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All Is Lost Beat Sheet

By on December 20, 2013 in Beat Sheets, Dude With A Problem


Thanks to Master Cat! Ben Frahm for this breakdown that was certain to include the “All Is Lost” beat (but does not include a B Story):

Written and Directed by: J.C. Chandor

Genre: Dude with a Problem: Innocent Hero, Sudden Event, Life-or-Death Battle
Sub-Genre: Nature Problem

Opening Image:
The remains of a capsized boat float in the ocean.

Set-Up: Via narration (Robert Redford VO) we learn:
— A Man has been on a boat for eight days.
— He’s in the middle of the ocean.
— He’s alone.
— And per the tone of his voice, he doesn’t think he’s going to survive.

Theme Stated:
“I tried, I tried… I fought ‘til the end, I’m not sure what that is worth, but know that I did.”


— Our Man (Redford) wakes up. He’s on a boat. And water seeps into the cabin.
— Further investigation reveals a hole in the boat.

— What should he do? What are the implications and severity of this problem? Our hero must act quickly…
— He discovers that his boat must have sailed into a corrugated metal shipping container and this is what caused the gaping hole.
— Our Man uses a flotation device with ropes to dislodge his boat away from the metal container.
— And acting with skill and grace…

Break into Two:
…He repairs the hole.

Fun and Games: A Story and Second Act Goal: simply to survive and get help.
— The Man rescues a radio from the cabin. It’s wet with salt water and currently doesn’t work. He cleans the device with fresh water. And now must let it dry.
— A skilled sailor, Our Man wastes no time. He checks the repaired hole in the boat.
— Empties water from the cabin.
— Recovers food and drink to keep healthy and strong.
— And the next day, to his surprise the radio works. Or at least starts to work. A signal comes through and then quickly dies.
— Our man climbs the mast of the boat and tries to reconnect the electrical wires, hoping this will help. But it doesn’t…
— And looking in the distance, he notices a significant storm is now heading his way…

— The storm comes that night.
— The weather and conditions are so severe that the boat capsizes.
— Our Man is tossed into the ocean. His head damaged. And now his only means of survival has been compromised.

Bad Guys Close In:
— Groggy and discombobulated from his head injury, Our Man gathers the energy to prepare the lifeboat and uses this to barely escape the storm.
— The next day, he returns to his demolished boat and recovers necessities. An emergency kit. Some personal belongings. Water. Medical supplies to fix his head. And a map and navigation device in order to determine his coordinates.
— Our Man realizes that he’s just south of a shipping route. And that if the ocean currents continue, he will pass through the route and hopefully be noticed and rescued by passing boats.
— However, in the meantime, he must endure another storm…
— … which passes through and capsizes his lifeboat.
— Some of his possessions are lost. And the next day, he realizes that his only fresh water supply has been contaminated with salt water.
— Staying calm and collected, Our Man refuses to give up. Instead, he constructs a device to allow water condensation to be collected into a cup. This actually works and Our Man is able to drink some fresh water, albeit a very small amount.
— He checks the coordinates again on the map and realizes he’s currently in the shipping route.
— And sure enough, later that day, a cargo boat appears. Our Man frantically tries to signal for help using a flare from the emergency kit but this doesn’t work. The cargo ship never sees him and doesn’t stop to help.
— The next day, another boat appears. Our Man won’t let this one get away. And lights all of his flares, hoping to be noticed.
— But the result is the same. The boat doesn’t see him and passes right by.
— Our Man checks the map and realizes that he’s floated out of the “shipping route,” so his chances of encountering another boat are unlikely.
— He’s out of flares.
— He has no food or water.
— And it appears that Our Man is giving up.
— He writes a letter to his loved ones (most likely the one read as narration at the beginning of the film). And puts the letter in a jar and throws it into the water.
— It’s getting dark, and when Our Man lies down and appears to be completely giving up… he notices a light in the distance.
— On the horizon, there is potentially another boat.
— But he realizes he doesn’t have any flares left.
— So instead he lights some papers and manuals from the lifeboat on fire, a last resort of being discovered…
— However, the fire spreads… and quickly engulfs the life boat…

