I have heard about Blake Snyder’s book “Save the Cat” around 2 years ago now. It was amongst 40 other titles on my ‘Books to read’ list. When I finally bought, I devoured it in a matter of days. You will soon understand why. After a quick first read I did what I always do with the books I love: I read it again and outline each chapter by using index cards. I’m not pretending to be a spec screenwriter, but this book is so good I feel the necessity to share it. So I would like to introduce the “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” aka “BS2″, which basically breaks down in one very interesting book, the structure of a screenplay. And I can promise you that don’t need have to nor want to become a screenwriter to find this incredibly interesting.
Storytelling in a film, as everybody can imagine, requires, to some extent, a sort of structure, to keep the audience hooked while the story is being laid out. Of course the structure can sometimes be bent, but ignoring it may end it up in a disaster and people asking for a refund at the end of the screening. In the “BS2″ Snyder shares all of his knowledge, gathered through years of experience and from his work collaboration with top dogs in Hollywood such as Disney Studios and Steven Spielberg.
Snyder thinks every screenplay should follows this beats if you are serious on sell a script and make a living out of it. So lets see how the “BS2″ works:
OPENING IMAGE (1 min) It is the very first impression of what the movie is. It influences the mood, feel and tone. It gives us the time to see a before “snapshot” of the guy, girl or group of people about to start this new adventure with us spectators. The opening image has a matching beat: The final image. These are book ends and a way to clarify how different changes took place in the movie.
THEME STATED (5 min) Sometime within the first 5m someone (usually not the main character) will articulate a question or a statement (usually to the main character) which will be the theme of the movie. 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) Here is where most of the characters in the A story are introduced. Where every habits or behaviour will be displayed to then be addressed later on. Everything the hero will need to change and fix to succeed will be explained here. The audience gets a clear idea at this stage of what is missing in the life of our hero and what his world is made of before the adventure begins.
THE CATALYST (12 min) It can come in all sorts of forms. In the form of a telegram, a knock on the door, a cheating partner being caught, or even a terrorist arriving in the building etc. This is the point where something happens. We see the hero’s world about to collapse. If the catalyst is missing 12 mintes through the movie there is a risk of losing audience’s interest.
DEBATE (12-25min) This is crazy. Is the last chance for the hero to say should I go or not? dare I go? Sure its dangerous but wha are the choices? This moment of truth is not always clear but is important to understand that there is a conflict of some kind inside our hero.
BREAK INTO TWO – ACT 2 (25min) This is the moment we leave the old world behind and proceed into a world completely upside-down. The hero has to make as choice and the stepping into ACT 2 must be definitive. The hero must make the decision himself, and be proactive. This is what makes him the hero. He chooses to go.
B STORY (30min) 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) 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) The movies midpoint is either on “up” where the hero seemingly peaks or a “down” when the world collapses all round the hero. The midpoint has also a matching point on min 75 called “All is lost”. These 2 points area a set and the inverse of each other. Back to the story is the point the hero has a false victory or defeat.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN (55-75min) Even if the bad guys (people, phenomenons, things) are temporary defeated, and the hero seems to be fine, we are not done yet. They regroup and send the heavy artillery. Its the point where internal doubt or jealousy beguin to disintegrate the hero’s team. Evil is not giving up, and there is nowhere for the hero to go for help. He is on his won and must evolve. He is headed for a huge fall.
ALL IS LOST (75min) We know this is the opposite of the midpoint. And this is the time to insert “the whiff of dead”. It could be anything that involves death. Whether is literal or symbolic works every time. Could be a flower, goldfish, bad news of some friend that pass away its all the same. All good primal stories have this element and resonates for a reason.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (75-85) We are in the middle of the death moment at the “All is lost” point, how the hero feels at this moment? This is the question answered here. It can last 5 seconds or 5 minutes. But is there and is vital. Is the point just before the hero reaches way deep down and pulls out that last best idea that will save himself and everyone around him. But at the moment that idea is nowhere in sight.
BREAK INTO THREE – ACT 3 (85min) Thanks to the characters met in the B story, to all the conversations discussed there and thanks to the last best effort to discover the solution to beat the bad guys who’s been winning in the A story, finally our hero finds the solution!
FINALE (85-110min) This is when everything is wrap it up. Where the lessons from stories A and B are learned and applied. Where the characters ticks and behaviours are mastered. The old world is turned and create a new world order
FINAL IMAGE (110min) Usually this is the opposite of the opening image. The prove that change has occurred and that is real.
Now, do the same like me. Pick your favourite movie and check if this structure applies for that movie or not. When Snyder says that the most successful movies or screenplays follow this structure he mean the ones that make the big money in Hollywood and the type of script that studios would buy. He didn’t wrote this book thinking in arty or conceptual type of movies. Which we all know those scripts always struggle to become a movie. And more than often only with independent resources and low budgets. This BS2 is only one chapter of the fountain of knowledge that you can find in “Save the Cat”. So if your interested on screenwriting would definitely worth to check it out. Have fun analysing films!
- Color on Developing Characters and Story – Jerome Morrow – Gattaca 1997
- Why we root for the bad guys?