Story to Screen

Learning Objective: 
to understand the processes involved in 
planning and creating a 

Success Criteria:

AO3:  plan and construct a screenplay using appropriate technical and creative skills
AO4:  undertake and apply appropriate research.

Story to Screen

Story - Beat Sheet - Screenplay - Shot List - Storyboard

 Read the Coyote Tale.
  • Group 1
    • A narrator will read the story aloud whilst the two actors do what the narrator read. They do not use language, they just act it out.
  • Group 2
    • Act out the story without a narrator. Use voice and action to communicate all the important information from the story.
Which is more effective?

A screenplay gets the story across with dialogue and action. Your screenplay should keep narration to a minimum.
 A Coyote Tale from the Pueblo Indians

Once, when the Earth was an empty and barren place, Thought Woman called on Coyote and asked for his help. “Coyote,” she said, “I want you to carry this satchel far to the south, and whatever you do, do not open it.” Coyote placed the satchel on his back and traveled through the desolate Earth for a long while. Eventually, he grew hungry, and there was no food around. Hoping to find a snack, Coyote took the satchel from his back and opened it. Immediately, bright, shining stars flew wildly out of the sack and straight up into the dark sky. Coyote was frightened. Thought Woman scolded Coyote, “Coyote, you have disobeyed me. From now on, you will suffer with a toothache and howl in agony all through the night.”

Story: Idea/Outline 
(Character + Want) x Obstacles = Story 

In the most basic form, stories have a beginning, middle and end (with a 'hero').
Can you break these comics into the three components?

Another way to look at story is by examining it as a syllogism, a three-part form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two propositions (or premises). 

An apple is a fruit. All fruit is good. Therefore, apples are good. 


If Mary is a girl, and all girls play tennis; therefore, Mary plays tennis. 

Major Premise:        If Mary is a girl, 

Minor Premise:       and all girls play tennis; 

Conclusion:             therefore, Mary plays tennis. 

The conclusion is reached logically based upon the premises that set it up. Of course, it is easy for us to see that the second premise is flawed because NOT ALL girls play tennis. We always must be careful that our premises our sound. 


A Beat Sheet breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, 
each with a specific goal for your overall story.

The basic Beat Sheet for all stories follows these lines...

Act One Introduce protagonist, hook the audience, and set up the story conflict (foreshadowing, establishing stakes)
Inciting Incident What event launches the characters toward their first dilemma?
End of the Beginning What event forces characters to make a choice?

Act Two The protagonist reacts to the new goal/stakes/obstacle, but suffers from one step forward and two steps back
Pinch Point #1 What events add more conflict?
Midpoint What event can reinforce the story’s goals and stakes?
Pinch Point #2 What events add more conflict?
Crisis What event strips the characters of hope?

Act Three The protagonist summons the courage to overcome inner obstacles and conquer the antagonistic force
Climax What event pushes the characters to change?
Resolution What event shows the characters as their changed selves?
Napoleon Dynamite Beat Sheet


Napoleon (Jon Heder), a lethargic loner in a small Idaho town, is introduced to newcomer Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who quickly becomes his best friend. (00:08:35)

2. LOCK IN (End of Act One)

When Napoleon's grandma breaks her coccyx in a dune bug accident, Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) shows up to look after him and his brother. (00:21:34)


After Pedro asks out Deb (Tina Majorino), the girl that Napoleon intended to go to the dance with, he is encouraged by Pedro to use his drawing talent to woo a girl, so Napoleon draws a horrendous picture of a classmate named Trish and invites her. The girl’s mother feels pity for Napoleon, forcing Trish to accept Napoleon’s invitation. (00:42:53)

4. MAIN CULMINATION (End of Act Two)

Uncle Rico, trying to make money off another one of his scams, tells Deb that she could use some of the breast enhancement drugs that he’s selling, and to persuade her, he tells her that Napoleon agrees. Deb, completely offended and heartbroken, calls Napoleon and calls him a shallow person and recommends he take some breast enhancement drugs. (1:12:46)


Pedro's opponent in the school presidential race, a prom queen type girl named Summer (Haylie Duff), dominates her speech and sketch in front of the whole school. Pedro is left hopeless and gives a broken man's speech and with no sketch ready, clearly headed for failure. Just then Napoleon bursts through with a surprise dance that blows everyone away. (1:21:11)

For films, here is a more advanced Beat Sheet that considers visual impact:

Opening Image
– A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.

Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.

Catalyst – The moment where life, as it is, changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.

Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.

Break Into Two – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.

B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.

The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.

Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.

Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.

All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.

Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.

Break Into Three – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.

Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!

Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

Example: Taylor Swift Video & Beat Sheet

Plot the Beat

Watch the following and plot the Beat Sheet for each.

1) Black Hole
2) Spider
3) Foxed
4) Blood on my Name

Plot the Beat Sheet

Write up your original scenario idea as a Beat Sheet.


Screenplays are traditionally written on 8 1/2" x 11" 3-hole punched paper*. A page number appears in the upper right hand corner (in the header). No page number is printed on the first page. The type style used is the Courier 12 font. The top and bottom margins are between 1.25cm/0.5" and 2.5cm/1". The left margin is between 3cm/1.2" and 4cm/1.6". The right margin is between 1.25cm/0.5" and 2.5cm/1".

The extra inch of white space on the left of a script page allows for binding with brads, yet still imparts a feeling of vertical balance of the text on the page.

The Courier 12 font is used for timing purposes. One script page in Courier 12 roughly averages 1 minute of onscreen film time. Experienced readers can detect a long script by merely weighing the stack of paper in their hand. 

At its heart, a screenplay is a blueprint for the film it will one day become. It is crucial to remember that film is primarily a visual medium. As a screenwriter, you must show what's happening in a story, rather than tell. The very nature of screenwriting is based on how to show a story on a screen, and pivotal moments can be conveyed through something as simple as a look on an actor's face.

* US Letter size measures 8.5 by 11 inches - or 216 mm x 279 mm, which is smaller than A4. US Letter size is a recognised standard adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) whereas the A4 is the International Standard (ISO) used in most countriesIt is fine to use A4 size paper for your script.

Screenplay Elements
Scene Heading
Indent: Left: 0.0" Right: 0.0" Width: 6.0"

A scene heading is a one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene, also known as a "slugline." It should always be in CAPS.

Example: EXT. WRITERS STORE - DAY reveals that the action takes place outside The Writers Store during the daytime.

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When a new scene heading is not necessary, but some distinction needs to be made in the action, you can use a subheader. But be sure to use these sparingly, as a script full of subheaders is generally frowned upon. A good example is when there are a series of quick cuts between two locations, you would use the term INTERCUT and the scene locations.

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The narrative description of the events of a scene, written in the present tense. Also less commonly known as direction, visual exposition, blackstuff, description or scene direction.

Remember - only things that can be seen and heard should be included in the action.

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When a character is introduced, his name should be capitalized within the action. For example: The door opens and in walks LIAM, a thirty-something hipster with attitude to spare.

A character's name is CAPPED and always listed above his lines of dialogue. Minor characters may be listed without names, for example "TAXI DRIVER" or "CUSTOMER."

Indent: Left: 1.0" Right: 1.5" Width: 3.5"

Lines of speech for each character. Dialogue format is used anytime a character is heard speaking, even for off-screen and voice-overs.

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A parenthetical is direction for the character, that is either attitude or action-oriented. With roots in the playwriting genre, today, parentheticals are used very rarely, and only if absolutely necessary. Why? Two reasons. First, if you need to use a parenthetical to convey what's going on with your dialogue, then it probably just needs a good re-write. Second, it's the director's job to instruct an actor on how to deliver a line, and everyone knows not to encroach on the director's turf!

Placed after the character's name, in parentheses

An abbreviated technical note placed after the character's name to indicate how the voice will be heard onscreen, for example, if the character is speaking as a voice-over, it would appear as LIAM (V.O.).
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Transitions are film editing instructions, and generally only appear in a shooting script. Transition verbiage includes:

As a spec script writer, you should avoid using a transition unless there is no other way to indicate a story element. For example, you might need to use DISSOLVE TO: to indicate that a large amount of time has passed.

