I have just come back from a whirlwind tour of bookstores, classrooms and lecture halls promoting my book. And the result of all that work is people are starting to respond to the principles I've set down in it. Save the Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need is now the #4 best-selling book on screenwriting on Amazon! I am very proud of that. And one of the things readers who email me say they like most about the book is my take on structure. I use a 15 beat outline method called The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (aka the BS2) and it works! In the book I even "beat out" one movie, Miss Congeniality, and show how it fits into that structure -- as most movies do. But since that movie is a few years old now, many wonder if the BS2 still applies.
One of the movies I cited this summer when I was using Save The Cat! to teach is Wedding Crashers. The most profitable movie of the summer (produced for $40 million, sold $200 million in tickets) it not only fits perfectly into the BS2, it follows every rule outlined in my book. From concept to title, to genre ("Buddy Love") to story, it satisfies everything I can think of that makes for a solid, well-structured and entertaining screenplay. But the capper to this seeming bit of fluff is that the movie is "about something" -- and something primal at that! This is one thing that MUST be a part of any movie anyone sits down to write.
To satisfy requests to post my "beat sheet" on Wedding Crashers, here it is. Please let me know if this is helpful (email: email@example.com). And if some of the slangy terminology is confusing -- buy my book! We're #4 but shooting for #1!
(A $200 million hit comedy in 15 beats)
Opening Image: Wedding Crashers opens with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson at work as divorce mediators. For a story about weddings this is an interesting place to start. Primally, and spatially, the scene pits a husband and a wife on either side of a table with Owen and Vince between them. Though not the children of this divorce, they are certainly childlike, and as icons of our modern age, they are the result of what happens when children grow up without parents. As we'll see, this has affected their view of marriage and women. Vince and Owen's wacky method of solving the sticking point works however. By the end of the scene, all the husband requests is that Owen and Vince not talk anymore. As opening scenes go, this one sets up the theme -- and the tone -- perfectly.
Theme Stated: In the second scene three things happen. 1. Vince talks to his secretary about Owen's birthday. We learn, comically, that when Owen's parents died, Vince took over that role for his pal. This exposition is buried in Vince's funny, fast-talking patter and the red (very primal) sleeping bag he brings whenever he spends Owen's birthday night with him is introduced -- as is the topic of aging. Birthdays mean growing up -- a process Vince and Owen are trying to avoid. 2. This is also a "save the cat" moment. Vince may be a fast-talking jerk, but he loves Owen and the two have created their own little family unit with Vince as the wacky mentor -- or at least the wacky uncle figure in his life. 3. When Vince states: Marriage is crazy! -- or words like that -- it is the Theme Stated of the film. Is marriage "crazy?" That is what this seemingly silly movie is "about."
The Set-Up: The makers of Wedding Crashers have a problem and it is solved in the set-up. As funny as it is for two adult men to have a hobby of crashing weddings in order to sleep with vulnerable women they meet there -- it's creepy. There is a smarm factor to this avocation of theirs. But the filmmakers are smart and decide to get this out of the way as quickly and as humorously as possible. In the set-up we see the boys crash several weddings posing as the ethnically-correct, though false, members of several wedding parties. And their tricks work. Vince and Owen are masters of this world; they are gunslingers. And they never fail. In slow motion we see the fruits of their efforts as girls fall naked into their beds one after the next. Bang! Another girl. Bang! Another. These aren't just ordinary girls; each is perfect, gorgeous, and eager to have sex -- even though our heroes have to lie through their teeth to get them into bed. Concluding this montage is the perfect endnote -- the Stasis=Death moment -- and it begins when one of the girls realizes Owen doesn't know her name. In the next scene, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (this movie is set in and around Washington D.C. -- another perfect choice!) Owen shares his Stasis=Death moment with Vince. Maybe, he says, they should stop crashing weddings. "We aren't that young anymore," he says. Vince scoffs. A hardcore partier, Vince doesn't want to stop. But there is a sense, as in all good Stasis=Death moments, that this cannot go on. Something must change in their lives or they will spiritually, if not actually, die.
Catalyst: Vince walks in to Owen's office with a call to adventure. One of Owen's heroes, the Secretary of the Treasury (Christopher Walken) is marrying off his eldest daughter. A high-profile wedding, with an amazing array of challenges to "crash" it -- including Secret Service agents -- is catnip for Vince. It is the mother of all weddings. And Vince wants to go. He begs Owen to not hang up his wedding crasher spurs just yet, and join him in the fun.
Debate: But will Owen join Vince for one last crash? That is the debate question of this section of this film. As we have seen in the set-up of this movie, the world labeled "Before," the Thesis Statement of the world "as is" for these two guys, is one of immature, no responsibilities fun. And yet by going on "one last mission" -- and the biggest challenge of their careers -- we sense we are about to leave the "normal" world behind. As nutty as that world is, it is only the hint of the upside-down, Anti-Thesis world ahead.
Break into Act Two: Owen agrees to join Vince. But to get prepared, they do an unusual amount of research. By the time they arrive at the church where the wedding is to take place, they are ready. There is Christopher Walken, and just to let us know how powerful he is, we also see Senator John McCain and James Carville -- power players from both sides of the aisle. Seeing this only stirs Vince's juices even more. And yet! Owen is still not quite into it. But all that is about to change. Owen looks past Christopher. And "she" appears...
