The first book I ever read on screenwriting, like so many of you, was Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Say what you will, but he so clearly breaks down every element of a film that I quickly found myself watching movies and calling the beats aloud. This is particularly annoying to my boyfriend, because I already react aloud through the entire movie, and now I have even more to say! But I’m learning (learning the beats, not learning to be quiet).
Snyder’s beat sheet is not the only one around, of course, but for me, the plot points helped me understand what makes so many (not all) screenplays work. Since I like to turn reality TV shows into games, I thought, why not a beat sheet bingo game to annoy the heck out of your roommate/significant other/cat?! Let’s do it.
You’ll need to understand each of Snyder’s 15 beats, summarized below if you’re going to beat the beat sheet bingo game. Bonus points if you can call the breaks between act one, two, and three!
All credit for the beats below go to the late Blake Snyder:
- Opening Image – Start with a strong image that will set the tone, look, and feel of the story.
- Set-Up – Here we learn about the character, their current or “old life” as it will appear when the story concludes, what the character wants and what’s holding them back from achieving their goal.
- Theme Stated – Early on, state the theme, so the viewer understands the subject you’re tackling.
- Catalyst or Inciting Incident – This incident disrupts the protagonist’s “old life” and propels the character into their journey. It can be voluntary or involuntary.
- Debate – The character may experience some internal or external struggle before deciding or being forced to go on the journey at all.
- Break into Two – The protagonist begins their journey, and the plot is set in motion. Next, a series of events will stand in the character’s way and change their direction or their point of view.
- B Story – The A story is about your protagonist’s choice in act one, and the B story is more of a subplot. What else is happening while your character is trying to accomplish their goal? Did they fall in love? Find out they’re sick? The B subplot should enhance the tension and heighten the payoff.
- Fun and Games – This short stretch of your story will show the character enjoying their newfound strengths, and usually begins act two.
- Midpoint – This marks the halfway point in your story. The character has settled in, and now reality hits them. They either get what they’re after or not.
- Bad Guys Close In – just as your protagonist gets close to accomplishing what they’ve set out to do, or fails at the task, the antagonist closes in.
- All is Lost – It’s surely the end. How could your character ever come back from the blow just dealt to them?
- Dark Night of the Soul – Your character has lost hope, and is just about to give up when …
- Break Into Three – … they drag themselves out of that dark night of the soul, and the lightbulb moment arrives! They know the solution is near!
- Finale – Armed with everything they’ve learned on their journey thus far, the character finds a resolution.
- Final Image – This image is the last thing the audience will see and should cement the theme of the film and the endpoint in the protagonist’s arc.
Okay, you’re ready to play! Make a note of each beat that you spot in the film, so you hold yourself accountable to actually noticing all 15 beats. Then see how you did online! There are hundreds of movie breakdowns on the web that note where each of these beats occurs.
Keep yourself honest,
Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach