A Real Life Beat Sheet of My Story: A Mother and Aspiring Writer’s Plea: What the Fuck am I Doing Wrong Here!?
A mother in her early 30s pushes a stroller uphill on a San Francisco street. She walks past a movie theatre. After a few steps she goes back to take a closer look. Birdman is playing. She looks longingly at the poster. Her voice-over says: “I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre in three years! Can’t miss an Inarritu movie! Bet it’s good. And it’ll probably do well. I should write about this film. May be this is finally the movie I’ve been waiting for to apply Snyder’s Beat Sheet method. Could I get out of the bedtime routine tonight?” The kid in the stroller urges her to move on: “Let’s go to the grocery store mummy, let’s get some bread, let’s goooo!!” She pushes on. That’s what life is like: it is full of ‘real life’ things like groceries and pealing tomatoes and wiping bottoms – dreadfully lacking in the magic of stories. A moment of Stasis = Death.
She gets dinner ready. A spring in her step. She picks the bedtime books, puts the jammies and diaper on the pillow. Husband and kid are happily moving from the dinner table to the bathtime activities. Time to watch a goddamn movie!
She watches Birdman without blinking. She gets out and walks the empty streets of SF back to her real world. Coast is clear; peeps are in bed. She sits down to read Birdman’s screenplay. Even more inspiration! She takes her notes for the Beat Sheet she will write, tracing the turning points of storytelling as defined by Blake Snyder – a hero for anyone who has a passion for writing for film. She writes and writes, shifts and corrects.
Woken up by the soft warm hand of a smiley happy boy. It’s late! By midday, breakfast number three is still being served and pushed around. Kid is causing havoc in the living room. Husband arrives.
She excitedly talks about last night’s breakthrough performance in creating, analyzing, studying, producing something of value. She is excited, revived, reconnected. Husband: “But Selin, the kid’s still in jammies, he needs to go out, look at him. You haven’t even taken a shower yet. C’mon buddy let’s go to the park.” This is our theme: Back to reality! We are about to explore the possibilities of a mother and knucklehead -still- trying to make something of herself, namely writing stories, reaching out to people through the language of stories, blah blah blah. Is there any chance in hell that anything she does may be read and appreciated by ‘real people out there’, as opposed to only her dad and buddies from high school?
An email from an LA screenwriter drops into her inbox! A real life professional living in the City of Angels! He says he read her Beat Sheet: “Nice job” he says and acknowledges what a challenging narrative Birdman is to analyze. This fellow devotee of Snyder’s wonders what she thinks about the Snyder-genre of the movie. They go into a long, juicy debate about Birdman’s genre, finally deciding it’s a Fool Triumphant. How cool that she gets to have a conversation in Snyder lingo. (Her husband doesn’t even know who Al Pacino is. She is severely deprived of movie talk!)
She gets excited about all this and feels fully driven to write her next Beat Sheet: Whiplash. Like Birdman, Whiplash is another story about realizing dreams and striving for some unrealistic goal. She studies that screenplay’s every word. How and why it touches her core!? Why does she love to see someone sweat and bleed for a passion? Because she can’t and she won’t; she sabotages herself because of some deep-seated belief in looming failure. She is never good enough; she never does enough to be good enough. Let the heroes of the movies do it. It is their job to realize the common man’s dream. So, she writes about the people who do what she can’t.
Her life takes a new turn when the LA screenwriter says Snyder’s book ‘Save the Cat!’ has a website and they publish Beat Sheets! Wow, she didn’t know about this. Snyder is no longer alive, but how great that his work continues in the hands of his true devotees! She sends in both her Beat Sheets with the faint hope that the official Save the Cat! website will publish them.
On yet another day, after deciding she is too tired to sit down and get on with her screenplay with a sinking feeling, she gets another email. This time from Mr. X, someone major! He says they are ‘enamored’ of her Beat Sheets and although it is unusual for them to publish Beat Sheets by anyone other than their staff of ‘Master Cats’, they would like to publish hers! Holy shit! Not only another real person, but someone she can ACTUALLY build a professional relationship with! She can analyze lots and lots of screenplays, written by people she doesn’t even know! She can analyze two screenplays a week (instead of two a year), wait, could she do three, four? Five, if she did nothing else? But her darling psychic friend had told her she should concentrate on her own stories, not everybody else’s. Nevermind that, succeeding with her own stories is even more unrealistic. Here’s something she can do NOW! Is it possible? Could it be that she is on the verge of a quantum leap? Dare she take this opportunity and nourish it into something real?
Break Into Two
She is in! What has she got to lose? Even her husband looks genuinely surprised. May be she is not in her imaginary world after all. May be she’s got something to offer to the real world and may be the real world is ready to embrace her.
