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Save the Cat!® Podcats: When Should You Know Your Theme?

By on March 2, 2018 in About the Beats, Podcasts, Tools with 10 Comments


stcpodcats_605x480pxDo you need to know your Theme Stated Beat before you start writing? What does the theme do? What is its purpose? The answers to these questions… and more!… can be heard in this instructive podcats from Master Cat Naomi Beaty.

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Naomi Beaty

About the Author

About the Author: Naomi Beaty, a screenwriter and script reader in Los Angeles, teaches our online beat sheet screenwriting workshops, our in-person weekend intensive workshops, and hosts our STC! podcasts. Visit her online home and get access to the new library of downloadable screenplays and screenwriting resources. .

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  1. Joe Beatty says:

    I heard Paul Schrader give a lecture on screenwriting at the Academy in which he said when he wrote the early drafts of TAXI DRIVER, he thought the theme was about a man who was alone. When he did further drafts, the theme became that the story was about a man who WANTED to be alone.

    • Naomi says:

      That’s awesome. And an experience that a lot of screenwriters go through, discovering and narrowing in on the specific meaning of your screenplay through the process of writing it. Thanks for sharing, Joe!

  2. David says:

    Hi Naomi,
    Thank you for sharing this. From what I’ve always been hearing from various writers is that one first needs to write a first draft of the whole story outlining the important part and turns in the story as well as the ending. On my case, I usually have what the story is all about back in my mind but I only write part (the start only) of the draft together with the antagonists and protagonists list outlining their relationships only the dive direct to writing the script.

    On the way, I just find myself retaining the characters only together with the theme of the story, but everything on the flow just comes from my mind while am writing. I never follow my draft, I find myself writing not from the draft (though I usually check it to ensure am not going away from the theme or mixing characters), but directly from my mind.

    Am I heading in the right direction?

    • Naomi says:

      Hi David! I think every writer’s process is different and the most important thing is to keep working, keep moving forward. Whether that’s outlining or writing the draft based on intuition, or anything else. As you push the project forward you’ll learn more and more about how it works, how to make it work, and what it all means. So the bottom line is: keep working and keep learning!

  3. Christina says:

    Hey Naomi, thanks for this insight! As a beginner writer, I’ve drafted a spec screenplay and am storyboarding a new one. My trouble is I have several potential themes and can’t decide on one. I’m concerned about this because sometimes as a moviegoer, I’ve been confused walking out of a movie, thinking, “What was it about? Was it a father-son story, was it about following your dreams, was it about coming to terms with your past…”. Because many ideals were posed with few conclusions made, I didn’t take away much. However, this seems to be the very thing I’ve done in my first draft and again in my new project. Do you think this is a legitimate concern? And what would you do if you had a handful of potential themes to work with?

  4. Naomi says:

    Hey Christina!

    Exploratory first drafts are so common! Don’t feel bad about that at all! I think feeling like you have to “decide” on one theme is also very common — and it’s okay to let go of that too. As the writer and creator of the story, you can build your screenplay to give viewers a particular takeaway (your view on the world), but like a horse to water you can’t force them to take away your exact message. If you do, it’s probably going to come off as really heavy-handed. There’s always going to be some room for interpretation. That’s why, in my opinion, it’s a better strategy to focus your attention and energy on the main character’s arc. That’s the biggest indicator that audiences look to in order to understand the emotional message of the movie, and often that’s an easier thing for us writers to work out. Even when you don’t know what you’re trying to say with the movie, you usually have a good idea of how you want your protagonist to change. Start there, and the rest will follow 🙂

    Hope that helps!


  5. Laurie Titman says:

    In ” The harder, they fall” Humphry Bogart’s wife becomes his conscience. There is the topic of making money and the guilt of getting it by the wrong means. In the beginning, Rod Stieger says about a circus freak boxer, “we’re onto a good thing, here” then asks the out of work Humph to be the press agent, with the question ” how do we crack the safe” So what is the theme.

    • Naomi says:

      Hi Laurie,

      Unfortunately I’m not familiar enough with that movie to comment on its theme. But in general, you can look to the lesson the main character learns or the way in which he/she changes because of the events of the story, to begin to lead you to the theme.

      Hope that helps!

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