Save the Cat for the Mac

Beat based Screenplay software for the Mac (and Windows). … pdate.aspx

Save the Cat link: … tenow.html

Some excellent writing links: … hp?t=24087

A beat calculator and quality writing blog: … lator.html

Beat Sheet Calculator



For a screenplay of 87 pages, your structure should be close to:

Opening Image: pg 1
Establish Theme: pgs 1 - 4
Setup: pgs 1 - 8
Inciting Incident: 9
Debate - Half Commitment: pgs 9 - 20
Turn to Act II: 20
Subplot intro by: pg 24
Fun - Games - Puzzles: pgs 24 - 44
Tentpole - Midpoint - Reversal: pg 44
Enemy Closes In: pgs 44 - 59
Low Point: pg 59
Darkest Decision: pgs 59 - 67
Turn to Act III: pg 67
Finale - Confrontation: pgs 67 - 85
Aftermath: pgs 85 - 87
Final Image: pg 87


There’s no doubt, you do a thorough job of research, LL.

People plotting screenplays to the same predetermined list of beats is probably why I enjoy reading prose much more than watching movies these days. I’m all for structure and employing the common conventions, but I think a plot stands out where it deliberately breaks the rules. Do you think films such as “2001”, “Close Encounters” or “Reservoir Dogs” would have been so striking if they had closely followed the same pregenerated beat sheet?


At the risk of restarting an old argument on this site, according to Save The Cat, pretty much every mainstream movie follows this specific beat structure, including the ones you mentioned. The author of the book even dares readers to submit contrary examples.

There are a lot of reasons for this, I think – the biggest one being the inherent conservatism that kicks in at the studio level when they’re spending millions of dollars on a project.

But I also think it has something to do with the accepted length of a feature film. Movies – mostly for business reasons – are all roughly the same length (much more so than, say, novels). When you factor in the basic three-act structure (blame Aristotle for that), chances are those beats are going to fall in the same general place.

The Save The Cat thing seems abhorrent on the surface (at least to me). But when I can put aside my “that’s why movies suck” prejudices and think clearly about it, it’s not the end of the world.

You would know this site - and Save The Cat - better than I, Sean. I’ve no desire to give new momentum to an old commotion, merely to contribute to the polite sharing of opinions, and hope for the same in return. I hope you’ll be patient with any newbie mistakes I might make.

Blake Snyder’s claims and dares notwithstanding, I could bore you silly on how 2001 and Close Encounters in particular departed from the accepted structures and length of films of their day. I won’t, unless it looks like anyone’s interested. Syd Field’s “Screenplay” gives some details.

I agree the studios are conservative to the point of sometimes ridiculous constraints. I’ve heard the complaint several times that producers - not just in Hollywood, but on Broadway as well - are loathe to consider material that hasn’t already been a hit. Hence the large number of remakes and adaptations.

Does Memento only count if you patch together the non-black and white sections? Or…


Oddly enough, Snyder (Save The Cat author) singles out Memento as one film that doesn’t adhere to his system. His attitude is basically “F— Memento” (I think that’s an actual quote.) He views it as a stunt, and cites the film’s financial performance as proof that he’s right.

Snyder’s Memento argument is central to my problem with his book, which reads more like a “how to win the lottery” scheme that it does an examination of screenplay structure. His approach seems to based on selling scripts to people who want more of the same, not actually making movies that audiences want to watch. It’s a mercenary approach that I think ultimately undermines the craft, and hurts moviemaking as a whole.

I’m one of probably two people who haven’t watched Memento. (Not a fan of Guy Pearce, not a fan of Carrie-Anne Moss, not - at the time - a fan of Christopher Nolan, until The Prestige.) From what I’ve heard and read, though, Memento does seem to be a good example of a movie that breaks with accepted methods of plotting.

I guess it might be argued that Memento is just a traditional story form that’s been put out of regular sequencing. A beat sheet that includes page numbers, though, isn’t about story anymore, it’s about plot - and the plot of Memento is anything but the accepted method, I’ve been led to believe.

Another movie with a non-linear plot occurred to me while I was typing this: Slaughterhouse-Five. A literary adaptation, like Memento.

More non-linearity: Last Year At Marienbad. Run Lola Run tells three variations of the one story, so you have three sets of beats, not just one.

Postscript: I’ve just read Sean’s post about Snyder’s attitude towards Memento. “F___ Memento”? That’s just sour grapes, Mr Snyder.

WHAT!?! :slight_smile:

Well put, AJ. Maybe that’s the issue I have with the book. It emphasizes things like loglines (the boiling-down of your plot into one, digestible sentence) and titles that “tell you what the movie is”. All of which are helpful in their way, but taken as a whole strike me as fundamentally un-writerly.

Snyder’s is a salesman’s viewpoint, cajoling us – in the tradition of Glengarry Glenn Ross, another film that doesn’t quite jibe with the STC theory – to ABC: Always Be Closing. Even the title, Save The Cat, comes from Snyder’s theory that a main character needs to do something heroic – even if it’s small – to sell us on her/him. The joy of simple creative discovery – of character, theme, mystery, life – is reduced to winning friends and influencing producers.