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A shot tells the reader the focal point within a scene has changed. Like a transition, there's rarely a time when a spec screenwriter should insert shot directions. Once again, that's the director's job. 

Examples of Shots:

Example Script to Screen

Have a look at this screenplay excerpt from Gone Too Far (Ekaragha, 2014, UK) then watch the actual scene from the film. Compare the screenplay to the film - what differences are there and why do you think they were made?

Here, the director, Ekaragha, talks about bring the page alive and the decisions made in the filming process.
Knowing that some changes have to be made on set is ok.  
Having a good script and a clear storyboard will ensure your narrative stays on track and will allow you to be flexible as and when you need to be.

Thinking visually and bearing in mind that your purpose is to entertain, what considerations are there in adapting a story from its original form for the screen?

You need to be thinking not only about practical considerations, such as how do you film what was previously just on the page, but also bigger issues such as representing the lives of real people without sensationalising or upsetting them.

Amongst the things you should be thinking about issues around:
        • casting actors
        • visualising locations
        • fidelity to the original or dramatic licence
        • legal constraints and relevant permissions
        • possibility of causing emotional disturbance
        • the purpose of what is being made
The casting and visualising of well-loved texts often causes controversy, for example re-makes of existing films or adaptations of novels. Real life events or reimaginings can even cause offence. Two recent examples would be the Sainsburys Christmas advert from 2014, which drew upon the story of the cessation of hostilities in the trenches in the First World War for a game of football and the film The Interview, which Sony initially withdrew because of threats allegedly coming from North Korea.


Google Docs
If you want to collaborate on a script, Google Docs is an excellent and easy way  for your team to be able to work on your script even when you are not together. Below are two templates you can use - be sure to MAKE A COPY before editing the template.

Adobe Story

Adobe® Story lets you write screenplays and scripts quickly, use scripts to generate schedules and production reports, and collaborate online. Part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe Story helps production run smoothly from planning through post-production.


Write from any browser solo or with friends. No formatting headaches. There's nothing to install, it's free, and it's easy to use. With Plotbot, you can create private screenplays to work alone or with invited friends, or you can create public screenplays to find new friends. All changes are tracked to each writer, and you can revert to prior versions at any time. We handle all of the formatting—you just click the text to edit and write, easy as pie. All you have to think of are great ideas!

Write screenplays, stageplays, AV and more formatted to industry-standards, and get innovative tools like collaborative writing and a complete version history.


A storyboard is a planning document to share and develop ideas and to anticipate potential practical problems. 
It is an important document for ensuring that all elements of the story will work visually.


Using simple lines and stick-figure subjects, sketch each setup in a frame, observing just a few conventions. Indicate subject movement with arrows in the frame. Show zooms by sketching the wide-angle position, drawing a box around the telephoto position within it and adding diagonal arrows to show whether the movement is in or out. For pans or tilts between two distinct compositions, show each one as a separate frame, with an arrow between frames to link them.

The notes that are written below each frame should contain some or all of the following:

Frame number
Sequence ("27") or sequence and shot ("27B)
Action ("John runs past; then he exits frame right")
Camera instructions: ("No pan")
Dialogue: ("JOHN: Come back here with that map!")
Other audio: ("SFX: bullet ricochet")
Visual effects: ("Use bluescreen for the ship composite")


A shot list is a list of every shot in your film from beginning to end. Think of a shot list as the writing on a storyboard, without the pictures. Often shot lists are just quick notes that help you remember everything you need in a particular sequence.  

Though simple lists of shots don't let you pre-test potential setups, they do allow you to systematically verify that you are covering every angle you need. Shot lists also help with organisation and a great way to avoid missing filming key shots. 

Using a shotlist is a great way to improve the planning of your film. It’s an opportunity to sit down and roll the movie projector in your head, imagining what your film will look like on the screen. 

Download the TEMPLATE