Beat (filmmaking)

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In filmmaking, a beat is a small amount of action resulting in a pause in dialogue. Beats usually involve physical gestures like a character walking to a window or removing their glasses and rubbing their eyes. Short passages of internal monologue can also be considered a sort of internal beat. Beats are also known as "stage business".[1]

The word "beat" is industry slang that was derived from a famous Russian writer who told someone that writing the script was just a matter of putting all the bits together. In his heavy accent he pronounced bits as "beats".[citation needed]

A beat sheet is a document with all the events in a movie script to guide the writing of that script.[citation needed]

Beats as pacing elements[edit]

Beats are specific, measured, and spaced to create a pace that moves the progress of the story forward. Audiences feel uneven or erratic beats. Uneven beats are the most forgettable or sometimes tedious parts of a film. Erratic beats jolt the audience unnecessarily. Every cinematic genre has a beat that is specific to its development. Action film has significantly more beats (usually events); drama has fewer beats (usually protagonist decisions or discovery). Between each beat a sequence occurs. This sequence is often a series of scenes that relates to the last beat and leads up to the next beat.

Following is a beat example from The Shawshank Redemption:

  • At 25 minutes: Andy talks to Red and asks for rock hammer. - Decision
  • At 30 minutes: Andy gets rock hammer. - Event
  • At 35 minutes: Andy risks his life to offer financial advice to Mr. Hadley. - Decision
  • At 40 minutes: Andy notes ease of carving his name in the wall. - Discovery

After each beat listed above, a significant series of results takes place in the form of the sequence, but what most people remember are the beats, the moment something takes place with the protagonist.

McKee[edit]

Stories are divided into Acts, Acts into Sequences, Sequences into Scenes, and Scenes into Beats. Robert McKee uses the word "beat" differently from that described above. He first defines a scene not as action occurring in one place but as action "that turns the value-charged condition of a character's life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance". He describes the Beat as "the smallest element of structure...(Not to be confused with...an indication...meaning 'short pause')". He defines a Beat as: "an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beat by Beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene." Specifically, a scene will contain multiple beats, the clashes in the conflict, which build a scene to eventually turn the values of a character's life, called a "Story Event".[2] He further describes beats as "distinctively different behaviors, . . . clear changes of action/reaction."[3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Browne & King (1993, pp. 102, 106–107)
  2. ^ McKee (1997, p. 35–38)
  3. ^ McKee (1997, p. 38)

References[edit]

  • Browne, Renni; King, Dave (1993), Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, New York: Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-06-272046-5
  • Decker, Dan, Anatomy of A Screenplay, 1988, ISBN 0-9665732-0-X
  • McKee, Robert, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, 1997, New York, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-06-039168-5

Further reading[edit]