All Is Lost:
The lifeboat burns and Our Man is forced into the ocean…

Dark Night of the Soul:
— Without a boat…
— Without hope of rescue…
— Our Man gives up. He lets himself sink towards the bottom of the ocean…
— Staring at the still burning lifeboat on the water’s surface…
— We are convinced Our Man will die…
— Until, at the last moment, another light is noticed.
— It appears to be a rescue boat—that must have noticed Our Man’s burning lifeboat.
— The boat light approaches… — And just when it looks like Our Man is sinking into the abyss…
— He starts swimming towards the surface…

Break into Three:
Our Man refuses to die and using whatever energy he has left… frantically swims to the surface…

— Struggling for breath and life, Our Man does everything he can to swim to the boat.
— This is his last chance of survival…
— And to our surprise, when Our Man reaches the surface…

Final Image:
… A HAND appears from the boat and grabs Our Man’s hand.

[Editor Note: There is a spirited debate in the film community: Does Our Man truly survive… or has he accepted death? What do you think?]

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Ben Frahm

About the Author

About the Author: Master Cat Ben Frahm is a screenwriter who was a member of Blake Snyder’s Writers Group and consulted on How to Train Your Dragon. Ben is co-writer of the feature Maybe A Love Story for Warner Bros International, premiering this summer. He is a professor of screenwriting at Syracuse University and also teaches the Save the Cat! online beat sheet workshops and our New York City Weekend Intensive. “If this is your first time selling a script, take some advice from Ben Frahm. Ben has a true gift for concept.” –– Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!® Strikes Back – More Trouble for Writers to Get Into… and Out Of. .

There Are 6 Comments

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  1. Darren Bender says:

    I think the pieces are there to answer Joe Whyte’s question. Although they may not be as loud as we are used to with other, less subtle, experiences. OUR MAN says at the beginning that he is sorry, we then go on to see a complete loner who wants nothing more than to be alone and away from everyone else. Even at great risk. By the end he realises that he needs others and from his note (written at the climax but read out at the beginning) we see that he wishes he had connected more with his loved ones / family. In a film (almost) entirely without dialogue, we have to look a little harder for the moments we are so used to getting in confessional speeches. But its there Joe. I felt it and was moved by it. I longed for someone to come along, someone to reach out to him. And they did, finally. Question is who? A fellow sailor, or something else.

    • Joe Whyte says:

      Ah, yes. I get that. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I guess maybe I would have sussed that if I had. Thanks for the info, Darren! I’m intrigued and will definitely see this movie. Plus, I just love Robert Redford in anything he’s ever done. One of my favorite actors.

  2. Kieran says:

    Oh, that was a great breakdown! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I look forward to it. As a kid, I was an avid reader of sea survival stories–my favorite was SURVIVE THE SAVAGE SEA.

    Hmmm…I really want to see it now. And I love/hate endings like that. It reminds me of the ending of the novel THE GIVER.

    Hope everyone has a great 2014!!!


  3. Joe Whyte says:

    I’m kind of doing the “RCA Victor Dog” thing right now and cocking my ear in curiosity. Stories like this one are interesting because they are narratives of events that are catastrophic to the subject, usually ending with some kind of salvation – either he’s saved, or he’s passed into “the light”. But, where is the growth? Where is the change? How is the character transformed – and by that I mean what is his arc WHILE he’s still alive? You could say the transformation is from life to death. I get that. But shouldn’t there be some kind of inner journey for the character while he’s fighting to survive? He starts out bad, has a revelation, and changes – kind of thing? Where is the dramatic circle? I would love to hear what Blake would say about this!!!

    • BCole says:

      Your questions exactly reflect the problem I had with the film. He’s not an engaging character: rather dour and inexpressive as he copes with crisis after crisis (except for that one shouted expletive). The film played more to me like an example of Murphy’s Law than a story of the struggle to survive. I felt his character had no arc at all. I realize I’m pretty much alone in this opinion, and given the time frame, doubt this comment will even be read — but I wonder what you all think now that you’ve (probably) seen the film.

  4. JD says:

    All is Lost would be at 71, when he realizes his water’s tainted. He finally screams an expletive.

    The raft doesn’t burn until the last few minutes of the movie.