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This probably sounds like a rookie's question, but that's okay, I'm a rookie. Can anyone give me a better discription of the use of (beat) in personal direction. The two books on screenwiting that I have give pretty lame discriptions. Thanks
What it means? It's a pause.
The character says one thing, pauses a moment, and then says something
else. It's used a lot in sitcoms, because that little wait for the punchline often makes a joke work better.
From what I understand, a beat is an actor's term that really should not be used in a screenplay because you're telling the actor how to act out his lines instead of describing what their character feels so that the actor can interpret that and put it into their performance. The actor might wait a beat or might not but that's their decision.
I've seen profession screenplays that do use beats but those writers get their stuff read. A writer trying to break in might be penalized for such usage.
I've always heard that trying to tell an actor how to act is a sure sign of a beginner.
Sorry about the typos.
The term "beat" is not the exclusive province of the actor. The term came into being when the famous Russian acting teacher, Constantin Stanislavsky would ask his English students to wait a "bit" before saying their next line or performing their next bit of business. However, with his thick accent, the word sounded like "beat" and stuck in the actors lexicon.
But in a script, the term beat helps relay the ebb and flow of a scene. It helps the reader visualize a change in tone, a transition in thought or a revelation upon the part of the character. There are certain die-hard acting teachers who recommend that actors cross-out these stage directions, but so be it. As writers we're interested in the reader "getting it," and if that means usually the word "beat" on occassion, then more power to you.
Joan said it best, and Daryl has a point as well as the other guy.
Joan's definition is good, but I would like to add that you can use a beat in your action.
Joan slowly moves to the box. Should she or shouldn't she? She rests her hand on the lid then takes a beat before
Eric shoots through the door and catches her red-handed.
As it was mentioned above, use these directions sparingly and only when it's absolutely necessary.
If you want to see an excellent example of how 'beat' is used productively in a script, find a downloadable copy of "Basic Instinct" and read it.
When considering format, it's always best to play it safe. Using (beat) will not make anybody say "Wow! What a great idea." But if you use it too much, someone might think you are doing the actor's job for him. Christopher Walken removes all punctuation from his dialogue before learning his lines. How do you think he'd feel about (beat)? The way to play it safe is to use dashes and ellipses (sp?). Example:
My God! You -- You've gone mad!
SUE No . . . No I haven't.
Dashes are used for abrupt stops or interruptions. Ellipses are used for, well, everything else. This is the way it has been done for centuries in all forms of literature. Still another way of doing it is to put your direction strategically between lines of dialogue where you want a beat. If I'm clueless about this, somebody stop me.
I've never read a screenplay where I thought, "Gee, this writer should add more beats." But I've read tons where the technique is overused.
Once in a while is okay, but as stated above, it probably should be used sparingly.
Allen Glazier (AGlazier@Slamdance.com) Director of the Slamdance Screenplay Competition
HEY YOU GUYS/GALS!!!
Take it from Allen Glazier, someone who reads hundreds in not millions of SP's a year!!
Your readers eyes and brain deserve some respect and SUPERFLUOUS (Beat)'s tend to inspire a different type of pounding. Like on the writer's head after the hundreth un-needed pointer!
Also read the use of BEAT in the Sixth Sense script.
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