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My 1-Page Screenplay Blueprint

And a breakdown of the JOKER screenplay, one of the most compelling scripts I've read this year

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Recently I consulted with a writer and producer team on their dark comedy film project. They were having trouble integrating character arc with plot, so I dug into my files for the 1-Page Screenplay Blueprint, a tool I created a while ago that would make it easier for us to lay it all out. And this tool actually helps with more than just that one specific problem, so I thought I’d share it with you today.

What is the 1-Page Screenplay Blueprint?

The blueprint is a worksheet I put together to provide an overview of a story’s plot, character arc, stakes, and theme – and how they work together – in a one-page, at-a-glance format.

That way, you’re thinking about how those things interact. But at a 40,000-foot-view level, not when you’re down in the weeds.

Stories are cohesive things and all of the pieces have to work together. And no matter which one you’re starting from – plot, character, or theme – the blueprint can help you “do the math” and figure out more and more of the elements, until you have the whole thing in hand.

  • Since it’s all on one page, you’re forced to keep things simple and think in broad strokes – which is perfect in the planning and testing phase.
  • It’s handy to keep the one-page in front of you for quick reference as you continue to develop the story and work it out in more detail.
  • And since it’s just one page and broad strokes, it’s a quick way to test out different story options. You can pencil something in and see if the connections line up properly, or test out a change and see what the domino effect on the other elements looks like.

But most of all, even though it looks pretty simple, the worksheet helps you think through all of the pieces that need to connect at the very foundation of the story so that the plot works and the story has meaning.

The three tracks to complete your screenplay blueprint

There are three separate “tracks” contained in the blueprint. They’re all woven together in the overview but you can also pull them apart and look at them separately:

  • Plot: This track focuses on the external conflict we’re watching on screen.
  • Character: The purpose of this track is to map out the main character’s arc alongside the external plot to make sure there’s a built-in cause-and-effect relationship.
  • Stakes: What’s at stake in the story is vital to making sure the audience cares enough and is invested enough to go along for the ride. This track helps map out not only WHAT is at stake but WHY that matters – something that’s often missing but is EVERYTHING when it comes to creating meaning and the emotional experience.

Three separate tracks, but they’re interconnected. These things weave together to form the cohesive story and should interact with each other in the screenplay. That’s why it’s useful to see it all on one page and to note those key points where there’s connection and reaction.

Here’s what the worksheet looks like:

JOKER: the screenplay on one page

Let’s use the blueprint worksheet to map out the JOKER** screenplay. It’s one of the most compelling scripts I’ve read this year.

**Note: I’m basing this story breakdown on the screenplay, not the movie. I’ll update the post with a blueprint for the movie, since the two are fairly different, especially in their treatment of the main character. But for now, I’m just talking about what’s on the page.

Our three tracks:

  • Plot: Marked in green on the blueprint.
  • Character: Marked in gray.
  • Stakes: Marked in blue.

Breaking the JOKER script down into these tracks, we see:

  • The PLOT track shows us the story of Arthur Fleck attempting to live a “normal” life, but failing. And when he fails, another character is born: Joker. The structure gives us that story through the plot events.
  • The CHARACTER track shows the transformation. Arthur starts as a follower type, someone who is living his life based on others’ standards and rules. But because of the events of the story, he abandons society’s rules and the belief system his mother instilled, and by the end he does whatever the heck he wants. As he does he becomes a symbol for others – essentially a leader.
  • The STAKES track for this script is interesting. What’s at stake is Arthur’s existence. A good story usually also conveys a deeper “why” to help us really feel those stakes. We need to understand why those stakes matter in order for them to feel meaningful. In JOKER, the deeper “why” is less about what Arthur means to himself, and more about what he means to us, to society. Because throughout the movie, we see Arthur let down by people and systems and institutions. Sure – he definitely has problems all on his own. But society’s contribution to his story is also clear.

The way the three tracks work together convey the thematic stuff or big idea or takeaway message of the story — however you like to think about it. Here’s the JOKER 1-page blueprint:

You can download the JOKER screenplay blueprint if you’d like to take a closer look. And here’s a blank blueprint worksheet. Try it out to see if you’re building a cohesive story and to fill in any gaps you find.

ADVANCE YOUR STORY

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