If you’ve done any research into writing a screenplay you’ve probably heard the term beat sheets. Even more likely, you’ve probably encountered my nemesis, Save the Cat*. Blake Snyder’s critically acclaimed book details exactly how to write a screenplay that’ll sell. It’s got the formula and all the tricks of the trade that’ll make you a big name screenwriter. A lot of books and websites have formulas like it as well. They’re all comparably helpful.
The formula is what we’re going to talk about today. That formula is a ‘beat sheet’.
*Ugh. Fine. Not my nemesis. StC is a perfectly acceptable book to read. I’m just a whiner.
However much you know or don’t know about movies and television, you can’t deny that they are a massive, unhinged, inspiring part of our worldwide culture. And they’re relatively new (just like podcasts are relatively new too!) Humans have been telling stories since about the time we developed fire, but it’s only in the last century or so that films have risen to prominence.
And I love it. I love learning about practical effects and never-been-done-before techniques. And I love hearing about the things actors do (or won’t do), for the good (or detriment) of a film. I love the resurgence of stop-motion animation, and I love the way that computer animation has evolved over the last few decades. I love the gossip a little bit too if I’m being brutally honest (the Quibi debacle is breathing life into my cold, dead heart; what a mess). And I really love listening to podcasts about all of this.
It’s a fascinating world! Podcasts are the way into it!
So, 2020 struck. My father had a cardiac arrest. He’s doing okay and recovering very well but writing blog posts hasn’t really been a priority.
I’m going to just try and enjoy the rest of the year quietly and post more articles in January. Here’s my femme!xmas tree and a gingerbread camper that I made because life is too short not to try new things and I think it turned out pretty great.
I have a guilty secret; I love disaster movies. Disaster movies in any iteration are my bread and butter. Natural disasters and manmade disasters, you name it, I love it. From earthquake to terrorist attacks to avalanches to nuclear reactors failing, I want it all.
Ultimately it’s about normal people thrust into completely wild situations. Bring it on! Most movies fall into that basic arc but disaster movies are something really special. Usually, there’s an element of dumbness to them (let me tell you about all the stupid-dark movies on Netflix I love); the same kind of “don’t go in there!’ vibes you get from watching a horror movie, but with the bonus of not having serial killers or demons. The character you like is easy to like. The character you hate is easy to watch die dramatically. Disaster movies are easy watching, even as buildings collapse, and people are impaled.
With all that in mind, I loathe one disaster movie above all others.
‘The Perfect Storm’
The problem is that it is actually a perfect disaster movie, it has all the right elements and timing and writing. It’s on a bunch of lists of ‘great disaster movies’. But I just can’t stand it.
Ultimately there are a few things a great disaster movie needs. A great story, with great action, and great characters. And finally some sort of X-Factor. I’m not above arguing that The Perfect Storm meets the three criteria points, but jeepers, it seems like it barely makes the grade and there isn’t much there that wow’s me. So, if you’ll pardon the pun, let’s dive in.
So, I didn’t make it to the next round of judging in one of the competitions I entered. It really sucks, but I’d rather write about it here than pretend that a) nothing is wrong and b) I’m both far removed and successful in this industry. I’m not. I write with advice that I’ve gleaned from experience, time and the education I’ve received but I’m far from an expert.
I’m in the same writing boat all of you are. This is a hard profession. This is a low point but one day there’ll be a high point. It seems silly to not document all the ups and downs this screenwriting journey is taking me on. In fact I think it’s a privilege to share each bit with all of you, warts and all. I’ll be sad for a little bit and that’s part of the process.
I didn’t make it to the next round of judging. It sucks. I’m bummed out. But tomorrow’s another day and the small feedback I received is enough to help me keep going.
Narrative is a funny thing. Films and books follow a storyline, usually linear, that forms the basis of the plot’s narrative (save for a few artsy pieces, which we don’t need to get into). Events in a story connect one after the other until the story is over. In a movie, something from the scene before connects to the present scene, and things get tied up at the end. This is a very basic view of storytelling.
Most screenplays and novels obviously have a little bit more nuance and ups and downs, because that’s what makes stories interesting. But they still have a definitive end. Things get tied up and concluded.
