is a term used to describe the timing and movement of a film. When used within a screenplay
it usually represents a pause in dialogue. When used to discuss the timing of a film a beat refers to an event, decision or discovery that alters the way the protagonist
pursues their goal.
Beats as pacing elements
According to some schools of film theory, beats are specific, measured and spaced to create a pacing element that moves the progress of the story forward. Uneven or erratic beats will be felt by the audience as either slow - usually the most forgettable or often tedious parts of a film - or stretches of film that jolt the audience unnecessarily. Every cinematic genre
has a beat that is specific to its development. Action film
has significantly more beats (usually events) while drama
has fewer beats (usually protagonist decisions or discovery). Between each beat a sequence
occurs. The sequence is often a series of scenes that relates to the last beat and leads up to the next beat.
In most American films the beat will fall approximately every five minutes. 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
- At 45 minutes: Mr. Hadley beats Bogs severely. Event
After each beat 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.
Beats in a screenplay
When the term beat is used in a screenplay it usually refers to a pause in dialogue. This is used to show readers of the script that a moment passes without any character speaking. For example, this scene from the American film Fargo
Things have changed. Circumstances,
Jerry. Beyond the, uh ... acts of
God, force majeure...
What the - how's Jean?
... Who's Jean?
My wife! What the - how's -