Movie Beatdown - Beat “Cheat” Sheet
Protagonist & Flaw:
Antagonist & Flaw:
1. Opening Image (1) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
2. Theme Stated (5) - (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
3. Set-up (1-10) – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Save the cat moment:
6 things that need fixing
Stasis = death:
4. Catalyst (12) – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
5. Debate (12-25) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
6. Break Into Two (25) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
7. B Story (30) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
8. Fun & Games (30-55) – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
9. Midpoint (55) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
11. All is Lost (75) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. TheWhy hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
13. Break Into Three (85) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
14. Finale (85-110) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story.
15. Final Image (110) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
THE TEN “GENRES”
1. DUDE WITH A PROBLEM - Every story, in essence, is about a “dude with a problem.” But this particular genre dictates a certain type of problem: one that is life-or-death and immediate, that must be solved through some sort of physical battle, right now. The whole movie is essentially a chronicle of that battle (which might consist of a series of mini-battles). Think Die Hard, Bourne Identity, Misery, 2012, or Apollo 13.
2. GOLDEN FLEECE - This often seems to be the “catch-all” genre when no other will fit. But it, too, has its own specific requirements that must be met for it to really work. The key is that the main character’s “team” is chasing a very clear and definable “prize” that seems unreachably hard. You’ll know the movie is over, because they’ve achieved the prize, or not. Often, I find in scripts purporting to be a “Fleece” that the “prize” is unclear, or not big or challenging enough, and the journey toward achieving it thus not as compelling as it could be. Think The Bad News Bears, Finding Nemo, Saving Private Ryan, Ocean’s Eleven, or Cast Away.
3. BUDDY LOVE - All movies have relationships with problems. But it’s not a “Buddy Love” unless the main problem of the movie has to do with a key relationship that seems essential to the main character, which is threatened by something. “Will they or won’t they end up together?” is the central question of the movie, and the main issue that is explored throughout. Think The Black Stallion, Starsky and Hutch, Pretty Woman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, or An Officer and a Gentleman.
4. INSTITUTIONALIZED - Just because a story takes place at an “institution” of some sort, does not make it fit this genre. And the “institution” does not have to be literal. The question is whether there is a group with its own rules and norms that the main character is exploring the costs and benefits of membership in – and ultimately deciding whether they want to be a part of it or not. It’s about deciding who they want to be in relationship to it, and the risks and reward of same. Think Full Metal Jacket, Goodfellas, Office Space, The Devil Wears Prada, or Crash.
5. RITES OF PASSAGE - Similarly, just because a character is going through some sort of rite of passage (in the generic sense) does not mean it meets the criteria for this genre. The key here is that it is a relatable life problem (like adolescence, divorce, mid-life, loss of a loved one, or addiction), which the main character is avoiding by chasing something else. They are clearly on a wrong road, as they spend most of the movie in pursuit of some challenging goal that is entertaining to watch, but not ultimately going to work out well. Finally, they’re left having to face life after all, hopefully having learned something in the process. Think 10, The War of the Roses, Ordinary People, Trainspotting, or American Pie.
6. SUPERHERO - The key here is a nemesis and problem that is seemingly bigger than they are. It’s never compelling watching amazing people (real-life or made up) succeeding over and over again. Good stories are always about characters being pressed to their limits and overmatched – in hell, essentially – until the very end. (I cannot say this strongly enough. Stories are about dealing with big problems that only get worse when you try to deal with them. So are scenes, most of the time. This is the main issue that I work with on almost every story – making sure it’s a compelling problem that is big enough, hard enough, and complicated enough to take a whole movie to solve.) Think Erin Brockovich, the Harry Potter series, The Matrix, Gladiator or Spider-Man.
7. OUT OF THE BOTTLE - The “magical” catalyst should cause complications and challenges that never would’ve been there without it. Again, they make the hero’s life harder, in ways that demand to be solved. Usually, it’s easier for readers to swallow if the magic emerges from some sort of relatable, semi-explainable place (i.e. not too arbitrary or contrived) like a carnival wish machine, an electrical storm, or some established mythology like genies or witchcraft. And the magic should go away or be resolved in the end, with the character back to an essentially “normal life,” where they’ve grown in some way. Think Big, Aladdin, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar or Field of Dreams.
Information credit to Writer & Editor, Tim Stout.