alex H says:

    Hey Kelworth,

    Not a bad attempt at interpreting SOTD into Snyder’s three-act paradigm/beat sheet, but you’re a little off. Hopefully this will help.

    Before I go into it though, I should caution you at using a movie like this to crowbar into Snyder’s structure. Not only is it esoteric, quirky and British (like myself) but it’s also a genre mash-up. Which means you’d struggle to pigeon-hole it. Just as an example, in a straight-lace zombie movie, the catalyst would be whatever first triggers or foreshadows the later outbreak. It might also be how the main protagonist becomes first embroiled. That can be anything from a scientist Protag getting the call from the MOD to investigate an outbreak, all the way to the first zombie spotted on the street. Usually, if the script is written well, it will be something that directly affects our hero and becomes the first step in his goal/objective.

    And here’s where it gets tricky!

    None of that applies in SOTD. Because the whole point of the openign act is to show that Shawn’s life is so mudane and routine and life in London has become so soporific and zombified that no-one even knows there has been a catalyst.

    And so, in a way, there is no clear catalyst. At least in terms of the zombie side of the mash-up. So we must look to the more character-driven, romantic side of the genre. Now, in terms of layout, that would fit Shawn’s restuarant screw-up. But it’s not really a catalyst in that it doesn’t do or adhere to the definition of what a catalyst is. It should propel the beginning of the story. The Goal. The Objective. Does a restuarant screw-up achieve that?

    So anyway to the rest, your Opening Image is simply establishing the pub since this is where we, much like Shawn’s existence to this point, will spend the majority of the narrative. Shawn smokes. Drinks beer. Whilst his girlfirend lectures him.

    And here, your theme is very wrong. Because, as mentioned above, you’ve searched for theme that ties into the zombie side of genre mash-up. Rather than the rom-com character side. Equally, you’ve automatically, as some make the mistake of doing, assumed that theme must be established in clear cut line of dialogue or symbolism. This is not the case. The theme is established in Shawn’s unwillingness to change. He’s as stuck-in-a-rut and zombifed as the creatures he will eventually face. The theme is ‘Don’t let life just pass you by in some zombified stupor.’ as exemplified in Liz pleading with him to do SOMETHING….ANYTHING with his life and with her. Rather than sit in the Winchester every night. This theme is a well-worn device used throughout movies. An extension of ‘Don’t waste your talent by letting life and opportunity pass you by.’ You can even trace that sentiment back to Matrix. Matrix theme isn’t ‘We must stop the machines’ just as SOTD’s theme isn’t ‘Not the end of the world.’ In both cases, the theme (at it’s most basic form) is ‘Don’t waste your life.’ Hence why Neo’s story opens with him in a dark room on the internet. A clear analogy of ‘Wasted Potential’.

    Your set-up is correct. It’s simply an extension of the theme punctuated by roomate shouting at Shawn to SORT HIS LIFE OUT. Not to mention Liz dumping him.

    Catalyst is mentioned above. Your Break Into Act Two is wrong. Act One ends when Shawn slumps in the kitchen chair and we hit the next day. We’ve seen the build up to the outbreak framed around the downfall of Shawn’s stasis life. Now the incident into Act Two is as simple as a list made to sort his life out. We’ve had the quandry of his life going down the toilet. Now the inciting incident is his list heralding the decision to affect a change.

    There is no B-Story. At least not where it should be. To be honest, I’ve never agreed with this part of Snyder’s beat sheet. It’s entirely unnecessary.

    Fun and games is indeed all the zombie stuff. But most of all the ingenious repetition device used throughout and set-up/foreshadowed so brilliantly in the opening act. Particularly the second trip to the store and the LP hurling incident. Then the plan to rescue the parents and Liz and her friends.

    Midway plotpoint is indeed the step-father being bitten, but it’s not the strongest of midways. It would work if the whole story was about Shawn’s inability to connect with his step-father, but that’s really only a subplot.

    The true midway plotpoint, in that it impacts the whole story, should be when they make the plan to rescue everyone, but this happens 10 minutes/pages earlier than it should. The midway is the moment where the narrative takes us in a new direction and the central character(s) are at a Point Of No Return. That would signify the moment they leave the house with the new plan. At that point there’s no going back. Bare in mind, SOTD is a great movie, but the structure is flawed in terms of a traditional, Hollywood Three-Act Paradigm. Hence why it is inadvisable to use it to illustrate Snyder’s technique.

    Bad Guy’s close in now becomes (albeit a little early) the rescue scenes at his parents and Liz’s place. Bad Guy’s are multiplying at this moment. And quite literally closing in!

