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How Save the Cat! Saved a Web Series

By on November 25, 2011 in Beat Sheets, Success Stories, Today's Blog

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Master Cat! Anne Lower is in post-production on Episode 3 of her new Web series, They Live Among Us. Links to the first two episodes are below. Anne’s too modest to note that these have already led to a bunch of meetings and some stirrings in high places. She informs us today about how the beats figure within each episode — and how the episodes are themselves beats in the serial.

I met Blake when I attended his second-ever Beat Sheet Workshop. A friend had recommended I read Save the Cat!® and I did. Little did I know how much my life would subsequently change.

I devoured each and every word; the usage of the Beat Sheet was an epiphany. Like many other writers, I felt that my work would only be authentic if I created it organically – the result was always either an incomprehensible story all over the place, or crash and burn at midpoint.

I went to the website and discovered the newly launched workshops, booked a ticket to Los Angeles, and off I went.

In one weekend, I took a concept, created a logline, pounded out 15 beats, discovered my Dark Night of the Script, rallied once more into the breach, pounded out 40 beats and pitched my project in front of 10 other filmmakers. Yes, in the old days, we did both workshops, the Beats and what is now the Master Class – in one weekend.

I returned home and wrote my script… only to see the same story line be pitched to Paramount with Anna Farris attached. Off again to another story.

One of the stories that I had pitched was a cheeky satire called Let’s Do Lunch. It was a horror tale about a young screenwriter from the Midwest who arrives in Hollywood, only to discover that the town – and the industry – was being run by flesh-eating cannibals, who dined on extras. I had a great deal of fun with it; however, everyone felt that tales about Tinseltown just didn’t sell. I worked it anyway, and then, turned my attention elsewhere and let it languish in a drawer.

Flash forward to winter of 2008. I had moved to Los Angeles, to follow the dream of writing and making movies. I had been working a corporate job, but found the constant travel to be exhaustive – not to mention an obstacle to producing pages. I called Blake and chatted him up… and to my delight, Blake, BJ, Rich, and Jose invited me into the fold.

I spent the next year in workshops, working with Blake, learning, absorbing and writing, writing, rewriting, rewriting. Wash, rinse, repeat. Then came that terrible day in August, the one that I will never forget, the day that my phone rang. It was BJ, calling from the Emergency Room at Cedars Sinai Hospital. Blake was gone.

Flash forward to late summer of 2011. I had wrapped a production and found myself needing a new project. I like to be busy; creative people and too much time on their hands can be a deadly combination. I pulled out my pitch sheet and took a look at what I treatments I had ready to go to board:

Nigerian Scam – (feature) A brash, self-assured game developer finds herself in a race against time when the Nigerian scammers that she baited on the Internet kidnap her fiancée – and give her 24 hours to find him before they skin him alive.

Debutantes – (feature) An outsider finds herself thrust to the top of her high school food chain after she is sponsored for her social debut, only to discover that conformity sucks. In the vein of Easy A.

###

The previous two years had been spent on three projects – one high-concept comedy on infertility, one high-concept creature feature, and rewriting a Golden Fleece tale that Blake had fallen in love with. The latter was being shopped around and would get a lot of interest and momentum, only to see the project stall and go back to zero again and again. The former two simply weren’t me. They weren’t my heart, my soul, my voice.

Frustrated, I drummed my fingers on my desk and glanced around. My email was open, and displayed an inquiry from an animation company, asking about one of my short scripts, if it might make an interesting animated bit. On my left, was my volume of Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Nearby, a pile of old scripts. Let’s Do Lunch was perched on top. I drummed and thought some more… and then the three worlds – short script, Shakespeare, and LDL collided and They Live Among Us was born.

I knew immediately that what I had was not a feature, nor a short, but a serial drama with complex characters and multiple storylines that occur simultaneously, woven around a central story and protagonist. I wanted to see it to fruition, and I knew that I could make this happen if I created it for the internet.

