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E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Beat Sheet

By on September 22, 2017 in Beat Sheets, Buddy Love

et2Written by: Melissa Mathison
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Genre: Buddy Love

Opening Image: A night sky full of stars stretches above a darkened forest.

Men search the forest as E.T. remains hidden on this alien world.

Men search the forest as E.T. remains hidden on this alien world.

Set-Up: Creatures, obscured by the trees, explore the forest’s flora and fauna before being called back to their spaceship, their hearts glowing inside their chests demonstrating their way of communication. One creature, observing the lights of the town beyond the forest, hides from a man with dangling keys (Peter Coyote, with a limp and an eyepatch that will be used throughout the film). When men begin to pursue the creature, he is accidentally left behind as his spaceship escapes.

At home, Elliott (Henry Thomas) is picked on by his brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his friends. In his thesis world, he is an incomplete hero and needs someone to help him grow.

Catalyst: While outside, Elliott hears noises coming from their shed and tosses a ball inside.

Debate: When the ball is rolled back, Elliott flees into the house, trying to tell everyone that something is in the shed. When they go out to investigate, they only find footprints and dismiss them as belonging to a coyote. Elliott believes there is more to it; at night, he hears noises and follows the source into a field. There, he is startled by the creature, seeing it with his own eyes. He runs home, but returns to the forest the next day, attempting to bait it with candy while avoiding the man with the keys. That night, while having dinner with his family, the things that need fixing become evident. Elliott is frustrated that no one will believe him. He upsets his mother (Dee Wallace) by stating that at least his dad, who is in Mexico with his girlfriend, would believe him.

Theme Stated: When Elliott’s mom leaves, his brother Michael says, “Why don’t you grow up? Think how other people feel for a change?” This is what Elliott needs to learn in order to change. If he does not begin to empathize with others, he faces a Stasis = Death existence and is destined to turn out like his father, causing hurt to others.

Debate (Continued): Determined to prove everyone wrong, Elliott sleeps outside the shed at night. The creature returns, placing the candy on Elliott’s blanket.

Break into Two: Using the candy, Elliott lures the creature into his house, crossing the threshold both literally and figuratively.

B Story: Elliott’s relationship with E.T., his counterpart, will help him learn what it means to empathize with others.

During the Fun and Games, the family bonds as they share their home with the amazing visitor.

During the Fun and Games, the family bonds as they share their home with the amazing visitor.

Fun and Games: Having the alien in his home turns it into an upside-down world, an antithesis of what life was like previously. Earlier, Elliott felt like a nobody; now, he has a secret that makes him special. The next morning, Elliott pretends to be sick so he can stay home from school. The promise of the premise is seen as we watch him try to teach E.T., but meanwhile, E.T. is imparting his feelings onto Elliott as well. When Elliott goes to get food for the two of them, E.T. explores household items; when E.T. is startled by an opening umbrella, Elliott feels the same sense of fear and surprise. When Michael and Gert (Drew Barrymore) come home, Elliott shows them the “goblin” he found, further demonstrating their empathic bond, saying, “He won’t hurt you, Gert… We’re not gonna hurt you.” More of E.T.’s abilities are shown as he levitates objects and makes a dying flower bloom. The next day, when Elliott goes to school, he leaves E.T. alone. The alien drinks beer in the fridge, and Elliott becomes inebriated.

Midpoint: While reading a comic strip, E.T. discovers an idea to contact his species. Meanwhile, Elliott disrupts the frog dissection as he realizes he needs to save E.T. A and B Stories cross as Elliott shouts, “I want to save you! I gotta let him go!” Their emotional connection becomes even more powerful as events E.T. watches on television play out in real life for Elliott. However, the plan to “phone home” is a false victory for E.T., as he risks being captured as individuals search for him.

Fresh off the victory at the Midpoint, E.T. and Elliott soar past the moon in this iconic shot.

