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12 Essential Screenplay Beats In Act 1

An Example From (500) Days Of Summer


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by Script Reader Pro in How To Write A Screenplay
October 3, 2014 3 comments

Did you know there are 12 specific screenplay beats you should be hitting in Act 1 of your script?

In his book, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, Jeffrey Allan Schechter lays out how to toughen up your act one by including 12 essential screenwriting beats, and in this post we’re going to break down the 12 Act 1 Key Plot Points of (500) Days Of Summer using this method.

Despite it’s seemingly avant-garde structure, (500) Days Of Summer’s Act 1 follows 12 specific screenplay beats, plot points or whatever you wish to call them, to perfection.

If you haven’t already, first go back and read our introductory post on these 12 Act 1 screenplay beats, which details exactly how it all works. There you will find the original 12 script beats as described in Jeffrey’s book, along with a breakdown of the movie Identity Thief.

If you want to get an even more in-depth analysis of Act 1 these screenplay beats, we suggest you order yourself a copy of the book as well. You may also want to re-watch the first twenty-five or so minutes of (500) Days Of Summer to get the most out of the breakdown. And you can also read the (500) Days Of Summer screenplay here.

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(500) Days Of Summer: 12 Screenplay Beats  

SCREENPLAY BEAT 1: “We meet either the protagonist/antagonist/victim or stakes character.”

THE BEAT: Tom and Summer sit on a bench, smiling at each other. She’s wearing a wedding ring. Tom sits at a board meeting at work. A voice over says how Tom always felt he’d never be happy until he met “The One.” Tom as a kid watches the Graduate.

ANALYSIS: In the opening image we see Tom and Summer—protagonist and antagonist—together. We then meet Tom by himself, officially, as he’s the main protagonist and we get a glimpse of his romantic ideals about “the One.”

SCREENPLAY BEAT 2: “We see the protagonist’s flaw in relation to the stakes character.”

THE BEAT: Summer works. As a kid, she brushes her hair and the Voice Over says how she didn’t share this belief. Summer walks into Tom’s work and he knows the moment he sees her she’s “the One.”

ANALYSIS: In this second beat, we realize Tom’s flaw in relation to the stakes character—Summer. i.e. he’s not just a hopeless romantic, he’s in love at first sight with a girl who doesn’t share his optimism about love or a belief in “the One.”

SCREENPLAY BEAT 3: “We meet the antagonist, or amplify what we already know about them.”

THE BEAT: A girl, Rachel, cycles. She arrives at Tom’s apartment. He’s upset. With his friends, McKenzie and Paul, she makes him tell them what happened. Montage: Tom and Summer in love. Summer tells him she wants to break up. He leaves. He says he wants to get her back. At work, McKenzie does a presentation. The boss introduces Summer to the group. Tom is smitten.

ANALYSIS: The voice over describes Summer as “just another girl” as she rides a bike. But she isn’t… Everything Summer touches turns to gold. Everyone looks at her as she gets on the bus. He says it’s fate that Tom met her. What we think we already know about Summer gets amplified here, as it becomes apparent she ended up dating Tom, but broke his heart. Just as we suspected she would.

screenplay beats

SCREENPLAY BEAT 4: “A deflector slows down the protagonist. His/her problem is amplified.”

THE BEAT: At work, McKenzie tells Tom she’s a bitch. Summer enters an elevator with Tom. She tells him she loves The Smiths and leaves.

ANALYSIS: Cutting back in time to the first day they first met, we see how Summer quashes Tom and McKenzie’s assumption of her as an aloof “bitch.” She’s actually pretty friendly, and has the same cliched indie movie music taste as Tom.

SCREENPLAY BEAT 5: “The screenplay’s Call to Action. The protagonist is hit by a major blow by the antagonist. Their world is tipped upside-down and they are now aware they have a big problem.”

THE BEAT: At a work party, Tom tells Summer he studied to be an architect. She reads one of his greeting cards. He nearly chokes when she says she used to be called “anal girl”. She leaves and he draws a picture of a building but screws it up. Tom tells Paul he’s officially in love with Summer. Montage: Summer being wonderful.

ANALYSIS: Not only does Summer like the Smiths, but she’s just wonderful in every way. Funny. Intelligent. Sexy. He’s in love and there’s no going back now.

SCREENPLAY BEAT 6: “The statement of the protagonist as it relates to the stakes character. Problem is made clear to the audience.”

THE BEAT: At home, Tom waxes lyrical to Rachel about Summer. She says that liking the same stuff as him doesn’t make her “The One”.

ANALYSIS: It takes Tom’s kid sister to point out the obvious — that a shared music taste isn’t everything in a relationship. From this moment on we know Tom’s in trouble.