I had never written for television, and especially not in the short form, and so, it was to Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Strikes Back that I turned. Within two days, episodes one through three were out and ready for rewrites.

What I’ve discovered is that the short form contains all of the beats… and also provides a singular or multiple beats for subsequent episodes.

another noirish night in the City of Angels

another noirish night in the City of Angels

Let’s take a look at Episode One – “Pull My Strings.”

Opening Image: The dystopia of Los Angeles – a couple argues in front of their apartment.

Theme Stated: In the Paradise Bar, FATHER BUER counsels his friend – and fallen angel – CAIM, that “All of us are God’s creatures. All of us. Even you.”

Set-Up: At the central watering hole, the Paradise, supernatural beings – fallen angels and spirits – struggle to exist amidst the masses of humanity in the City of Angels.

Catalyst: CRAIG, a down and out lost soul, is approached by LILLITH, an all-American beauty from the Midwest.

Debate: This is a two-layered debate. One debate is within the characters of Lillith and Craig – will she reject him or not? The second is a literal debate between Caim and Father Buer – their eternal conversation, of which we have just heard a small part of (remember, each episode will act as beats for subsequent episodes!).

Break into Two: Again, a double bump. Craig invites Lillith to sit with him; Caim and Father Buer part on the street. Caim begins his journey home…

Fun and Games: Lillith is genuinely interested in Craig. She is shy, sweet… and strangely troubled. Finally, Craig asks her to leave with him. She agrees.

Midpoint: On a rooftop overlooking the skyline, Craig kisses Lillith.

Bad Guys Close In: The kiss turns passionate. Craig lowers Lillith to the ground… and she flips him over, sitting astride him.

All Is Lost: Finally, we learn Lillith’s dark secret. She is a succubus; she drains the life force from Craig in an orgasmic frenzy…

Dark Night of the Soul: Lillith opens her eyes to discover Craig, dead, beneath her. “Oh no,” she cries. “Not again.”

Finale: Heartbroken and alone, Lillith flees into the night.

Closing Image: On Craig. Dead. Alone.

Of course, you probably won’t have a Five Point Finale; however, an episode might be part of a Five Point Finale.

When you consider the series as a whole, “Pull My Strings” is also Opening Image, Theme Stated, and Set-Up for Episode Two: “Fall from Grace,” which begins to unveil the heart and soul of They Live Among Us – the gothic romance of the star-crossed lovers Serafina and Caim… which leads into Episode Three, “Let’s Do Lunch,” introducing the central antagonist and so on, and so on… through two years of episodes, followed by the feature :).

Another consideration is that of character. In serials, I have discovered that the beat sheet can be applied to the journey of characters. Each will have their own Catalyst, Debate, Fun and Games, Dark Night of the Soul, and the rest of these watershed moments of structure.

So, come on outside and let’s play! Bring your buckets and your spades. We’ll build a sand castle together, you and I… and Blake. The beats really do go on.

Interested? Watch They Live Among Us on YouTube and Vimeo! And read my interview on TLAU at Curve Wire.

Want to support TLAU? Join our Kickstarter campaign!

YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/TLAUTheSeries

Vimeo Channel: http://vimeo.com/theyliveamongus

Kickstarter: http://kck.st/vFou5p

Curve Wire interview: bit.ly/rSPnKz

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There Are 8 Comments

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  1. Michael Kurinsky says:

    Great job Anne! You once commented on my first “cat” blog that ” we are the authors of our own story”. You are living proof of that statement! Congrats on all your success.

  2. Nicole says:

    Great piece! And so valuable to see how a short-form, like a webisode can (and should) follow the same structure as a long-form. I love They Live Among Us; congrats on such a fun series and I look forward to following the journeys of the great characters you’ve created.

  3. Annie says:

    Michael, I firmly believe in self-authoring our journeys! Nicole, many thanks for all of your groovy support!

