"The Last Leaf" Beats & Treatment
Major Beats of Original Story:
This is "the meat"-- what happens in the story that makes the original story work. But not all of it may be important to the screenplay.
- Establish: Artists' Colony, Greenwich Village, 1906, in the grip of an influenza epidemic
- Johnsy and Sue are roommates; Johnsy has had pneumonia but is so weakened that she is still in danger of death.
- Johnsy has fixated on the vine across from her window-- she'll die when last leaf falls.
- Behrman is a failed painter who lives downstairs.
- Behrman learns of Johnsy's fixation.
- Big storm that night.
- Morning: Johnsy insists on looking at the vine.
- Despite all odds-- one leaf left.
- Johnsy stares at the leaf all day.
- Windy that night-- both girls think the leaf will be gone.
- Leaf is still there in the morning. Johnsy learns a lesson, starts to live again.
- Doctor tells them about Behrman dying.
- Johnsy and Sue learn that Behrman got sick painting the leaf on the wall-- his one masterpiece.
This is a model for what you should do on your adaptation: break it down according to what happens in each specific scene.
Notice that I've chosen to compress the action: I've condensed beats 7-11 in the original into one scene in the screeplay-- now, the climax of the story occurs the morning after the storm, not a day later.
Also notice that I've included some questions that you probably want to be thinking about when blocking out these scenes in your mind.
- EXT. GREENWICH VILLAGE - DAY: (Sequence) We follow Sue hurrying home, carrying a canvas, past artists painting on sidewalks, selling paintings, people wearing face masks, etc.
- INT. APARTMENT BUILDING - DAY: On her way in, Sue stops to see Behrman, asks him if he'll come up and pose for her. Establish: he's an aging failed artist, concerned about Johnsy. Sue explains that Doctor says Johnsy's no longer in danger of dying of pneumonia, but she's desperately weak and has lost her will to live. (How do we establish Behrman's character?)
- INT. GIRLS' APARTMENT - DAY: Sue comes in, is very upbeat with Johnsy. Johnsy is lying in bed, staring out the window, Sue asks her what she's looking at, and Johnsy explains about the leaves. Sue is mocking, dismissive, but inwardly frightened. Behrman arrives to pose. Behrman learns about leaf. Behrman is outraged that Johnsy will give up on life so easily. Johnsy is counting as leaves fall. (How do we keep this scene from being visually boring?)
- INT. GIRLS' APARTMENT - NIGHT: A storm rages outside. Johnsy sleeps fitfully. Sue lies awake, terrified for Johnsy.
- INT. GIRLS' APARTMENT - MORNING: Sue doesn't want to open the window shade-- she's sure the last leaf is gone. Johnsy insists-- Sue finally agrees. The leaf is still there! Johnsy suddenly realizes she's been foolish, now she wants to live. (What's the big moment, and how do we make it really big? How do we communicate Johnsy's change of heart?)
- INT. APARTMENT BUILDING - AFTERNOON: Later-- Sue is bustling out-- she runs into the Doctor, tells him of Johnsy's improvement. He's pre-occupied-- he came to see Behrman, who's just died. (What's the final image? Can this scene echo an earlier scene?)