Screenplay Update #7: Chairman of the Board
In Blake Snyder’s screenwriting bible, Save the Cat, he dedicates a whole chapter to The Board and its importance in working out the beats of your story.
The Board is perhaps the most vital piece of equipment a screenwriter needs to have at his disposal – next to paper, pen, and laptop. And over the years, whenever I’ve walked into someone’s office and seen one on the wall, I have to smile because I now know what it is – and the migraine-in-process it denotes. Boards come in all types and sizes: blackboards smeared with chalk, cork boards with index card and pushpins to hold the beats in place, and even pages of a yellow legal pad Scotch-taped to hotel walls while on location – in the attempt to rework a script on the fly. The Board is universal.
– Blake Snyder, . Save the Cat, p99. Michigan: Sheridan Books, Inc.
In a fit of productive procrastination last semester, I began to put together a board for the film that I was working on in class. While I’d worked out most of the story beats, the board helped me to visualise the plot, and move things around without getting confused. By the end of semester, however, I’d decided that my film wasn’t really a film after all – it was more of a thirteen part series. So, the board was put aside, and I started writing a series breakdown and bible instead.
Today, I brought the board back. I took down all of the index cards for my other story, and filed them away. Then, I began to fill the board with new cards, and new post-it notes. This is what my film looks like right now:
[minus the post-it notes because they’re cheap and keep falling off the board]
My board doesn’t quite follow all of Blake Snyder’s rules. Instead of breaking it up into four sections, I’ve divided my board into eight – to represent eight reel structure, as this is way we were taught to plot our films in first semester. Each index card represents one, two or three scenes, and the post-it notes highlight important structural details, such as the first turning point, or the protagonist’s darkest moment.
Nothing is numbered, so the board allows me to move things around without worrying too much about reshuffling everything. It also gives me a very visual overview of the story, and helps to depict exactly how the story flows. I can see straight away that I have a few too many story beats happening in the first half of the film, and that the ending seems rushed [see how empty the bottom row looks compared to the others]. These are both things that I would work on if I had a little more time to complete this draft, but as I’m cutting things pretty close, I’ve started writing what I’ve got.
When we start revising our films, using notes from our editing partners, my first step will be to come back to the board. But for now, this is it.