The Shawshank Redemption Beat Sheet: Snyder Style

The Blake Snyder “Beat Sheet” (aka BS2) for: The Shawshank Redemption

Director: Frank Darabont

I am going to spoil this movie for those that haven’t seen it. So as a precautionary: if you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption, please stop here. On the same note, if you haven’t seen this film, than there is no place for you in society. Leave.

And for those unfamiliar with the idea of a “Beat Sheet,” enlighten yourself before continuing:

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

The film begins with a dark setting. Andy Dufresne, the main character, the hero so-to-speak, sits alone in his car. It is dark out. He is drinking-already intoxicated- looking into the distance at a small house while a hand gun sits on his lap. We are serenaded by the Ink Spots and the sad, sad blues. This opening image sets the stage for a dark, and heavy film.

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

We cut to a court room where Andy is being questioned by an attorney. He claims his innocence to the murder of his wife and her lover, both were killed the night Andy was sitting in his car outside their house. The judge sentences Andy to “two life sentences,” one for each victim. However, we are left wondering, did he actually kill them?

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.

The theme of this film, as stated in the set-up, is the idea and act of crime. What I mean by this is Andy is sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit, and his wife is accused of infidelity. A pattern of crimes becomes a recurring theme or motif, like that of solidarity and imprisonment, throughout the film.

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.

Andy is sent to prison and spends his first night in the cell. Life as it is definitely changes. Andy meets Red, another prominent character, among others that will shape his life at Shawshank Prison.

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.

A group of homosexuals at Shawshank, known as the Sisters, antagonized Andy for two straight years. They cornered him and beat him up, insinuated sexual favors. Andy never obliged, however, he was given a fair share of bruises. To the point where it is unclear whether he could survive life in prison.

Break Into Two (Choosing Act 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.

Andy befriends the guards while tarring the prison roof by informing the Captain at Shawshank how to save $35,000 without the IRS getting involved. The Captain is appreciative of this favor and allows Andy and his friends some ice-cold beers. Red, Andy, they feel normal again, if only for a second. Andy’s journey now begins as a financial officer for the Warden and the Captain. And so begins Act Two.

B StoryThis 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 motif of crime returns. The B-Story of this film is a double-edged sword: Red smuggling goods for Andy, and Andy laundering money for the Warden. Both are crooks by definition, but both of these sub-plots move the story forward and ultimately give Andy hope at salvation.

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.

Andy builds the prison a new library. He maintains a professional and respectable relationship with the Warden, and it seems that he has not only accepted his new life, but thrived as an inmate at Shawshank. Andy is no Indiana Jones, his journey to escape is clandestine, even the audience is oblivious. But the premise is there, none the less.

MidpointDependent 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.

Andy is satisfied with the library and with his relationship with the fellow inmates. He is even teaching some of them to read/write, and has helped them receive a high school diploma equivalent.

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

Andy discovers, from the help of new inmate Tommy, that he is in fact innocent and the man who killed his wife is behind bars in another prison. When Andy takes this news to the Warden for help, the Warden sentences Andy to soldiery confinement for a month. Essentially live in a black pit of darkness the size of a dog cage. Oh, I almost forgot, the Warden also killed Tommy and threatened to end Andy’s life if he objects to continuing business with the Warden’s sketchy finances.

All is LostThe 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.

Andy has no choice but to obey the Warden’s orders. He goes back to keeping the Warden’s financial books and there is no promise or gratification in this practice.

Dark Night of the SoulThe 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.

Quite similar to the “All is Lost” beat, this is where Andy realizes the Warden will kill him at the drop of a pin or whenever he sees fit. After ordering Tommy’s execution it becomes clear the Warden has no soul, and Andy is, as Snyder so eloquently puts it, “wallowing in hopelessness.”

Break Into Three (Choosing Act 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.

Andy and Red talk about Mexico here and Andy utters the most memorable quote of the film, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Andy regains the hope of escape and formulates his plan.

FinaleThis 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!

This is arguably the best part of the movie, aside from Morgan Freeman’s voice overs, the Warden closes in on Andy. I won’t explain this scene in profound detail because I want you to watch it, so long as I haven’t spoiled the entire film already. Essentially the Warden is on his way to Andy’s cell, rendering up some form of punishment in his head, upon hearing the news that he is missing. Andy has escaped, and has committed his last crime.