Fresh off the victory at the Midpoint, E.T. and Elliott soar past the moon in this iconic shot.

Bad Guys Close In: While men in a black van drive up the street, listening in to the homes, Michael notes that E.T. doesn’t look so good, emphasizing that the stakes are raised and the time clocks are ticking. When Elliott cuts his finger, E.T. heals it, and the two share a tender moment listening to Elliott’s mom read to Gert. The next day, Elliott feels E.T.’s internal bad guys of emotions and the flower begins to wilt. E.T.’s breathing becomes labored, but the two take the device into the woods, E.T. causing Elliott’s bike to levitate for the first time. When Elliott’s mom worries and goes to look for him, the man with the keys enters their house. The next morning, Elliott returns home with a fever. He can’t find E.T., but Michael discovers the alien in a stream, near death. He finally shows their mom, and Elliott tells her, “We’re sick. I think we’re dying.”

Moments later, men in NASA suits invade the house, quarantining it. The family is questioned, and Elliott feels E.T.’s fear. Soon, his health begins to improve as E.T.’s fades. In the morning, the flower finally wilts.

All Is Lost as E.T. dies.

All Is Lost as E.T. dies.

All Is Lost: The scientists try to revive E.T., but he dies, the whiff of death signifying not only E.T.’s demise but the end of Elliott’s ability to feel emotions. The theme rings true as we realize that it’s our connections with others that give us life and meaning.

Dark Night of the Soul: As E.T. is packed in ice, Elliott spends time alone with him, saying, “I’m so sorry. You must be dead ‘cause I don’t know how to feel. I can’t feel anything anymore.” Soon, he breaks through and experiences his own emotions, crying, “E.T., I love you.”

Elliott communicates his feelings to E.T., saving their lives.

Elliott communicates his feelings to E.T., saving their lives.

Finale: In Elliott’s synthesis world, he gives in to his emotions and his connections with others. With the help of his brother Michael, Elliott escapes in a NASA vehicle, taking E.T. The authorities chase them, but the boys soon get on their bikes to ride to the forest accompanied by friends. In a high tower surprise, they are almost caught, and the road is blocked. Digging, deep down, Elliott shares his feelings of fear with E.T., and the group flies over the authorities and into the forest. As the ship arrives, E.T. invites Elliott to come, but Elliott wants E.T. to stay. He further demonstrates how far he’s come in feeling emotions, pointing to his heart while saying, “Ouch.” The complication between the two has never been clearer.

Earlier, Elliott didn’t care about others; now, he can’t help but do so. He has been transformed by sharing in E.T.’s empathy.

Earlier, Elliott didn’t care about others; now, he can’t help but do so. He has been transformed by sharing in E.T.’s empathy.

Final Image: After a final hug, E.T. boards the ship as it streaks into the night sky, leaving Elliott behind, broken, but more whole than before.

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Cory Milles

About the Author

About the Author: Cory Milles has been teaching writing for over a decade. In his spare time, he writes Young Adult novels that seek to capture the power of story to transform his readers. When he’s not writing, teaching, or listening to his collection of movie scores, he can usually be found reading more on the craft of writing. He is an editor of Save the Cat!® Goes to the Indies and the author of the Young Adult novels New Miller's Grove, Legacy, Paradox and Redemption and is featured in the book LOST Thought: Leading Thinkers Discuss LOST. .

There Are 8 Comments

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  1. MATT DRURY says:

    What perfect timing, Cory!

    I’m setting up a giant inflatable screen to do a free movie-under-the-stars screening of ET tonight, Fri., Sep. 22 in Toronto. Once set up my daughter and I are going to follow along with your beat sheet.

    For anyone who wants to come watch, it’s at Bob Acton Park, 45 William Hancox Ave, Toronto at 7 pm.

  2. Don Roff Don Roff says:

    Your E.T. beat sheet is out of this world, Cory!