Fun and Games
She is having email exchanges with Mr. X about how to work together! How remarkable! She manages to have a long (and positive!) exchange without giving away the fact that she is in fact living through the biggest crisis of her life and all sorts of major life problems are waiting for answers right on her doorstep. In her emails she actually sounds together, grounded, professional, clear-headed. She even gets invited to go to LA for one of their workshops. She gets introduced to Mr. Z, who is a key ‘Master Cat’. She is on her way to mastering her innate Cat!ness! Watch out!
We get to see more of the backdrop of all this in this section. This family of three is about to do the craziest thing anyone they know (or heard of) has ever done. They have no place of their own, no jobs (except for the one they are about to leave), no prospects, no savings, no concrete plans. They have this idea that they should move to Colorado, but they don’t know many people there and no job or housing is waiting for them. But they will go anyway, because they don’t do things the normal way. On top of that, they think: what better way is there to look for a place to settle down but to put everything you own in your car and go camping? Not just to check out towns they may live in, but simply to visit beautiful places! Why the hell not? Not to mention their bureaucratic issues, visa problems, unsolvable logistics of how to visit their family home and make a few cents along the way just to pretend that they are in charge of their lives… And how about the kid who will not stop screaming: “Let’s go camping! Let’s go camping now! Now!! NOW!!!” (God bless him, only he truly knows it’s all about ‘now’!)
Husband brings in a few photocopies. They are chapters from a book about Enneagram (see website), called Facets of Unity. It’s a psychological study of personality types, of which there are nine. It turns out she is a Number 7! First she hears the titular words: enthusiast, explorer, visionary… She feels good about herself: “I am, right? And I will prove it in the next few months, hell weeks, you watch me!”
But then, she actually reads the goddamn thing! And what does it say about Number 7? “The Epicure… Peter Pan – the eternal youth… Superficial, narcissistic, trouble with commitment, wants to keep things emotionally high, habit of starting things but not seeing them through, replacement of deep contact with pleasant mental alternatives, inflated ideas of innate speciality, avoid direct conflict by going through the cracks, talk your way out of trouble, rationalized escapism, a positive flow that masks a flight away from pain, fear of being unveiled as less than what they believe themselves to be…” Turns out she is not the genius she secretly thinks she is, she is a highly flawed individual who needs to grow up immediately! This Enneagram thing will rule the back of her mind like a bad omen through the rest of this story.
Her darling Birdman article gets published on the Save the Cat! website. She imagines, all giddy inside, she will talk about the moment she first saw Birdman’s poster outside the movie theatre with a humble smile on her face during her Oscar speech. She ain’t escaping into some dreamland here. This is REAL!
The sheet gets this one comment that says it is the worst Beat Sheet ever published on the website. This guy seems to think he alone gets to judge whether a Beat Sheet is a ‘correct’ one (not even a ‘good’ one, you see). Minor glitch. Some douchbag, no doubt. Who cares, the article is breaking ‘like’ records on Facebook! Do Facebook ‘likes’ matter at all, anyone? Who cares if they do or not, she wrote something and it was ‘liked’! So there! Her sweet (and false) fucking victory!
Bad Guys Close in
Mr. X seems to think the reception of the article is pretty good and he is very excited about this post. Great! But she challenges, because she can’t help herself. Her victory needs to be flawless. She doesn’t agree with the genre that was chosen for Birdman. She doesn’t think it’s a Rites of Passage (RoP) story, she thinks it’s a Fool Triumphant (FT). Mr. X seems to agree and is happy to put that in as a comment, but the person who came up with the RoP idea (the genre-decider ‘Master Cat!’) says, hey, it doesn’t matter, Snyder himself thought that movies could be identified as more than one genre. She responds, but how about the overwhelming evidence to the contrary in his books!? Nevertheless, the RoP genre stays on with no comments published to challenge this view.
She doesn’t stop there, oh no! She wants to prove that she knows her stuff, but still can’t quite figure out Whiplash’s genre. Before the second article goes up (and seals her triumph), she wants to make sure the correct genre is published alongside it. So she writes up all four possible genres she identified, explaining her academic reasoning for each. No response. Hmm.
In the meantime things get heated up at home. Husband pulls out the big guns as he forces her to see that her crazy efforts to watch movies and dissect stupid screenplays and make plans about overnight trips to LA for big executive meetings to claim her rightful place as the next shining star of Hollywood is not their reality right now! How about finding a place to stay when they arrive in Colorado? How about applying for ‘real’ jobs?
This all-knowing husband also challenges her for immediately buying a copy of Facets of Unity for the wrong reasons. She says she wants to write the hero of her new screenplay based on personality type Number 1. Husband scoffs: of course she would do that! As a typical Number 7, she would use this tool that is intended for self-realization as a toy for her next creative endeavor. She refuses to learn a goddamn thing! She can’t step out of the confines of her imaginary future in LA to see her own immediate reality! What is he talking about, that husband of hers, spewing some bullshit from his High Tower, always the pillar of wisdom, that annoying Number 5!
