As our Make Your Feature Competition submission period is now closed, we are narrowing down our choices for the semi-finals. While the initial submission process only required a treatment of the film, the next round of selections will be based off of a virtual pitch to the community, as well as a few requisite presentation materials. The first is a beat sheet (covered below) along with an artistic primer (a statement describing the intended genre, visual style, similar films, approach to production, and tone of the film), and the second is a version of either a look book or proper pitch deck (both covered in PART II of this series).
A beat sheet is a specific tool for storytelling on screen that serves as a road map or skeleton of the story that dives into the pivotal emotional moments that drive the story itself. Whereas an outline describes the scenes, settings, and more concrete details of a film, a beat sheet organizes the intangible thoughts and feelings of the protagonist and other main characters in order to guide the direction and structure of the screenplay. It is formatted in concise, bulleted form that follows the characters through the key plot points as it paints the emotional world being created.
In general, feature-length screenplays have about 15 major story beats that propel the story forward. These beats can be in the form of events (where characters express their views, motivations, and inclinations), realizations (ranging from subtle moments to major epiphanies that will help determine the decisions made throughout the story), resolutions (decisions made by the characters that establish a character’s point of view that give the story an arc to follow), and interactions (the moments of conflict or harmony between characters that impact the course of the story). In short, these beats are all the moments that support and navigate the story through the opening scene to the inciting event to the consequences and inevitable rock-bottom to the final triumph.
For a feature length screenplay, it is typical to divide the story into three acts (five for a television series). The following describes the types of beats to incorporate into the beat sheet to provide a full picture of the story.
And there you have it. These are the beats to your story. If done correctly, we should have a clear idea of all the movement and emotional moments within the story. The story should be well fleshed out, the characters should make an impression, and there should be an interesting arc to follow. This is a beneficial exercise for the writer to undertake before actually writing the script, but is also an excellent way to convey the emotional through line of the protagonist, while summarizing the main plot points of your film.
Written by Sapna Gandhi
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.