B Story: There have been some classic B Story kickoff moments in film, but this is one of the clearest. Owen and Vince enter Act Two, then Owen turns and sees Rachel McAdams and falls in love. And so do we. As funny and well-written as this script is, it takes off with the casting of McAdams. We know instantly why Owen falls in love with her. His relationship with Rachel will be the lynchpin of his change from immature man to "adult." It is where he will be nurtured, where his skills as a wedding crasher will fail him and need to be left behind if he is to survive and grow. It is one of the small miracles of this movie to find an actress that we believe would make a guy like Owen change. Mostly what it does, however, is make Owen want to crash this wedding. On a dime, he is re-invigorated. He has a new goal: Rachel. "Give me that," Owen says, requesting the cheat sheet Vince created to give them background on the wedding. And Vince is pleased.
Fun and Games: Having crashed the wedding, and proceeded on to the reception, our two cowboys don't know it, but they are in way over their heads. The upside down world of Act Two is at hand and is evident from the jump in the Fun and Games section. The tables are now turned on the gunslingers. A hint of this occurs when Owen dances with Walken's oversexed wife who dangles the topic of adultery. We also see Rachel's weird brother, the sexually confused artist that might better fit in The Addam's Family than in one of Washington's most prominent. Small miracle of casting #2 occurs when Vince meets Rachel's sister (Isla Fisher). Even physically, the very tall Vince and the very short Isla make perfect romantic combatants -- for that is what Isla truly is for Vince. She is the funhouse mirror version of the beautiful, long-legged dolls that fell so easily into Vince's bed before. And she's crazy to boot. In their post-coital clinch, Isla announces she is a virgin, and Vince realizes he must leave. Now. But it's too late. Owen has begun to pursue Rachel. Vince, the confident cocksman turns shrinking violet and part of the comedy comes from the fact he did this to himself -- his comeuppance for all his sins as a wedding crasher are about to be visited upon him in spades. The Fun and Games continue when Vince and Owen drive deeper into their deception and agree to go back to the luxurious estate of Rachel's upper class family. There they interact with Rachel's Preppie/Nazi boyfriend whose constant pummeling of Vince in a touch football game adds to the comedy -- remember this was Vince's idea! But Owen still has a mission: Rachel. The Fun and Games continue into the night as Vince interacts with the weird brother, and fends off the ever-lustful advances of Isla -- even at the dinner table. By the next morning, however, the fun is over.
Midpoint: As dawn comes to Hickory Hill, Vince and Owen are at odds. Vince wants to go and will only stay on out of his loyalty to his buddy. A time limit is set. And the stakes are clearly raised. Owen must woo Rachel today or lose her.
Bad Guys Close In: But Rachel's boyfriend, Biff Himmler, is on to our heroes. He smells fraud. In a phone conversation with his buddy, Chip Goering, we see a nice inverted picture of two bad friends. Unlike Owen and Vince, these two are mean and calculating, and we even learn Biff cheats on Rachel and looks upon her as a possession not as one of respect as Owen does. As the day continues, Biff will amp up the stakes; he will actually shoot Vince with a gun while out grouse-hunting. It's clearly getting serious. And a little vicious. And while Owen is getting closer to Rachel, one senses time running out both for him and for his ruse. It comes to an end when Biff, sensing competition from Owen, proposes marriage to Rachel and she is forced to accept. She may love Owen but it's too late to know -- she is engaged.
All Is Lost: Owen is just about to confess his true identity when Rachel's boyfriend does it for him. Who are you? Rachel asks Owen who has been posing as someone he isn't in order to crash the wedding. Owen cannot answer. The "whiff of death" -- the death of identity -- is clear. And the All is Lost covenant is affirmed: Owen is worse off than when this movie started. He's lost the one thing that could save him: Rachel. The two wedding crashers are sent packing in shame. The final insult to Vince is that Isla was lying; she is not a virgin! In fact, she was playing him! Instead of being angry, Vince is impressed. And for the first time we see why: Both Vince and Owen have met their perfect mates. Too bad they've blown it so badly with them. Odds are, as they leave the family estate, they'll never see the girls again.
Dark Night Of the Soul: Lost in the miasma of not being good enough for Rachel, Owen is literally stuck between worlds. And now the specter of the mentor who taught them both (Will Ferrell) is raised. This character is a classic "booster rocket" if ever there was one. And the appearance of Ferrell as the uber-crasher -- who has turned to crashing funerals to meet women -- shows the true death of the soul that awaits Owen if he decides to go that way. Owen is lost and sad... and a little afraid.
Break Into Three: In a reverse of the scene that brought them to Walken's wedding, it is now Owen's turn to try to get Vince to crash Rachel's engagement party. Vince agrees but is no longer into it, and when Owen seeks out Vince after getting beaten up by attempting to crash the party alone, he learns Vince and Isla have been seeing each other and are in fact to be married. True friend that he is, Vince stops by Owen's for Owen's birthday and brings the red sleeping bag with him. Their blood brother friendship is still intact. But will Owen show up as the best man at Vince's wedding?
Finale: Owen does indeed show up for the wedding. And while Vince and Isla are about to tie the knot, he confesses all to Rachel, telling her he loves her. Rachel, like Owen, has never felt comfortable in her family; they are both oddballs who have recognized they are each other's soul mate.
Final image: The four children of dysfunctional families are now united to build a new society. Vince and Isla, Owen and Rachel ride off in a convertible and discuss how they will crash a wedding! The Act Three world of Synthesis is complete. The children of dysfunctional society have created a third way; a new world all four can live in. The heroes have transformed their world by transforming themselves. As they ride off into the sunset, a phallic Washington Monument rises on the horizon and is the Final Image. Long live the Republic! We may be dysfunctional children but we will find a future!
The real happy ending: $200 million in domestic B.O.