Blake Snyder's beat sheet is the de facto standard for structure in Hollywood. In Beat Sheet Break Down, we examine a film and find how it applies to Snyder's definitions of story structure. For more information on Blake Snyder's work, check out www.savethecat.com.
1. Opening Image
The camera flies over a rural country town leading up to a very peculiar house. A spider crawling over the roof reveals that the house is a model and hints at an ill fate for the inhabitants. Adam Maitland gently picks up the spider and tosses it out the window. The spooky doesn't faze him one bit.
2. Theme Stated
Barbara tells Jane, "That's what we want, a little peace and quiet". Adam and Barbara Maitland just want a quiet and peaceful existence.
Adam and Barbara are a happy couple and very much in love despite the dark cloud of a recent miscarriage that hangs over their relationship. They live up on a picturesque hill overlooking a picturesque New England town. Owners and operators of the local hardware store, they fill their free time with hobbies like ever-improving their house and building a scale model of the entire town they live in.
The story starts on the first day of a two-week vacation, a vacation they are planning to spend together at home. Jane, a nosy and clueless real estate agent keen to unload their property on some rich New Yorkers, is the first interruption to their quiet and peaceful vacation.
The second interruption is a small dog who forces them to careen through a covered bridge to avoid killing it. (Danny Elfman's giddy score marks their crash with the orchestral version of a sad trombone.)
Adam and Barbara return home, a bit disoriented but seemingly none the worse for wear. Slowly, they come to realize that the car crash was fatal and they are both dead, their spirits unable to leave the house. Barbara isn't entirely happy as the house is increasingly dusty, but Adam won't be deterred. This is the peace and quiet they've been asking for and being dead doesn't seem like too big a price to pay for it.
Adam reinforces the theme, telling Barbara, “Honey, we’re dead. I don’t think we have very much to worry about.”
The Maitlands are slowly getting a handle on being dead when their house is invaded by a family of New York yuppies (and their interior decorator, Otho) intent on turning the house into a museum for their tacky art-and-designer lifestyle. The Maitlands' dream of peaceful time together disappears as wife Delia Deetz and Otho tear through the house spray-painting their plans for renovations on the walls. Her dopey husband Charles, fresh off a New York nervous breakdown, is ferociously set on relaxing and insists that's what he's doing as he anxiously twitches about the house praising its rustic charm. The only member of the family who isn't completely out of her mind is daughter Lydia, a morbid child whose funeral garb and standoffish attitude hide a genuine interest in and kindness for the world around her.
Adam and Barbara are trapped with the New York family from hell and are in no position to ask them to leave. Options seem slim.
6. Break into Two
"There's a word for people in our situation," Adam reminds Barbara, "Ghosts!"
7. B Story
Adam and Barbara engage in a campaign to scare the Deetzes out of their house.
8. Fun and Games
The Maitlands aren’t the type of people who can be menacing. Whether they're setting up boy-scout haunted house level scares (that nobody can see anyway), cutting holes in Delia's designer sheets to make "death shrouds" or employing their powers of possession to stage a choreographed dance routine to Harry Belafonte, Adam and Barbara are fundamentally sweet people who simply can't be scary.
They do however manage to attract the attention of little Lydia Deetz. Lydia feels a kinship with The Maitlands, expressing herself in the gothiest way possible (before goth was a thing): "The living tend to ignore the strange and unusual," she tells them, "I myself am strange and unusual."
Barbara and Adam find themselves returning the affection. Largely neglected by her self-obsessed guardians, Lydia quickly takes the place of the child that they never had.
Unable to get rid of the family on their own, the Maitlands summon Betelgeuse, a "freelance bio-exorcist" who specializes in scaring the living out of houses. The film gets an adrenaline shot courtesy of Michael Keaton.
10. Bad Guys Close In
Betelgeuse takes a stab at scaring The Deetzes. Unfortunately, all the paranormal activity in the house only piques their interest more.
Delia hopes to use the ghosts to move herself upward in the art world, and Charles wants to build an entire business around the spooks that inhabit the house. If he can sell the idea, he hopes to take the same unapologetic tackiness that the family brought to the house and apply it to the entire town (with such attractions as an insect zoo and architecture designed by the same guy who "gave us the talking Marcel Marceau statue").
11. All Is Lost
Adam and Barbara have it worse than when they were simply dead. They have to choose between doing parlor tricks for yuppies and turning their town into a tacky tourist trap or silently waiting out their 125 years trapped in the house tolerating whatever wackos Jane sells the house to.
Lydia is just as lost. Having watched her guardians plan their futures around exploiting her only friends, Lydia is contemplating suicide. At least that way, she can be with the only souls who actually care about her.
12. Dark Night of the Soul
Adam and Barbara are with Juno, their case worker, who is fed up with their inability to behave like proper ghosts. The conclusion is that the pair will have to let go of their sweetness and be truly nightmarish if they want to get rid of the inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Lydia crosses paths with Betelgeuse, who wants her to summon him so he can wreak havoc on the house again.
13. Break into Three
Adam and Barbara transform themselves into ghoulish versions of themselves and prepare to let loose on the house.
- Gathering the Team - Seeing Lydia summoning Betelgeuse, Adam and Barbara stop her and talk her down from suicide.
- Executing the Plan - The Maitlands decide that it's best if they just live together as peacefully as possible and keep Betelgeuse out of the picture.
- The High Tower Surprise - Fearing a no-show on the part of the ghosts, the Deetzes employ the help of their interior decorator. He summons their souls in a theatrical display meant to impress some potential investors. What Otho doesn't realize is that doing so will kill them and send their souls to soul hell.
- Dig, Deep Down - Lydia forms an alliance with Betelgeuse if he promises to help Adam and Barbara. His terms are that she has to marry him if he's going to help her. She agrees.
- The Execution of the New Plan - Betelgeuse holds up his end of the bargain and gives Adam and Barbara back their strength. They use it to defeat him and bring peace to the house.
15. Final Image
The Deetzes are no longer interested in exploiting the ghosts and instead use them as inspiration for their work and art. Lydia is good friends with Adam and Barbara, who are now using their powers of possession for ... What else? Choreographed Harry Belafonte dance routines.