Beat Sheets: the Forgotten Introduction.

April 2, 2011

B is for Beat Sheet (A-Z Challenge Listing)

Well, I’ve talked about Beat Sheets a lot on this blog already, but when I got a PM from somebody over at Script Frenzy, I realized that I had never really described the concept in detail, so I figured I’d do that today.

Beat sheets are a way of structuring a screenplay script that Blake Snyder described in chapter 4 of his great book “Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.” It’s a recipe for planning a screenplay, determining which scenes are needed, which scene goes where, and what the characters will need to do at different parts of the story.

And, as a minor point, I’m not going to go into any details for this post regarding Blake’s prescriptions for WHERE in a screenplay you should place the different beats, or why. You can find some of that out different places on the web, and I want to keep myself focused on WHAT the different beats are.

There are fifteen elements to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet:

Opening image: In the first few pages of your script, you should set the mood of your movie, and show where your hero starts out. This beat isn’t about action, it’s not the first thing that happens in the movie, it’s about where the movie is before it starts happening. But you can show style, tone, what type of story you’re telling and what scope it is, from the very start.

Theme stated: This is the part of the beat sheet that I always have the most trouble with. Basically, the theme is the answer to ‘what is this movie about?’ It should be a question that you’re exploring and giving an answer to, or a statement that you will ultimately demonstrate to be true or false, not just a general topic like ‘true love’ or ‘man versus nature.’ (It could be ‘should man conquer nature?’, though.)

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