Published on: 20 May 2019 in Directors UK

7 reasons to use a beat sheet in pre-production

Reading time: 2 minutes and 52 seconds

Beat sheets aren’t just a writer’s business — they’re an important tool for directors, too. Filmmaker Natasha Moore tells us why. 

Every screenwriting book you’ll pick up as a filmmaker will tell you that planning your script with a beat sheet is essential. They’re right, it keeps the writing on track. But beat sheets aren’t just tools for writers. Directors shouldn’t underestimate how helpful they can be in preparing a film and keeping pre-production on track too. 

If you aren’t writing the material, try to get hold of the writer’s beat sheet. Here seven reasons why...

1. A beat sheet can help you write your funding pitch in a way that the script can’t. The raw elements are much easier to get to grips with than beautiful turns of phrase from the script; using the beat sheet will stop you getting bogged down in fine detail.

2. The beat sheet is the raw material from which the story evolves. As the script gets rewritten with notes from the senior team, having access to that raw dump of inspiration can help you find your way back to the original intention for the film when the story gets lost or diluted. 

3. Beat sheets can be useful in building early mood boards and look-books before you can get your hands on the completed script — these are essential for getting collaborators on board.

4. Story editing: Once something’s written in a script, it feels difficult to change. Hitting ‘delete’ is obviously simple, but it can be tricky to let go of what’s fleshed out. The beat sheet can give you an early feel for what’s working and what’s not and enables you to suggest edits up front. Getting rid of a bullet point in a beat sheet is much easier than losing 2 pages of hard-laboured text later on.

5. Pacing: Similarly, a beat sheet is a great tool to share with your potential editor. They can often give you insight to the apparent story pacing from these initial plans and help you understand where you need less or more action. 

6. Beat sheets can also initiate planning discussions around lighting and framing with your potential director of photography. It’s quick way to understand if you have a common vision.

7. No one wants to make a film that fails to meet audience expectations. Interrogating the beat sheet will enable you to see the story stripped back into its basic elements and get a handle on what genre would serve the story best. For example, is it really a noir thriller? Or would treating it as an urban western work better? Once you know, you can better engineer the film’s content, look and feel to meet genre expectations.

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