  3. I enjoyed reading this on my birthday (today), precisely 35 years after first seeing the film as a child. A wonderful story and example of screenplay form. It hasn’t lost its magic, even as a beat sheet! Great work, Cory.

  4. Mario E Rodriguez says:

    I’m relatively new to this and I did not get the debate. I thought that the hero must refuse to do or questing something.


  5. Cory Milles says:

    Matt, Don, and Sean: thanks for the comments! Glad you like it! It truly is a great movie.

    Mario: Great question about the Debate beat. Usually, the Debate beat is where the hero needs to “sort out” or confront what has just happened in the Catalyst. It might involve doubt or a type of refusal/unwillingness to address it. But overall, it’s where the hero needs to try to figure out what this all means and how it will change his or her life. In the case of Elliott in the movie, he must question all of the strange occurrences that are happening. He heard a noise in the shed, and when he threw a ball in, it was rolled back to him. The Debate and questioning come into play when Elliott questions all of this… is it an animal? (His family thinks it’s a coyote). Is he going crazy? Is it something more? Will anyone ever believe him? Will he ever find out what it is? Should he? Or should he just ignore it? These are the kinds of questions that happen in the Debate. It might look different in other films, but in this movie, we can see it through Elliott’s actions.

    Great question! The more you watch films and try to break them down into their beats, the easier it gets, and you will appreciate how each film can contain the same basic elements yet be beautifully unique. I recommend checking out the books SAVE THE CAT! GOES TO THE MOVIES and SAVE THE CAT! GOES TO THE INDIES… each one contains an in-depth examination of 50 different films, and they allow you to dig deep into the beats.

    Thanks for reading!

  6. Jason says:

    I’m having trouble categorizing the genre for the movie Super 8 as it seems to embody elements of Golden (Buddy) Fleece, Monster in the House, and Rite of Passage. I was hoping that you could please help clarify it for me. Thanks!!!

  7. Cory Milles Cory Milles says:

    Hi, Jason! This is a great question. I haven’t seen the movie Super 8 in a while, but I will do my best to answer. I agree with you that it has elements of a couple of different genres. In particular, I see MITH and ROP in it, so when I try to discern what genre a movie best fits, I try to look at the Dark Night of the Soul beat or the Dig, Deep Down during the Finale. It is often here where we will see what the genre most likely is. As you’ve said, it definitely could fit MITH; it has a monster (the alien creature), a house (the town), and a sin (the army/scientists experimented on it and didn’t try to understand it). Looking at the ROP road, I can see that it has a life event (death of protagonist’s mother), the wrong way of dealing with it (avoiding it and becoming emotionally distant from his father), and finally, acceptance (embracing the hurt to move on). I am not 100% sure in this case, but I think what J.J. Abrams might have done is combine both genres into something powerful. If you think about it, the sin of refusing to understand the creature on an emotional/sentient level has led to the hurt, and the creature, which we see is able to experience emotion and transfer that onto others, is holding on to that pain. In a parallel way, Joe Lamb (the protagonist) encounters the creature in the tunnels and, when captured, bonds with the creature on an emotional level. Joe tells the creature that even though it has been hurt, that bad things happen, it can still live. So, looking at this Dig, Deep Down moment for Joe, it appears like it might be a ROP story, but perhaps it is wrapped up in a MITH. It certainly is an interesting case study. Perhaps the MITH element and the “sin” leads Joe to his “acceptance” in the end, and without the MITH element of the story, Joe would not have had his moment of revelation. On another level, Joe’s dad sees Alice Dainard’s father as a “monster” because he is indirectly responsible for the death of Joe’s mother at the factory. It might be that encountering a “real” monster in the form of the alien allows Joe (and his father) to come to grips with the “monster” that has caused them pain, and they realize that sometimes, one cannot understand another simply by their appearance and their actions.

    Thanks for the question! I love thinking through things. I’d be interested to hear any other thoughts on the topic, too!