  4. Melody Lopez says:

    Break A Leg! This is awesome. I”ve seen the series and it is very cinematic…I’m totally impressed that you can WRITE it and DIRECT it.. you’re doing an amazing job! WAY TO GO! Keep it up!

  5. speedo says:

    Thanks Anne… I had a similar experience in a Beat workshop 12.06… Blake again suggested that I not pick on Hollywierd… he was right. I am now adapting an unpublished novel and have a production letter of intent waiting for the finished script. I was crushed for a month upon hearing of Blake’s passing. But I picked myself up and became even more determined to obtaining my first sale… My storytelling continues to improve thanks to everyone at Blake Snyder Enterprises… All you guy are my heros… Thanks again… Namaste Speedo

  6. Annie says:

    Melody, thank you as always for your support. The Austin Cats! have it down – the true sense of community, of collaboration that is filmmaking, starting with the story. Speedo, I’m sorry we did not have a class together… but huzzah that you are continuing on! You are the hero – the working scribe!

  7. Captain says:

    Dear Annie,
    You are the best. Your determination is inspiring. Stay in touch as I am sure we can help one another. filmpencil@yahoo.com
    Captain

  8. Susan Modregon says:

    I enjoyed the story of how a phone call at the right time and a messy desk inspired something new. Inspiration is a beautiful thing. Never predictable. I had something similar happen to me. Some years ago I wrote a short story about 2 pages long based on a dream I had. I woke up and started typing and building off it before it could disapate the way most dreams make you forget them. The plot was a kind of MITH with a small 10yr old boy as the protagonist. The dream was actually the ending…

    An alien disguised as a boy the same age swaps bodies with the protagonist in a split second, so the FBI and defence storms in after the alien and one shoots the boy they knew to be the alien, killing the protagonist screaming “No” in the last second cuz there was no time to let them know it was him. He was shot with the alien weapon so his body scatters in a million particles instantaneously. Meanwhile the alien is alive and well inside the protagonist’s body undetected thought to be destroyed. (It’s the twilight zone influence) But since nobody knew the alien had this ability, he was loose on earth reporting to God knows how many on a communicator and that’s where it ended. Like you, I set it aside.

    I had another dream recently that had me writing it out. It reminded me of a sort of “Sliders” plot and looked like it would fit best in TV. But it didn’t feel especially unique for me to build on it right then. Instead I thought back to that other story that came from a dream. And a bell went off and got me thinking, would that story be good for TV? And suddenly that 2 pager looked perfect for a pilot episode. Of course I would have to change my protagonist to the friendly FBI agent the boy especially trusted. Which works great since he comes in on the STC plot of trying to save the boy from the alien after him because he knows too much. But I can see a lot of potential in that start. I already wrote how…

    the FBI agent becomes wise and relizes the alien embodied the boy and escaped in the second episode, and how the alien progresses moving from one body to the next like we change clothes. Killing of course. The press thinks it’s a serial killer. The FBI tracks him but always a step behind. But this series can have different levels of uping the stakes. As it starts we have no idea how many other abilities this alien has. So many more can show up presenting new challenges. We can guess he’s there for reconisance, preparation for invasion. We don’t know if there might be others already on earth or how close they are. So several buddies can start up in various locations.

    But I have no idea how writing for TV works. I’ve heard of shows having staff “writerS” so I’m unclear on if the creator writes every episode or if the staff writers join in. What can you tell me? Not to mention… how does the pay system work, since it’s not selling a single script?
    One last thing that concerns me is THAT BOX Blake mentioned. I mostly write family and fantasy fiction. Alright… I tend to include scifi and fantasy in the same family. But how do you write a Golden fleece and an animated series that strikes me like a darker “Charmed”? Are you ever forced to sit on something because it doesn’t fit in the box your agents want you in? Thanks for your input. You can write me at s.modregon-mw@live.com

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