At the heart of good screenwriting is a tool, or system, called “The Beats.” Beats are those key dramatic moments that propel a story forward. The beats are the backbone of any good movie. The beats are what keep our eyes glued to the screen (and, when poorly implemented, can also be what makes modern films feel so formulaic.)
There are many different types of beats and many different names for each kind. But, even just stringing together a few of their standard titles like “Protagonist Introduction,” “A Whole New World,” “Fun & Games,” “The Promise of The Premise,” “The Midpoint,” “Whiff of Death,” and “All is Lost,” you can feel a story forming. Furthermore, in filmmaking, the timing of these beats is so specific that you can usually know precisely how much time the film has left based solely on which beat the story just hit. So, if you like movies and you’re not familiar with “beats” in screenwriting, they are worth a web search. If nothing else, they explain why some films work for you while others don’t.
I think of the beats often as I live through the enormous dramatic arc taking place inside Plover Park this season. Their precision in describing what’s happening there is uncanny, and so is their unplanned reflection in this season’s Readings. We met our protagonists through goofy trading cards. We felt the promise of the premise, full of easy hope, and explored the fun and games by describing the Park as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and gently anthropomorphizing the birds using their detailed backstories. We were saddened when we caught whiffs of death in the storm and discovered that Coyote ate nest #06A.
And there was undoubtedly a moment we felt that “All is Lost” and wanted just to turn it all off or walk away.
The Plover Park we are dealing with now is very different than what we envisioned at the joyous start of the season. Instead, it now feels like a dystopian war zone, with sad, chaotic nests clinging desperately to what little life is left inside. Even from the air, it looked as if a bomb had exploded in Plover Park. And worst of all, the whole place haunted by tragedy, trauma, loss, and perhaps most bitterly, by the memories of our naive joy when it all started. Nevertheless, I can still hear the happy soundtrack from the opening scenes, with its fluttery flutes punctuated by whimsical brass hits. I now feel more emotionally manipulated than when I first watched James Cameron’s Titanic. But now, both in spite of, and because of all that, I’m ready to fight to the bitter end.
Beats work in film for a reason. They are tried and true. Without them, we have no emotional connection to the characters. Without a catalyst to send the characters we love into crisis, we can’t see them tested, we can’t watch them grow, and we can’t grow with them. Without the tragedies, we wouldn’t care about what happens at all.
I believe my instincts were correct when I wrote Final Girl expressing that the story of Plover Park this season was reminiscent of a horror film. Or perhaps more correctly, something from the survival or comeback genre.
So welcome to the comeback. You can’t look away now. Because no matter what these final scenes look like, the moment of triumph has arrived.
It may wind up being the final scene from 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where a single, bloodied, battered female just barely escapes on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck while a chainsaw-swinging madman dances wildly against the setting sun.
But she’s smiling. At least now, she truly means something to us.
I have no idea who is out there reading this stuff. But I know that the tragic stories sometimes told here shook the weak hearts and minds from this tree long ago. So if you’re still reading along, then I am confident that you are someone extraordinary. I know that, at least in some way, you know this matters.
And what truly matters most here is not even these stories at all. It’s the theatre itself. It’s Plover Park.
Wild animals will suffer cruel fates at the hands of the weather. Predators will eat them. These things have always happened and always will.
But Plover Park has given them something essential that they didn’t have before: a place. A place to live their stories, and the chance to come back, to survive, and to triumph at all.
Long live the survivors. Long live Plover Park.