Manusanalyse: "The Beats"

Before you direct yours or somebody else's screenplay, it goes without saying that you need - to know the story inside out in order to get good performances. By using various script analysis techniques you may strengthen your understanding and your directing choices. One of these techniques is by breaking down a scene into beats.

A beat?

So, what is a beat? A beat is sometimes referred to various things in filmmaking. Some talk about beats whenever there's a pause in a scene or a change of emotional mood and other talk about beats in a screenplay as a whole. The original meaning of beats is whenever there's a change of subject in a dialogue or a small action of a scene. A beat is the smallest unit of story telling. Don't panic already, we'll go thoroughly through this with an example in a minute. The value of knowing beats is that you can use them as a valuable tool to develop the flow of the scene and to help you communicate with your actors. They also help you figure out the story structure of each scene which consists of a beginning, a middle and an end. Each scene should be like a mini short story which has a structure. It's important that you can aknowledge that when reading through the scene because if you can't and the scene has no structure or importance it has no place in your screenplay.

The beats of the scene
Since finding beats in a scene is about a change of subject we should be able to be subjective in our little mission. So, let us start by reading through Paul Thomas Anderson's "There will be blood" scene no. 38. Suggested beats have been marked with a red line.

Beat 1: Daniel says "What would you say is a fair price for this lot, Abel?"

Beat 2: Abel says "The Lord has sent you here. The Prophet Daniel".

Beat 3: Daniel says "What would you say is a fair price?"

In the 1st and the 2nd beat, the character's aren't responding to each other's topic and by doing so, they're establishing some sort of an identity. This is the beginning of the scene and it serves as a good introduction for each character. Abel is presumably a Christian and Daniel is eager to get a price for his land.

Beat 4: Eli says "And what about the rock oil?"
Beat 4 creates a conflict and so we enter act 2.

Beat 5: Daniel "What would you like?"

Beat 6: Daniel "Do you want to find someone else that's gonna come up here and drill?"

Beat 7: Daniel "I do have some connections that could get us started drilling for oil. How do you feel about that Abel?"

Beat no. 7 has a resoluation and also a progress for the story and the development of the characters. We find out the Daniel is willing to push the limits and decieve (he pretended in the beginning that he just wanted to buy the land because he wanted to hunt for quail) in order to get what he wants and the same goes for Eli, the presumable Christian who tolerates Daniel's decieves for exchange of money.

Directing choices

Now that we've broken the scene into beats we can start exploring different choices we can make for directing the actor in order to get better performances. For example, we can decide on an action or business after each beat or decide that there should be a change the tone or the mood of each character after each beat.

You can also play a little with the beats by moving them around and mixing and by doing so you would be changing the pace of the scene.

By figuring out the beats, you'll get a better overview of how the scene is structured and thus making you a better director when it comes to bringing your vision to life.

Analyzing and preparing

Analyzing the scene using beats can also help you determine more what the scene is actually about and also if the scene is eventful or not. In this case you could determine that scene no. 38 is about showing how far each character is willing to go in order to get what they want. So, if you go through your script and you find scenes that do not have any beats, you should strongly consider deleting those scenes or improving them by adding some action or new beats.

You can never prepare yourself enough before actual production. If you have time, there are endless ways of digging deeper and deeper into your story and thus making it richer. It's sometimes been said that with limited funding the most valuable thing you have is time, so use it wisely and start analyzing!

Related content:
Directing: The use of action verbs

Know your 3-act structure

Related links:
Directing the actor by Judith Weston on Amazon

There will be blood on imdb

Paul Thomas Anderson on imdb

There will be blood pdf script download

Skrevet av Rúnar Ingi Einarsson