Oh, and of course the biggest button-pusher of all, the Mum says on Skype, “So what happened with those LA people? Did that come to nothing, too?” Give the girl a fucking break, mum!
All is Lost
Friday, the day when the world will know she can analyze the hell out of yet another screenplay. Whiplash! An email again, title: sorry. It reads something like this: Her beat sheet has created quite a fire storm, her Whiplash beat sheet suffers from the same problem, ‘lacking actual story points.’ They will publish someone else’s Beat Sheet instead. The Cats urge her to compare each beat to theirs and take this as a learning lesson. What a joke, right?
She has barely woken up and doesn’t quite get it. So she goes on to read the ‘correct’ version of the Beat Sheet. Lo and behold, it is HER Beat Sheet almost beat for beat, simply reworded and fashioned with tedious scene descriptions. Ok, what is this about? If her Beat Sheet was so lacking in ‘actual’ story points, why are all her beats published on the website in pretty much the same exact order and even show great similarity in personal ideas and nuances. Hold your horses Selin, the story beats don’t change; they are obvious; you are not the only one who discovered and unraveled all the beats of Whiplash. Ok, weird, but ok. Then why didn’t they ask her to revise it when she emailed them on Monday about the genres? (There is no end to questioning what happened, so, get over it.)
The implication of this is she now has nothing. All this effort and excitement and she is in a position of ‘learning’ from her supposed mistakes. How did that happen?
Dark Night of the Soul
This is Friday, two days before they set off for their great adventure. She is lying in bed like a lump, trying to digest this news. Husband comes home with a fever and a mysterious headache behind his left eye. There is a house to be cleaned, a cargo box to fill, suitcases to zip up, Ex Machina to watch and analyze (because someone else wants an article from her, yay!), breakfasts and lunches to serve, dishes to clean, laundry to wash, reality reality reality, always fucking reality!
Something bothers her more than anything. The genre that is picked on the website for Whiplash reads Monster in the House. Now, anyone who has read Snyder’s books knows the rules of Monster in the House. It happens to be the easiest genre to identify, because it has the most obvious, caveman-like elements. And Whiplash is not, by any means, a Monster in the House flick. If she knows anything about that movie, it is this FACT! She also receives an email from the genre-decider ‘Master Cat’ acting all chummy. (Are you kidding me?) Hey, he simply had a gut feeling that Whiplash may just be a Monster film, why the hell not. This actually flipped the switch for our hero, who was hanging on by a thread as it was.
Break into Three
This girl loves Blake Snyder. He helped her to finally give birth to her first ever screenplay – a script that had been dragging mud for years and years without a hope in the world of ever getting completed (number 7, remember). Enters Snyder, and poof, she gives birth to her darling babe in six months. (Sure it’s not perfect but it has ‘Fade out’ where it should be.) Now she feels that Snyder’s legacy is in the hands of people who sit comfortably on top of the empire he built, seeing no problem in bending his rules to suit their levels of competence (She hasn’t actually encountered and researched all of these ‘Cats’, but for dramatic effect she will stick with her presumption).
As A and B stories cross, she decides to address her concern. To hell with it! She is a Number 7 who will talk her way out of trouble, so what! She takes action, ignoring her LA screenwriter friend’s advice to let it go: “don’t waste any more time”. But she can’t do it. She needs to prove herself.
As she pretends to be watching her child at the playground, she writes one email to Mr. X telling him the lesson he (not her) needs to learn, or else; and another to the genre-decider ‘Cat!’ urging him to realize how Whiplash is not a goddamn Monster flick if she ever saw one! Overreacting? Sure. Burning bridges? You bet.
She actually feels good, now that that’s out of her system. She almost feels like she could go on. Husband didn’t think she should waste her time with all this bullshit and prompted her to apply for a job as a Service Specialist at the Telluride Public Library. She had spent the night before writing a genuinely cheerful cover letter (she loves libraries). May be the events of the last few weeks were a sign from God, if not Snyder himself.
At her second playground experience of the day, she receives the final deadly email from Mr. X that says they want to have nothing to do with her, they no longer wish to be ‘bothered’ by her. That is a finale alright.
In the final chapter of her Grand Finale, as she force-feeds her child who will not cooperate (a natural result considering his dad’s been lying sick on the sofa all day and his frantic mum, whose mind is nowhere to be found in the present moment, has been shoving him about everywhere), she comes up with a genius plan! A and B stories converge, as she greenlights her idea of Beating out her last few weeks to demonstrate a life of 32 years – a life lived solely in the imagination. Snyder once again comes to the rescue.
She successfully wrote her way out of her ‘real’ life. And now she will go back and scrub the tub. A new adventure begins tomorrow, on the road, where there will be nowhere to hide but live.