500 Days Of Summer script

SCREENPLAY BEAT 7: “An Ally helps propel the protagonist out of his / her comfort zone.”

THE BEAT: In a bar, Tom tells Paul and McKenzie it’s off. Flashback: Tom and Summer in an elevator. She says her weekend was “good.” Tom says she’s not interested. Summer asks Tom if he needs anything from the supply room and he answers awkwardly. He plays The Smiths loudly in the office. She walks straight past without looking. In the bar, Tom says he’s not going to ask her out. McKenzie invites Tom to karaoke but Tom doesn’t want to go until he learns Summer’s going.

ANALYSIS: In a classic screenwriting reversal, Tom is disheartened again when he finds it hard to get Summer’s attention. He’s on the verge of giving up when McKenzie tells him about her attendance at the karaoke bar, persuading him to give it another shot.

SCREENPLAY BEAT 8: “The protagonist seems ready to move forward in their goal and/or towards the stakes character but just can’t do it.”

THE BEAT: Tom enters the karaoke bar and says hello to Summer. She gets up and sings a cute song.

ANALYSIS: Tom is again unable to make his move when they meet and she leaves to go sing.

SCREENPLAY BEAT 9: “The antagonist/deflector attacks or shocks the protagonist and the dramatic question is raised as the protagonist realizes what the movie’s about.”

THE BEAT: Later, Tom joins her and McKenzie at a table. She says she’s not comfortable being anyone’s girlfriend. Tom asks her what happens if she falls in love. They argue about love and agree to disagree.

ANALYSIS: In this pivotal scene, Summer shocks Tom with her revelation that she doesn’t believe in “the One.” Here, Tom finally catches up to what the audience has known for a while—that the woman of his affection doesn’t believe in true love and doesn’t want a serious relationship. This is the core conflict between Tom and Summer and of the whole movie.

screenplay beats

SCREENPLAY BEAT 10: “The depth of feeling between the protagonist and the stakes character becomes evident.”

THE BEAT: Later, Tom sings a Pixies song. At the bar, they discuss the TV show Knight Rider. McKenzie sings, badly.

ANALYSIS: Despite the shock of the previous plot point, Tom is attracted to this woman. He can’t help himself. Especially when they obviously have so much in common and get on great together.

SCREENPLAY BEAT 11: “The antagonist or deflector threatens to take the stakes character away from the hero.”

THE BEAT: Outside, they put McKenzie in a cab and he drunkenly blurts out that Tom likes Summer. Tom and Summer agree to be friends and she leaves.

ANALYSIS:  Despite their obvious chemistry, it looks like Summer’s relegated Tom to the “friend zone.”

SCREENPLAY BEAT 12: “The protagonist decides he/she must act to save the stakes character.”

THE BEAT: In the photocopy room at work, Summer brazenly walks over to Tom and passionately kisses him. She leaves.

ANALYSIS: In a rather unusual twist, it’s the antagonist here, not the protagonist who decides to save what’s at stake—the relationship. Summer’s kiss ignites the flame between her and Tom and signals the end of Act 1.

Screenplay Beats: Going Forward

And that’s the 12 essential screenwriting beats you should include in act one of your screenplay. Now it’s time for you to apply them to your movie. Using these is a great way to make sure you’re hitting all the right emotional screenplay beats and successfully engaging the viewer in your protagonist’s world.

To learn how screenplays are really structured using sequences, check out our screenplay book: Master Screenplay Sequences: Revolutionize Your Understanding of 3 Act Structure

screenplay beats

Is your first act hitting these same Act 1 screenplay beats? Are you properly introducing the protagonist and antagonist? Are you making the protagonist’s problem and the core conflict of your story absolutely clear to the audience?

Let us know what you think about this method to bullet proof your Act 1 using these 12 essential screenplay beats in the comments section below.

  1. Dyan says:

    Excellent point, Todd.Yet, I’ve read query letters where wrtires state they were semi-finalists in Bluecat or Nicholl or Slamdance or Austin it all starts to run together. And to tell you the truth, I’m more impressed when I read someone WON a contest, even if it’s small one But maybe that’s just me. You’re right though: there are so many contests out there, you don’t just want to throw your money into something you can’t trust.However, some of the small contests can also help you land jobs. I was actually thinking of some of the smaller contests that DO have industry connections, for example, Big Bear Lake led to Letters from Iwo Jima getting sold and made.I guess the best we can do is just to do the research before entering any contest Onward!-EricP.S. Why all the animosity towards Missoula?

  2. Josh Wolf says:

    Is there one for Toy Story?

    1. Haven’t broken down Toy Story but give it a go 🙂

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