For my screenwriting class, Tom DeMar is working on a dance movie concept and I asked him to look at a successful title in the genre and do a breakdown. He did such a nice job with STEP UP that I’m sharing it here. Doing beat sheets of movies that work is the best way to figure out the various elements necessary in order to craft your own concept.
It also gives you an appreciation of movies that critics describe as “by the numbers”. In order to write a screenplay that works, you’ve got to figure out exactly what “by the numbers” means for your subgenre and then figure out a way to embrace and subvert those conventions.
Here’s Tom’s STEP UP beat sheet:
PROJECT TITLE: Step Up!
GENRE: dance film; coming-of-age
1. Opening Image (1): Two different worlds apart: ballet dancing and street dancing.
2. Theme Stated (5): “You better rethink your strategy.”
3. Set-Up (1-10): Tyler and friends get into various trouble, culminating with a break-in at a performing arts school and get caught. Tyler takes the rap for his friends. Gets 200 hours probation at that same school.
4. Catalyst (12): Tyler walks through the school on his first day. “You just cost someone else their future.” He’s handed his mop. 200 hours to go.
5. Debate (12-25): Can Tyler finish this community service? Tyler at his foster home with drunk foster father; Tyler sees Nora dancing. Tyler catches Nora watching him dance outside. Tyler meets Miles at the school, also originally from the bad part of town like Tyler. Tyler watches Nora’s bf refuse to help her. Tyler watches Nora auditioning other dance partners after hers is injured.
6. Break into Two (25): “I’ll do it,” declares Tyler to Nora.
7. B Story (30): Tyler and friends bring a stolen car to Omar’s “repair” shop. Tyler and his friends rejected for OG Omar’s party. Omar: “You kids got no respect. Get me an Escalade.”
8. Fun and Games (30-55): Nora’s friend Lucy sees Nora and Tyler dancing; montage with music…Nora and Tyler try to partner dancing (she walks off, he tries harder, she laughs, he does handstand, he practices ballet turns, the high school principal watches them); Tyler at home hits bed hard; Nora’s bf’s music studio rehearsal (Tyler shows an hour late; she rejects him); Tyler quits; Nora confronts her Mom “When’s the last time you saw me dance?”; after Tyler’s friend’s comment that he never finishes anything, Tyler tries to rejoin Nora; Tyler takes Nora’s ballet class; Tyler walks Nora home and learns about her deceased dad; Tyler blowing off his friends to do his “community service” with Nora; Tyler suggests improving the dance and also Miles’ music and Nora likes it (she doesn’t stress this time); Nora drives Tyler to her spot at the docks where her father worked; they dance on the pier, their lips come close.
9. Midpoint (52): Tyler gets Nora more dancers to fulfill her vision.
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75): Nora’s bf gets signed and doesn’t tell her, also he rejects Miles his music partner and tells Nora “That loser’s (Tyler) headed nowhere fast and you know it.” (p. 55); Miles and Lucy catch Lucy’s older bf kissing another girl; Tyler’s inner demons from his past, his doubts and stifled expectations, tells Nora “It’s better not to want anything that way if it doesn’t happen…”; Nora’s Mom catches Nora and Tyler in a kiss in her home; school Principal watches part of Nora’s and Tyler’s new dance; Tyler’s friend catches him dancing at the school instead of meeting him for basketball and rejects their friendship, feeling betrayed.
11. All Is Lost (75): Nora’s original dance partner returns from his injury. Tyler is out, saying “I can’t believe I bought into all this.”
12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85): Tyler on bus alone through his bad part of town again. Music montage: his friend rejects him again at the BB courts; Tyler in his boring class. Nora’s original dance partner can’t do the new routine and his hurt again; Nora hands her Mom her completed college application, admitting defeat. Nora’s Mom encourages her “You can do this alone.” Tyler finally gets back with his old friends from the hood and goes to Omar’s party; Miles (from the school) comes to Omar’s party and updates Tyler about Nora; Tyler’s friend’s younger brother Skinny crashes the party and is sent away; OG Omar handing out money at the party; Skinny sees an unattended Escalade and steals it.
13. Break into Three (85): Skinny shot dead; funeral.
14. Finale (85-110): BB courts: Tyler’s friend admits, “We been beating ourselves up long before Skinny died. It’s on me, I ain’t stupid. You really think it’s the best we can be? I wanna be better, do better…for my moms, for Skinny.” Tyler agrees, “For Skinny,” and asks his friend to drive him to the BIG SHOW: Dressing room 10 minutes to show time. Tyler confesses to Nora, “I’ve made every wrong decision in life. I do realize how important this is.”; Nora decides to let Tyler dance; Tyler’s friend, the school Principal with career-breaking judges, Nora’s Mom all in the audience. THE BIG DANCE (pp. 94-97). Backstage, Nora receives an offer to join a pro dance company and Tyler receives an offer to attend the performing arts school.
15. Final Image (110): Nora and Tyler kiss backstage, together, two different worlds as one (p. 99, the final minute of the film).