An acting beat (also referred to as a performance beat) is a unit of action committed by a character. There are literally hundreds of these acting beats in a feature-length film. Every time the action of a character changes, a new acting beat begins. Each acting beat can be described by an action verb.
In the example of the student coming late to class, my action verb, "to reprimand," was an acting beat. But before that beat could take place there had to be at least one acting beat that proceeded it, no matter what the circumstance or wants attendant to this particular story. What is that acting beat that must precede any exchange between characters? Awareness! In order for me or anyone else to reprimand someone — or to greet them — we must first become aware that they are present.
In addition to the narrative/dramatic elements I have already introduced, are there others that would be helpful? There are. And they go to the heart of the methodology you are offered in this book. I have found them imbedded in hundreds of dramatic scenes in films of every genre and culture. Directors who can identify these elements will obtain a clarity about their scenes that will inform their work with actors, their staging, and not least, their camera.
Dramatic blocks, narrative beats, and a scene's fulcrum are three of these elements I have identified and given labels to, and each of them has to do with the organization of action. These are the subject of the next chapters.
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