    All is lost. Easy one this. It begins with Shawn’s mother dying and culminates in Shawn shooting her. Off shoots are the beginning off tensions. Conflict between the group. David loves Liz. David is going to shoot Shawn’s mother. Shwan turns on David. All ramifications of what it set-up in the opening act. A clear All Is Lost moment as the gang, trapped in the Winchester, fragment and turn on each other.

    Dark Night of the Soul plays into the All Is Lost culminating in David’s death and the final all out Zombie attack. You’re entirely right that Shawn and Liz’s conversation would work brilliantly as Dark Heart moment but, structurally, it’s way later than it should be. See, The Dark Heart has to happen BEFORE the climax. In this case, the final Zombie attack. It CAN NOT happen afterwards. So this scene CAN NOT be the Dark Heart. Since it occurs AFTER the climactic zombie attack. The Dark Heart must be the moment that, having experienced All Is Lost, the protag must over-come the odds (manifested either as inner or external conflict). So the Dark Heart can only be the moment that Shawn must deal with the loss of his mother and the realization that they may all die…seconds before the zombies attack.

    Break into Act Three is simply the attack. It’s that simple.

    Finale is the attack itself.

    Resolution is what you originally described as Dark Heart. This is after the main zombie seige when Liz and Shawn finally get the chance to talk about their relationship. At this moment convinced they’re going to die.

    Final Image is indeed Liz and Shawn happily together. The mirror opposite of the opening image with her lecturing him in the Winchester.

    But to be honest, summing this up, SOTD is not even close to a traditional layout of Acts. As such, it really isn’t condusive to Snyder’s structure. My suggestion is try MATRIX or AMERICAN BEAUTY.

    But good attempt either way :)

    • Hi Alex! Thanks for visiting, and for putting so much thought into your reply. By the way, I’ve done several other beat sheets for the blog, so please check them out and let me know what you think, especially if you’re familiar with any of the films. https://kelworthfiles.wordpress.com/subject-index/

      I do have some questions and comments on your analysis:

      - The only reason I’m looking for the theme as something that gets stated out loud is that it’s a point on Blake’s sheet. I think I’ve come to disagree with him on that point, that the theme can be just as powerful if it’s more subtle.

      - You seem to be arguing that the restaurant mix-up isn’t the catalyst, because it doesn’t resonate clearly enough with Shaun’s goals, but don’t point out any alternative. Myself, I think that the structure is stronger if you leave a weaker catalyst than have that spot completely empty. Also, why couldn’t the catalyst on the romantic comedy side be the break-up instead of the screw-up that leads up to it?

      - Shouldn’t the break into three be a choice that Shaun makes, not an event that overtakes him? Or is this another example of what you said as the structural weakness of the movie, that act three is forced upon him from outside?

      Thanks again for commenting.

  5. Alex H says:

    Hey Kelworth,

    I’ll check out the other Beat Sheets at a later date. Preferably when I’m not having to check out the window every second. I’m a Brit not to far away from some of those lovely riots. Ironic really since a lot of them look like the hooded-zombie-yobs from SOTD. As to your questions-

    As you say, theme can be subtle. It doesn’t have to even be clearly stated at all. But that kind of depends on the genre. If you’re going for Sci-Fi/Comicbook type stuff then the target demographic dictates you may need to be more heavy-handed with your theme. Whereas Oscar-Bait drama like The King’s Speech or There Will Be Blood tend to be more subtle and can even resort to more symbolic theme.

    -The restaurant mix-up could just about be considered a catalyst except it’s hard to say just what it is the catalyst to. It certainly doesn’t directly effect the storyline. If anything it could be considered a catalsyt to the subplot B, which is the love story that Snyder always talks about. But it’s not the catalyst to Subplot A, The Outbreak, which makes it a strange kind of catalyst. But I guess it does count…. narrowly :)

    Break into Act Three doesn’t necessarily have to be a conscious choice by the protagonist. It only need be whatever incident catapaults us into the resolution set up in our previous acts. You’re right in that it’s much better if it IS the choice of the protag since it should be an extension of his arc in that he resolves to effect change. But it’s not absolutely necessary. In a re-active rather than pro-active character, it is more likely his environment and external conflict that motivates the story. In that case, the inciting incidents throughout would tend to be reactionary. Something that happens to our hero rather than change he effects himself. Shawn is somewhere in-between. He’s pro-active in that he initiates the plan to hold-up in the pub, but he’s still to an extent re-active since he’s reacting to the zombie outbreak around him. Hence why the zombie attack works as a plotpoint Break Into act Three.

    Hope I’ve explained that well enough :)

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