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The Five-Step Finale

By on December 17, 2007 in About the Beats, Today's Blog

My 15-point beat sheet is proving to be the secret weapon of storytellers everywhere.

One person explained the success of this and other Cat! tools by relating a key moment in the evolution of the sport of scuba diving.

Huh?

That’s what I said when he told me.

But what my friend went on to explain makes total sense.

Up until the 1960s, he said, scuba diving was considered too intimidating for the average person. You had to be a Navy seal, or a millionaire, to participate. Then two guys developed what became known as the PADI method (Google for further info) that changed all that. Thereafter both grandmas and little kids could take a 30-minute lesson at Club Med and soon be in the swim. The method makes scuba diving open to everyone via its simplicity, and mostly — it takes the fear out of it!

That’s what Cat! has done. Screenwriting doesn’t have to be the Temple of Doom. You don’t have to be a Jedi Master to enjoy it. And Cat! does not boom at you with the stentorian warning of: You’ll never be good at this, consider yourself lucky to even be here!

We say: Welcome! Bien venu! Come on in!

The water’s fine!

In my now much-touted beat sheet, point #14, however, may seem a little too simple. I call it “Finale” and in the book I suggest you use it to finalize the arc of your hero and “sum up all your B, C, and D stories.” (Well, thanks a pantload, Blake!)

But in teaching Cat! classes these last two years (Happy Anniversary to those of you who began with me in Christmas 2005 — one of whom sold a big spec in 2007!), I realize I’ve had a little trick all along that I should have disclosed in the book.

I call it “The Five-Step Finale.” And I use it all the time.

For those of you wondering how to end your story, and what needs to get done in Act Three, try this:

Think of every Finale in terms of “storming the castle.”

Step 1: The hero, and the hero team, come up with a plan to “storm the castle” and “free the princess” who is “trapped in the tower.”

Step 2: The plan begins. The wall of the castle is broached. The heroes enter the Bad Guys’ fort. All is going according to plan.

Step 3: Finally reaching the tower where the princess is being kept, the hero finds… she’s not there! And not only that, it’s a trap! It looks like the Bad Guy has won.

Step 4: The hero now has to come up with a new plan. And it’s all part and parcel of the overall transformation of the hero and his need to “dig deep down” to find that last ounce of strength (i.e., faith in an unseen power) to win the day.

Step 5: Thinking on the fly, and discovering his best self, the hero executes the new plan, and wins! Princess freed, friends avenged, Bad Guy sent back to wherever Bad Guys go when they are defeated (Two Bunch Palms?) — our hero has triumphed.

This 5-step sequence can be seen in Gladiator, Die Hard, Star Wars, and recently in Enchanted. But in truth it is the basis of many finales. It doesn’t have to be an action hero or involve a castle to work. But it’s a quick way to find what your story is really about! As I say in the article I wrote for Writers Store called “The Moment of Clarity,” all stories are about being touched by the transforming power of the divine, and the Five-Step Finale is a quick and easy way to synthesize that.

Try it and see! And happy scuba diving! I mean… screenwriting!

p.s. Saw I Am Legend Friday at The Grove in Los Angeles! And there is a moment right up front when star Will Smith actually saves a cat! (Even though the cat is the lion cub of a predator who wants the deer good Will is hunting, it’s in there for only one reason: to show why we should like the hero!) So here’s the deal, if you go to I Am Legend this Christmas, I want all Cat! fans upon seeing this beat to yell out as loudly as you can: “Save the cat!” Please write and tell me in this comment section how it goes. And btw, refunds will be happily provided by moi if this causes you to be kicked out of the theater!

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Blake

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About the Author: Read about Blake here. .

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  1. Lippyone says:

    Hmm…I saw I Am Legend this weekend and remember the scene being:
    1- Will Smith’s character chasing the deer
    2- a Lioness getting to the deer before Will Smith
    3- for a moment Will Smith considering killing the lioness and deer
    4- a moment later a lion showing up in a not so good mood
    5- Will Smith retreats

    I could be wrong…but I remember the scene reinforcing (in me) a sense that this world was a dangerous place. For me the Save The Cat scene was (moderate SPOILER ALERT) when he chased after his dog Sam into a hive. It served the dual purpose of showing Robert Neville (smith) as being human and reinforced that he had no human contact for many years- this dog was his only real friend. I’ll watch again when the DVD comes out and I promise to yell either- Save the Cat or Save the Dog 🙂

