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The Beat Sheet Spreadsheet: Realizing The Screenwriter’s Vision

Posted by on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

If you don’t know what a beat sheet is, then you probably aren’t one of the thousands of people who feel that they are going to achieve fame and fortune with their screenplay. If you are someone who feels that you have an idea for a blockbuster film that Hollywood is just waiting for, go for it. By using an Excel spreadsheet  with a PDF to Excel converter, you can be on the fast track to movie writing success.

Screenplay Writer on the Street

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Do you have a unique concept for a romantic comedy, an action film or a science fiction movie? Getting that idea out of your head and onto the screen isn’t an easy feat. You could just sit down at your computer and start writing, but professional screenwriters know that there is a process.

First you should write a treatment. This can be anywhere from five to 25 pages. It is more like prose, or a short story describing the characters and the storyline.

Sample Script

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From your treatment, you can start writing your screenplay. Even if the story is fantastic, no producer or agent will look at it if the format isn’t correct. You can write your script in Word, but you will waste a hell of a lot of time trying to format it correctly.

You’ve probably seen an example of a script, like the one above, and yours needs to look exactly like that. Most screenwriters use software such as Final Draft or Adobe Story Plus. Adobe has a free version called Adobe Story Free and there are other free programs such as Celtx. The free versions are great, and you should give them a try to see if screenwriting is really your calling.

All that is excellent, but it is difficult to keep track of the ins and outs, the arc of the characters and the plot development, which usually follows a three-act structure.

Excel Beat Sheet

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Many screenwriters use an Excel spreadsheet to make a beat sheet to plan out this part of the screenplay. You can give your cast of characters some background and plan out your storyline. Without this valuable tool, it’s easy to get lost, especially if there are a lot of characters or action. You can also keep an eye on your script length. For a full length movie, it should be around 120 pages.

By using a PDF to Excel converter, you can take information from your script as you are writing and add it to your beat sheet, or vice versa. Of course, you can also use this system if you are writing a novel.

If you are going to send your screenplay to producers, good luck! Sorry to say this, but it will likely end up in the slush pile and probably won’t get read. Your better option is to pitch your screenplay in person. There are events such as the Great American Pitchfest where you can pay a fee and enjoy a few days of screenwriting seminars, networking and most importantly, the chance to pitch your screenplay to agents and producers.

If you want some examples of treatments and screenplays that have become TV shows or movies, check out Simply Scripts.

Screenwriting Format Guidelines

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If you are going to pitch a script, you need a “One-Sheet”. This is literally a one page synopsis of your screenplay. An important component of this page is the logline. This basically describes your movie in one sentence. Sound difficult? Movie types say if you can’t do this, you don’t know what your movie is about. A logline is not the same as a tagline, which is used to promote a movie.

Here is the logline the screenwriter used to describe his Argo script:

A CIA specialist concocts a covert operation to produce a fake Hollywood movie to rescue six American diplomats during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.


If you have to flip through your entire screenplay to figure out a short synopsis, it is going to be frustrating. By keeping track of your progression with a beat sheet, you can choose the parts you want and use the PDF to Excel converter to put them into a Word document. The One-Sheet and treatment are not written in script format.

Good luck! Maybe we will see your vision on the big screen one day!