Title: Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs To Know
Author: Todd Klick
Aspiring film writers and fans alike have always wondered what elements the most accomplished screenwriters include in their scripts to make their movies a success. Todd Klick, a screenwriter, producer and Vice President and Directory of Story Development for White Oak Films, has released a new book, ‘Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs To Know,’ chronicling the most important characteristics all movie should include to become effective. The author became inspired to pen the Michael Weiss Productions paperback after breaking down the most critically and financially successful films of all time to help himself become a better screenwriter. Klick’s in-depth analysis of over 40 movies will not only guide up-and-coming screenwriters skillfully structure their films, but will also give viewers a better understanding and appreciation of what helps drive a story.
‘Something Startling Happens’ offers a 120 minute-by-minute breakdown and never-before-seen look into the beats that make all successful films prosperous and influential. Klick developed short phrases to describe each movie’s style commonality. He backed up his findings with examples from various genres, including horror, comedy, action and crime, over a 60-year time span. The films Klick discusses, including ‘Halloween,’ ‘Knocked Up,’ ‘Die Hard’ and ‘The Godfather,’ garnered critical and/or box office success. He also focuses on famed writers and directors, including Sam Raimi, Judd Apatow and Francis Ford Coppola, who all bring their unique and diverse style to their craft, but also use the same techniques and minute-by-minute story rules as independent filmmakers.
Klick took a risk in spoiling the audience’s enjoyment of watching films by writing an entire book that focuses on the extensive process that adheres to the universal minute-by-minute sequence. But using his screenwriting background and knowledge to do extensive research into what makes films intriguing, compelling and thought-provoking minute-by-minute gives movie fans a greater appreciation of the art of filmmaking. Klick skillfully describes every minute-by-minute beat in a simple, yet meaningful, way that makes readers want to instantly re-watch their favorite movies to see if they can catch the characteristic on their own.
One of the more fascinating aspects of ‘Something Startling Happens’ is the writer’s consistent, tireless set of examples for each beat he describes. For example, in minute eight of every successful film, something startles one of the characters, usually the hero, which in turn startles the audience. Klick used the title he gave to the minute eight beat, Something Startling Happens, for the heading of his book because viewers need an immediate jolt to keep them interested in the story. Some of the examples Klick uses to demonstrate the minute eight startling beat include ‘The Sixth Sense,’ in which Vincent Grey surprises Dr. Malcolm Crowe with a gun and shoots him; ‘Juno’ shocks audiences by having its title character frightens her friend Paulie when she tells him she’s pregnant with his child; and in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ the crumpling temple startles Indy.
‘Something Startling Happens’ is also a commendable book for new screenwriters looking for a helpful resource on how to start the writing process. The book gives an easy to understand guide to continuously surprise viewers, even during the most mundane sequences that don’t feature any physical or emotional action. The minute-by-minute guide also helps writers build the tension for important upcoming scenes, and how to best play on that tension.
Klick also offers a resourceful glossary at the end of ‘Something Startling Happens’ to help writers develop their script, work with other writers, pitch a spec and shoot and produce a film. The glossary features typical elements of a film that everyone is familiar with, including Attension!, during which a plot immediately grabs hold of viewers’ attention in Minute One by including tension. It also includes beats that not everyone is aware of, such as Minute 46’s The Revelation, which comes in four forms-revelations that rock the hero’s world, or revelations about either the hero, the ally or the villain. The surprising revelation, for which clues leading up to the event are subtly included in the 45 minutes prior, greatly alters the course of the plot.
With ‘Something Startling Happens,’ Klick successfully accomplished his mission of sharing his knowledge of how to structure screenplays with other writers. While he initially started the book to help with his own scripts, Klick made the right decision to share and explore the minute-by-minute story beats that help make films successful. Not only will movie fans come to appreciate their new-found knowledge of how a script develops, it also grants new writers access on how to structure scripts to make them thrilling, interesting and most importantly, startling.
Written by: Karen Benardello