I start my beat sheet writing the same way every time. Queue up the movie, open up my Dell laptop (I admit that not because I’m proud, but because it’s the truth), pull up the screenplay in one window, the beat sheet numbered 1-12 in another window, and press play. As I watch the movie while reading along, I let the beats jump out at me. Then pause the film, jot down some notes, and back to the viewing. Simple.
But not always. Sometimes I realize I’m halfway through the movie and don’t know my theme yet. At this point, I try to make it work. If I still can’t find the beats, I like to just throw this movie out the window and try another. This is what happened with Garden State, one of my favorite movies. When I told Dane that it didn’t follow the beats, he said to write about that experience instead. (He always has to make my life more difficult.)
So let’s do it. It’s important to note that the main character, Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is a passive protagonist. This definitely contributed to my difficulties. He doesn’t do anything! Things happen to him – he doesn’t make things happen. If I read this script before I saw the movie, I probably wouldn’t like him. Not dislike him, but not care about him. Which in essence, is the reason to see the movie – to root for the hero. Now that I think about it, I don’t really care for him that much. Why do I love this movie?
Best not to question a good thing. Let’s just stick to the beats.
- OPENING IMAGE- The inside of a plane. People screaming, terrified. Large sits amongst the strangers, alone, unphased by it all.
- THEME- Not so sure about this one. It could be letting go. Large finds out that his mother has past away. He has to let her go, he has to let go of the guilt he’s felt all these years for causing her to be in a wheelchair, and he has to let go of the image his father has had all these years of having a happy, perfect family.
- SET-UP- Andrew Largeman- no emotion. Doesn’t seem to care about anything. Passive protagonist. Takes a lot of prescription drugs. Gideon- his father, buries his mother at her funeral. Awkward with his son, uncomfortable. Mark- Large’s friend (played by Peter Sarsgaard). He’s outspoken and says whatever he’s thinking.
- CATALYST- At first, it made sense that it’s the phone call that his mom died, but that happens in the second scene, way before page 12. Later, when he’s home in New Jersey, he takes a hit of ecstasy at a party. This is the first time he “let’s go.” Not exactly a catalyst, but the beginning of Large’s journey to change.
- DEBATE- Again, it seems to happen very early on, before he even comes home. Large looks at himself in the mirror. Opens the mirror to reveal shelves stacked full with prescription drugs. He closes the mirror and stares at himself again. Should he bring his medication with him? If it happens after the ecstasy, it’s fuzzy. What’s the debate? Maybe that drugs make him feel good. Maybe all the drugs he’s been taking all his life aren’t so bad after all.
- BREAK INTO 2- If the catalyst is the phone call and the debate is whether or not he brings his medication with him, then the break into act II is when Large comes home to New Jersey. Of course this doesn’t make sense because it all happens too fast to be a complete act. If the catalyst is Large taking a hit of ecstasy and the debate is enjoying the drugs, the break into act II is obviously when Large goes to his doctor’s appointment.
- B STORY- Large meets Sam (Natalie Portman) at the doctor’s office. Becomes his love interest. This relationship carries the movie.
- FUN & GAMES- Goes with Sam to Jesse’s, goes to her house, meets her mom and brother, buries her dead hamster.
- MIDPOINT- Large admits he hasn’t cried since he was a little kid and admits it’s his fault his mom was in a wheelchair. It would be a down if he didn’t then have a nice moment with Sam. It’s actually more of an up.
- BAD GUYS CLOSE IN-Gideon tries to make Large feel guilty for his mother’s death. On his last day with Sam, Mark drags them around to all these places they don’t want to be and don’t know why they’re there.
- ALL IS LOST- Mark gives Large his mother’s favorite necklace. When he’s alone with Sam, Large cries. Again, this is an up. The whiff of death is there! The necklace is his dead mother’s and Mark literally went into her grave to get it off her dead body.
- DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL- Large decides to go back to California. He needs to work on himself before he can start a relationship with Sam.
- BREAK INTO 3- Large comes back to Sam. He stays. This is basically the last scene of the movie, which is too late for a break into the third act, so it might be when Large decides to tell his father the truth and then forgives him.
- FINALE- Large talks about his feelings. Embraces life. Lives in the moment.
- FINAL IMAGE- Large and Sam embracing, kissing. Slow zoom out, it’s just the two of them.
Lindsay Stetson is a former collegiate field hockey player and sports journalist who is currently writing, producing and acting in the web anthology Conversations In Cars while working on feature spec scripts and her acting career. She’s on Twitter but only technically @LStet