I recently saw a reddit post that really struck me. The user had talked about some of his issues in structuring screenplays, and he had a surprisingly simple yet surprisingly brilliant idea. He went through the Terminator script, beat by beat, and then used that exact structure as an outline for his own feature!
IF YOU’RE GONNA STEAL, STEAL BIG
Those words were said to me by a college writing professor, who proceeded to point out a bunch of similarities, even on the sentence level, of major works of literature in the English canon. When you’re famous enough, you get to call it an ‘homage.’ But for now, there’s nothing wrong with looking at what works and making it your own. Why is that?
WRITING AS A CAREER REQUIRES OUTPUT
If you want to make money in this comedy writing game — and face it, who wouldn’t want to make a career out of this shit? — then what’s most important is output. My theory in pretty much every creative endeavor is that the cream rises to the top and the shit is forgotten. Exceedingly rare is the artist who can only churn out top-quality material, and even then, she probably has piles of unpublished papers from college or summer camp or a notebook she kept secret at her first job as a desk jockey , all of them crap on crap on crap, getting only slightly better as one nears the more recent end of the pile.
As I’ve said before, if all first drafts are shit, you’re gonna need a lot of first drafts to make good shit.
This is only for features, but here’s a great collection of beat sheets for some of the more notable movies of the past couple decades. (http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets-alpha). Want to write a timelessly comedic romantic dramedy? ‘Borrow’ the structure for THE APARTMENT, Billy Wilder’s Best Picture/Screenplay winner.
It may not be the most original final product, but with one less thing to worry about, you can bet that your writing skills will improve as you work around a proven-successful structuring. You may even find yourself throwing away your original outline as the characters and your narrative begin to take form.
But as I always say —
Get out there and write!