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

Opposite the dark and ominous the beginning, the final image pictures both Andy and Red on the beach in Mexico, embracing, happy, bright. Andy has his skiff. Red has freedom. All is well.

Now go watch the damn movie.



  1. Joe · January 23, 2016

    This beat sheet is a valiant effort but it fails to recognize that Red is the main character of the story and not Andy. At first, I thought Andy was the main character but alas no. When I tried to do a beat sheet with Red, it all fits. See if this beat sheet suits you.

    Opening Image: Andy in the courtroom(an innocent man) being demolished by a lawyer The image reinforces the hopelessness that Red feels towards his life and circumstances. If an innocent man can be controlled, what hope is there? This is more in line with the theme and primary question of The Shawshank Redemption: Can a person find hope and freedom in the midst of horrible circumstances and control? Red, in a way, lives vicariously through Andy during the film

    Set Up/Theme Stated: Red is in with the parole board. He is eager to be free and seems to have at least a little hope that he can have a meaningful life after prison. He is rejected. The futile conversation between him and the parole board and his rejection are where the theme is (at least implicitly) stated.

    Catalyst: Andy shows up at Shawshank and Red begins the first step in the new “upside-down” world that Andy creates at the prison. Throughout the film, Andy will be a beacon of hope for Red, constantly challenging Red’s presupposition that there is no hope.

    Debate/B-Story: Andy approaches Red asking for a Rock hammer. This moment determines whether or not he will begin a relationship with Andy. He has several hesitations regarding the rock hammer and Andy’s intent.

    Break Into Two: Eventually he agrees to start a business relationship with Andy and the journey has started. The scenes show Red getting the rock hammer to Andy, indicative of their new relationship.

    B-Story continued: This is tricky and isn’t done traditionally. The B-Story is Red’s relationship with and observations about Andy. Red will continually note either through his voice over monologues or through direct experiences and conversations with Andy, how differently Andy handles himself. While Red feels hopeless to control his situation, Andy always provides Red with a glimmer of hope through his perseverance.

    Fun And Games: This is where everything becomes interesting. Andy does the beer thing with the guards, starts handling taxes and becoming a very unusual prisoner. Lots of entertainment ensues.

    Midpoint: Red is brought before the parole board again. This time, his attitude is worse than before and it is obvious that he is expecting rejection, continuing the theme of no hope. This is the seeming low point for Red.

    Bad Guys Close In: The warden begins his special program and uses it to embezzle money for himself. He includes Andy in this scheme which gives the evil Warden many incentives to keep Andy in line. This will progressively make life worse for Andy, which in turn, makes Red’s situation worse as well since his only sense of hope is tied up in Andy. Eventually, it all catches up as the Warden has Tommy killed and Andy sent to the hole.

    All Is Lost: Andy is finally released from the hole and appears to be completely broken. Andy looks as though he has lost all hope and it confirms Red’s belief that there is no hope. For Red, this is a terrible moment because the one person that provided a glimmer of hope has now reached a state of hopelessness.

    Dark Night Of The Soul: Red wallows in misery during the night before Andy’s escape concerned that Andy will kill himself.

    Break Into Three: The cells are opened, Andy is not there. All hell breaks loose as everyone searches for Andy. After the escape, Red reminisces about Andy fondly but still misses him. Again, Andy proved that there can be hope in the midst of difficult circumstances, but Red has still not completely adopted the philosophy for hiimself. He is brought before the parole board, now with nothing to lose and basically gives the parole board the finger. He is released to the same horrible existence as that of his friend Brooks. However, Red seeks out Andy’s tree and message which reinforces the message: there is hope.

    Finale: Red makes the decision to break parole and begin a new journey, filled with hope for the future. He has been freed from his mistaken belief that there is no hope. He travels to mexico.

    Closing Image: What started as a dark scene showing and innocent man given a horrible, seemingly hopeless sentence, ends with two free men, full of hope and belief.

    • ryanboera · January 24, 2016

      Thoughtful commentary, thanks for the new outlook on a fantastic film!

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