STORY BEATS FAQ
STORY BEATS F.A.Q. Movie plots broken down beat by beat.
Story Beats are different from a synopsis or a log line in several ways. When you plot out the bare essentials of what happens in a story, beat by beat in a concise numerical list – you get the overview of the structure and can better understand how the film actually works in manipulating emotion and tension in story. There are a lot of elements that go into telling a film story. This website is dedicated to one particular aspect – PLOT. What happens NEXT. The raw information of the story – which are the basic building blocks of any visual work. Here you will find my plot breakdowns – Story Beats – of films I like or have watched for some reason or another and decided to break down on paper. These are my personal files for anyone and everyone to use for FREE… or if you are feeling generous – a small donation. My hope is that out of the hundreds of story beats that I have done – someone will find good use for them and pay it back with a shout out, some kind words on a blog, a small donation, or even a decent networking opportunity for future projects.
Back in film school, my screenwriting professors used to make us break down every film that we watched in an outline in order to understand how the writers and filmmakers actually did what they did. This habit of outlining stuck and now pretty much every time I watch a movie, I find myself breaking it down into an easy to read list of actions, reveals, setups, payoffs, subplots, twists, act breaks and so forth. Mapping out films you watch as basic plot action beats is the fastest way to get the essence of visual storytelling into your system. Try it.
Yes. Haven’t you heard? Everything is free on teh interwebz. And there are already enough screenwriting websites, gurus, contests, lessons and classes out there asking you to pony up your hard earned shekels for their services, advice, content and seminars. Some good, some great, some… well… a lot of bullshit. I’m here to build a sharing community of creative types and give it all away to whoever is interested and will use it, hopeful that my hard work helps somebody out there struggling to get through their own discombobulated act 2. So if you like my Story Beats please repost on social media and maybe even donate some coin for the cause.
WHAT THE HELL DO I DO WITH THIS STUFF?
You use the Story Beats outlines to help you understand the language of the visual storytelling medium known as film. Hopefully by seeing on paper what others have done before you – successfully (for the most part) – you can use the beats as a sort of guide to help you through your own desperate hours of storytelling when everything looks grim and you are ready to rip apart your hard drives and go back to finish that law degree. It helps to see – quickly – how other writers and filmmakers got their plots to work and how they solved their particular story problems without having to watch the actual film AGAIN – which can be distracting to your cause and time consuming. You can also just read them for fun. But mostly it is for writers to compare their own scripts to something similar and see how they measure up.
Can I submit a Story Beats plot breakdown I have done to be posted on your site?
Absolutely. And you SHOULD. Why? Because the benefits of actually breaking down films on your own is the fastest way to learn and DIGEST what makes a movie work. It is easy to learn how to do – and it’s FREE. The benefits of which far outweigh the few hours it takes to beat out a feature film story as you watch it – clean up the text and post it as a pdf. Trust me – you want to do this with every film you can – the good ones AND the bad ones. It can be addictive. It can piss off your friends and relatives. It can change your life. OK it’s probably not going to change your life, but do it anyway. And then post it up here – for everyone to share. You’ll get all the credit!
Can I Pay You to do a Story Beats breakdown of a film for me?
Sure! You want me to do your homework for you? No problem. Contact me through the request form and I’ll break it down for you – expedited for $50. And if you are feeling generous or want something specific – like a character arc timeline (see THE SHINING Story Beats)- email me to discuss your special needs.
What about Story Beats for TV, BOOKS, etc…?
There’s a lot of content out there. And not all of it is good…. But all of them have stories to beat out. So if it has a plot — why not.
How is this Story Beats thing any different than a plot synopsis?
Well for one – when done correctly (and as you can see some of the older ones I have up here are NOT formatted correctly) – you get the overview of the entire film at a glance. The bulleted list breakdown method is a shorthand to what is happening on the screen as opposed to a giant block of text that you actually have to read. This gives a visual map of the movie and shows you the essentials of what happens at what time in the movie and in what order — all in an easy to see visual. It is ONE tool in your toolbox of storytelling.
How come some of your Story Beats are not formatted with running time codes and they read more like a standard plot synopsis?
I started doing film breakdowns when I was in film school way back before the personal computer was on everyone’s desk. So some of these were written out long hand and then re-typed into a word document after the fact. As I got more and more into breaking down films through the years – I sort of honed my skills into a time coded bulleted list style breakdown with act breaks – that is my preferred method of Story Beat. Since I have well over a hundred Story Beats of movies that have been hand written out – I will need some time to redo them all to my personal preference – the time coded bullet list. I figure moving forward doing newer films with the preferred style is more advantageous than re-doing all of that old work unless someone really wants me to for a project. The old story beats still work as beat sheets and are plenty useful in that respect. The newer versions with a clean step outline, act breaks and running time code are, however much more simpler to visualize at a glance – and that is my preferred method.
Some of the Story Beats links you have listed are not there…
Yet. See the above paragraph. I have done many, many plot breakdowns since film school, and some – most – of them – need to be re-typed into a word processor and then cleaned up and posted. I have Story Beats for every movie poster up there on the main page – however at this time – only 46 are live – the rest I will roll out as I get to them. I am hoping for one or two a week. I still have to work, edit, write, golf, eat, etc…
How do you do your Story Beats?
I rip the movie into the computer to get the file. Being an editor – this is fairly easy for me. Then I trim all of the opening nonsense – credits – endless production company logos and whatever – to get the actual start of the movie. Then I start the counter at ZERO from there which is the actual start of the movie. This is different from watching a movie on a DVD since the opening nonsense ( a long, elaborate animated credit sequence that was NOT part of the script for instance) can sometimes eat up several minutes or more – and you want your Story Beats to correspond to actual screenplay formatting – which is 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. Most likely the screenwriter did not write five pages of production company logos and elaborate title sequence animation into the script. So unless it is part of the actual story — (like for instance in The Purge – where you see about 20 murders inside of the opening credits and it sets up the entire film before the film actually starts) then just cut it. Then I zip to the end of the movie and grab all the character names from the end credit scroll – since a lot of the time you never know who is called what until much later in the film. I find taking a screen grab of the credits often helps with this – as it lists every character in the movie. Now I open a simple word doc and start making my bulleted list while watching the movie with the run time turned on. I try to be concise and clear – describing the ACTION, events, and all that fun stuff with accurate as best I can time code. Often this is a stop and start operation and it is much easier if I have the movie playing in a window on the left – with the character list beneath it – while I have the word doc open on the right. Once I get to the end – I spend a while doing clean up work – consolidating info as best I can – and then I proof it and save it.
WHAT ABOUT MOVIES WITH MORE THAN THREE ACTS?
I try to keep it simple. You are correct – lots of movies have seven acts, ten acts, mini movies, etc… and there are all kinds of screenwriting methods out there that you can plug into yada yada yada… What I know for a FACT is that every single feature film ever made – including Last Year At Marienbad and Deep Throat has: an ACT 1 – An ACT 2 – A MID POINT in ACT 2 (middle of the movie) – A FINAL ACT (ACT 3 for me) and a conclusion – THE END. Beyond that – you are on your own and free to argue it all out amongst yourselves.