  2. Blake Blake says:

    <p>IMHO I think Will holds off killing the lion because the predator’s mate wanders onto the scene with her cub. Will chooses not to shoot because the lion has a family — setting up the theme of his own story as well! But mostly we think: What a nice guy! Identical to Al Pacino in <i>Sea of Love</i>. From that moment on, we are rooting for the hero. Unlike the scene you cite, which I think is plot-driven, the only reason for this is to provide a “Save the Cat!” beat.
    </p>

  3. Lippyone says:

    Actually you’re probably correct. I think I misunderstood you…I thought you were implying he didn’t shoot the Cub because the Lion wandered into the scene…but looking back the sequence of events was:
    -Will sees lioness w/ deer
    -Will considers shooting lioness and deer
    -Lion roars onto scene, cub trailing along
    -Will reconsiders and backs away

    Will is calm throughout implying he was in control- and after all he had an automatic weapon. So while I don’t remember feeling that way at the time (or observing the Cub), I think you are right Will saw the family and chose not to act (or kill) and it was a save the cat moment.

  4. Joe says:

    My favorite STC moment is still the one you mention in STC1 – Pacino in “Sea of Love” when he’s doing the “baseball breakfast sting” and tells the father/stingee with his young son, “I’ll catch ya later.” wink-wink.

    I always think of this moment when I’m looking for one for my story. So archetypical!

    jw

  5. Blake Blake says:

    Saving a child, or just being considerate of one, is a nice primal quality we all respond to. The last time I yelled “Save the Cat!” in a crowded movie theater (yes, it’s true!) was at a screening of Cinderella Man when Russell Crowe offers his last slice of bologna to his hungry Depression-era child. Only one reason for that scene too: to give us a rooting interest in Russell later when he is slugging away in the boxing ring with Max Baer.

  6. Garrett says:

    I saw I Am Legend this weekend, and I’d have to agree. Will could have easily taken out the lions. He had an assault rifle and plenty of ammo and training to kill them before they even got close. But he decided not to.

    Also, if memory serves me correct, he thought about shooting the lioness and lowered his weapon before papa lion showed up with family in tow. When he did show up, he raised the weapon again in a knee-jerk reaction sort of way. Then he lowered it again. So yeah, it’s definitely a Save the Cat moment.

    I do have a question about STC moments being stand-alone scene’s vs. part of a scene that moves the story along. In the scene that Lippyone mentioned when he followed Sam (the dog) I can see it being looked at as STC, but to me (and my brother) it looked like the Break Into 2.

    My question is, couldn’t the STC moment be part of a story element? I’m pretty hungry so my brain isn’t working right now, but does anyone know of any movies where the STC moment is, for example, the Catalyst? Or Theme Stated? Because I don’t think it would have to be a stand-alone scene/moment with little story advancement other than us rooting for the hero. Couldn’t it be combined with something else?

  7. Blake Blake says:

    <p>SPOILER ALERT — PLOT POINTS OF I AM LEGEND TO BE DISCUSSED BELOW! </p>
    <p>Garrett, great point! As I suggested for <i>I Am Legend</i>, this particular “Save the Cat!” scene also is thematic. Will has lost his own wife and child (as we will see later in the movie) and this scene foreshadows that reveal. Will’s mood that Lippyone sensitively picks up on, may have more to do with being reminded of his family than not having fresh venison for dinner. But it sets up the theme of loss and renewal that will be what the movie is about. A double purpose scene!
    </p>

  8. twilight says:

    This is great stuff.

    What I think would be nice is more about ACT 2 – because I think thats the hardest part.

    Do you have any more here Blake. Like the Finale steps

    Thanks

  9. Thanks, Blake, for the extra info on Finale. I’m ordering STC! Goes to the Movies from Amazon tonight.

    I was wondering, is there a slightly different version of the Beat Sheet for for each of the 10 movie types?

    Thanks for any info you could share with me/us.

    Regards,
    Ronney

  10. Shrader says:

    I did!
    Before I even read this (fantastic) article.
    I saw I AM LEGEND last weekend,
    and when Will Smith decided not to kill the lion because of her cub,
    I said, “He Saved The Cat!”
    Okay, I didn’t scream it,
    but I said it loud enough to annoy the old lady in front of me.

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