Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, was my introduction into writing a feature film. He breaks down a movie into 15 beats and promises that any profitable (doesn’t necessarily mean great) film, will have these 12 beats. I decided to put his beats to the test by watching a movie I love and can watch over and over – Sleepless in Seattle. The following are the definitions of his beats accompanied by examples from the film. Now, I will say I struggled with figuring out who the hero was. According to the beats, there should be one hero. I’ve concluded that Sam (Tom Hanks) is our hero, BUT some of the beats that are meant to involve Sam in fact apply to Annie (Meg Ryan). It could also be argued that Sam’s son, Jonah, is the hero. Also, the Midpoint and the All is Lost moments should be opposite – one an up and one a down, but I thought both were downs. Watch the movie, follow the beats, and decide for yourself.
OPENING IMAGE (pg.1): Sets the tone, mood, and style of the film. Very often shows the main character in a “before” snapshot.
Wide shot of Sam standing in a graveyard next to a coffin with his hand on Jonah’s shoulder.
THEME STATED (pg.5): Someone will ask a question or make a statement that is not so obvious. The main character disagrees or doesn’t quite get it yet. Look at the theme from every angle – pros and cons.
Pg.6 Sam’s sister, Suzy, tells him he needs to move on. Sam says, “It just doesn’t happen twice.”
(Also, on pg.14, Annie says, “Destiny? There’s no such thing.”)
SET-UP (pg.1-10): Introduce everyone in the A story and plant character tics (things the main character does that will eventually need to change, also known as “6 things that need fixing”).
Introductions of Sam, Jonah, Sam’s sister and brother-in-law, Annie, Walter, Annie’s mother and brother. Annie needs Walter to be perfect – quizzing him on family members names and background. Tries on her mother’s wedding dress and it rips, thinks her meeting with Walter was a coincidence, laughs at all his bad jokes, has the rest of her life planned.
CATALYST (pg.12): Life-changing first moment when something happens. Knocks the world down.
Jonah’s phone call into the radio. Annie is moved – feels for Jonah and Sam. Feels a connection with him. “Magic.”
DEBATE (pg.12-25): Hero thinks it’s crazy. Should I stay or should I go? How does the hero answer the question?
Annie has her future mapped out. Has an office meeting and debates women being desperate vs. women being romantic.
BREAK INTO ACT 2 (pg.25): Moment where we leave the old world behind.
Annie starts to believe in magic when she hears Jonah a second night on the radio.
B STORY (pg.30): Take a break from the A story; new characters introduced. The “love” story, which carries the theme.
Enter Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) – Annie’s funny best friend who obviously thinks Walter is boring and that Annie shouldn’t be with him.
FUN & GAMES (pg.30-55): The core and essence of the movie poster. Why did I come to see this movie? Not as concerned with forward progress.
Annie and Becky become absorbed with Sam and plot to reach out to him. Sam messes around with Jonah and jokes with his co-architects. He also starts dating.
MIDPOINT (pg.55): An up or down; it’s never as good or as bad as it seems. The stakes are raised and fun and games are over. Back to the A story. (The inverse of the All if Lost moment.)
Annie is consumed by sadness and fear that she will miss out on her destiny.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN (pg.55-75): Toughest part of the screenplay. Point where the internal doubt and jealousy disintegrate the hero’s team. “Evil” is not giving up.
Sam starts getting serious with a new girl, Victoria, who Jonah hates. Annie flies to Seattle to see Sam, but sees him playing with his son and feels intrusive.
ALL IS LOST (pg.75): False defeat. “Whiff of Death.” Stick in something, anything that involves death (could be symbolic). Inverse of the Midpoint.
Annie sees Sam and Jonah reunited with Suzy just as she is crossing the street to approach him for the first time. She thinks it must be a new girlfriend. Whiff of Death: She almost gets hit by a truck!
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (pg.75-85): The point just before the hero prevails, when the idea is nowhere in sight. Must be beaten and know it to get the lesson.
Annie throws her mission out the window, flies back to New York and convinces herself that she’s happy with Walter and her old, boring, set ways.
BREAK INTO ACT 3 (pg.85): Thanks to B story, the hero’s last best efforts, and the bad guys closing in, the answer is found. An idea to solve the problem has emerged.
Annie and Walter are at dinner with a perfect view of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Jonah had requested Annie to be there on that very day – Anna sees it as a sign and she won’t deny it.
FINALE (pg.85-110): Wrap it up. The lessons learned are applied and the character tics are mastered.
Annie finally tells Walter the truth. They end on good terms. She hurries to the Empire State Building for the slight chance that Sam will be there. He is. They meet. They can’t take their eyes off each other.
FINAL IMAGE (pg.110): Opposite of the opening image. Proof that change has occurred.
Sam and Annie holding hands in the elevator, staring at each other. Jonah stands in front of them with a big smile on his face.