Francis Coppola tells a story about the opening scene of The Godfather. He originally opened the movie at the Don’s wedding, establishing his characters and their milieu right from the open with an economical “Opening Image” – this was about family, first and foremost.

Then someone mentioned his script for Patton, how it had this great, flamboyant speech to open the piece, and how he might want to think about a similar introduction to The Godfather. What we got was a shot of an undertaker, who in his old-country accent says “I believe in America.” It’s an astonishing moment that came from a very writerly place, in my mind. Structurally, from a plot standpoint, the undertaker’s speech – it ends with him requesting murder – was a waste; a beat that didn’t belong. But from a story standpoint, it’s a generous and thematically rich indulgence, a brilliantly creative way to immerse us in a tale of the corruption of “the American dream.”

Of course, I guess you could argue that it was a Save The Cat moment (Establish Theme pgs. 1-4). Such is the vague, fortune-teller-like predictive quality of Save The Cat: if you’re telling a good story, plot usually falls into place.

[Edit: Damn grammar.]

I’ll admit up front that I don’t write screenplays, and don’t have much interest in learning to write them. But you see the same kind of analysis of prose writing. Agents and editors – some of them very famous and successful – talk about “strategies” for writing financially successful work. Some of those strategies may even work.

But I notice that few, if any, of those agents and editors are successful as writers. If writing were as simple as working through a checklist, anyone could do it. It’s one thing to analyze finished work and figure out why it succeeds, quite another to create something from the ground up.

Among writers, you’ll find as many different variations as there are people, from the thorough outliners to the non-linear “throw everything at the wall” types. It’s impossible to tell from the finished work which is which.


I know. :blush: I think it was Red Planet that did it. I loved her in The Matrix, but then seeing her in Red Planet in different clothes - and even no clothes - made me realise my love of Carrie-Anne Moss was probably a latent love of black PVC. Since then my bin liners and I have been very happy, thankyou.

Hey, thanks. :slight_smile:

Well that is just the thing. I mentioned Memento because that was one of the more mainstream non-linear movies, even though it was systematically non-linear as opposed to chaotically non-linear. I can think of a good half dozen other films that are less systematic, and some that do not even have straight-forward plots if you go through and “paste the scenes back together.” 24 Grams is a good example of the chaotic non-linear. Scenes are neither in any pattern of chronology, nor pattern in length. Further, I’m not sure all of the narrative is actually told. The main points are hit, but there are a lot of gaps.

Probably the best example I can think of at the moment is Tarkovskey’s Zerkalo, which not only jumps about in time and space, but completely avoids showing the protagonist of the story until the final scenes, and even then it is only a hand that we see from behind a curtain on a death bed, releasing a bird. The threads that we jump to are sometimes part dream, or entire dream. Memories of a mother; memories of the mother. Lost moments. Essentially all of the final nostalgic thoughts and memories of the guy on the death bed. As with memories, they are not entirely logical when strung together. Now, Zerkalo and Memento are frankly in entirely different leagues in my opinion. One is Chuck Palahniuk and the other is Virginia Woolf, to put it into literary analogy. Both can be incredibly entertaining, but for incredibly different reasons!

This plays out in book-publishing as well. I remember being an eager young(ish) acquistions editor bringing in books that I knew were unique and being told, in ed board meetings, that they had no market. The ed-board members–a curious name (ed, not members), given that none were editors, and all came from the sales/marketing side–couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that there was nothing else like this particular book in the market.

Once I caught on that they wanted to publish only books that seemed to be new and different, but were in fact exactly like other books in the market that they might have heard of (I hesitate to say “read”), I began bringing in new and different books and describing them as old familiar books: “It’s just like Gone With the Wind meets Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, ony with more trees.” And my signing problems went away.

:wink: Yes, the art of the pitch. “300? It’s like The Lord of the Rings meets World Wrestling.”

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gee whiz!

…removed double post…

You just described my first three novels… But I’m getting better at marketing, I think. Love your workaround!

Tarantino is one of the few people who can do non-linear and I like it. It’s all about internal sense, after all; if people can follow something, it doesn’t matter what it’s shaped like. In Memento (though I saw the ending coming) I also didn’t mind, because chaotic experience, not linear experience, was the point, and helped people follow along, while Last Year at Marienbad was, for me, simply an excruciating experience, not to be outdone until Quintet, which at least had Paul Newman.

Part of breaking the mold successfully is doing it successfully, tweaking the story just enough to make it fresh, but not going so arthouse-far people walk out of the movie going, “And what the heck was THAT about?”

One of my pet peeves are the interviews on Sundance & the like, where indy directors explain they don’t think much of plot, and try to keep it out of their movies. To me, that’s like making lemon meringue pie without the crust and the meringue; yes, we now have the essence of the pie, but it’s just a blob of yellow goo on the plate.