But that’s not what happens in real life. Sure there are some definitive endings; school graduations, getting fired, dying. These are events in real life that mark the ends of something. But that’s not the end of most real lives. You graduate from school and there’s no fade to black as you breathe your last breath because you do stuff after you graduate. The more you tie things up in your real life, the more new things come up. While we as a species love a classic hero’s journey story arc, lives don’t work that way. Shouldn’t we be writing to emulate the way things are in real life?
Essentially, shouldn’t things be messier in our stories?
The short answer? Yes and no, (helpful, I know).
Let me give you an example straight from Mama-Gremlin (aka, my mom). She’s an insurance litigator and is working on a strange little case (obviously not going to give any names or real details, so bear with me among the vagaries).
There was an honest-to-God car chase that ended with a few crashes. We don’t know why the client was being chased by this SUV; was it road rage, was it revenge, do they even know each other? Right now, we’ve got no idea, and might not until depositions take place and even that’s not a guarantee.
If you have been writing for any amount of time, and doing any amount of research the chances are high that you’ve come across the term, ‘voice’ or ‘voices’. There are lots of things about having a unique voice in the industry – the abstract ‘voice’ – and making sure your voice doesn’t get in the way of the story – the more concrete ‘voice’.
It’s weird. Hell, I’ve written the word, ‘voice,’ multiple times already and I’m already at that point where it stops looking like a real word at all. It’s only my second paragraph.
The truth of the matter is that your writing will reflect you as a person; sometimes your voice will be so unique it becomes a character unto itself, and a signature that follows you in your writing career.
So let’s break it down, and then look at some super unique voices that you probably know and love from movies and television.
Last week was another experiment in my *~*~*~influencing adventures~*~*~*. It still feels very silly, but dressing up my new Bunnicula shirt from Out of Print was kind of fun. It’s odd. I’m still having some issues accepting my recent weight gain; part of me is miserable about it and part of me is coming to terms with it. Taking pictures of myself helps, but it’s still hard to look at myself sometimes.
And it scares me, which means I should keep working at it.
This is my favorite time of year; the transition from summer to fall. It’s not quite autumn and the summer heat is fading and the anticipation of Halloween and the holidays is just around the corner. The desire to get cozy is creeping up, and like a bear getting ready for winter I’m feeling the urge to cuddle up and hibernate.
And my birthday is in October, which is a nice perk. In San Francisco, the first week of October is always inexplicably sunny after months of the summer fog. Furthermore, it’s Fleet Week where the Blue Angels fly over the Bay. All around a good time. Even though Hardly Strictly Bluegrass isn’t happening in the park this year thanks to COVID19, I’m sure the time around my birthday will be pretty rad.
But that’s still a month away, and while that one week out of the year is nice in SF, the rest of the world is gearing up for the chilly autumn. Are your fingers too cold to work on your screenplay? Can you see your breath in front of you as you try to work out your plot and dialogue? (Probably more a sign you need a space heater than anything else). Well, read on for some of the coziest autumn essentials to make your writing and life much comfier as the days grow colder.
(This article contains regular links and some affiliate links; I’ll let you know which is which. If you purchase through an affiliate link I make a small commission that keeps this blog running at no cost to you!)
I’ve learned one really important thing when it comes to writing, which is entirely different than editing. This trick makes a world of difference whether you’re writing a screenplay or a TV pilot or a novel or memoir or blog or ad copy. If you’re writing, you need to be doing this one thing.
In fact, you might already be doing it.
I call it the “fuck it” draft. Other people have different names like “scratch,” or “ideas draft” or something else, but I like the irreverence of swearing, so it’s “fuck it.”
It’s a draft that’s even rougher than your rough draft, and it definitely bears no resemblance to what your final draft will look like (that’s why we edit). Rather than trying to get a decent draft on the page, you just say, “fuck it!” and have a grand old time. If you’re anything like me, you flit between writing normally to bullet points to doodles that just sort of getting the idea of what you’re going for. No details, no rules.
Having a “fuck it” draft is a great way to get your words and world out of your head and onto the page. There is no necessity for perfection, and in fact, perfection is deeply discouraged. A lot of the “fuck it” mentality is to channel what you want to say about your world, and to have fun with it! That’s the point of writing, right? It’s supposed to be fun!
Now, that said; writing is the fun part, editing is the hell part.