I’ll admit it. I’m incapable of writing a proper beat sheet. Somewhere between an outline and the chronicled ramblings of someone with a reeeeally good idea, the beat sheet is a document that neatly sums up the significant scenes and developments in a given episode (or movie, as the case may be). The intent is not to entertain but to inform, to provide the reader with a story structure that charts the various steps the writer will follow from electrifying opening through spine-tingling progression to coccyx-numbing conclusion. Or, at the very least, prove that the writer is capable of forming proper sentences. But not always.
The problem I have when it comes to beat sheets is that they require a writer to envision how his or her story will break down and, what can I say, I have an overactive imagination – an imagination that won’t leave well enough alone. Nope. No broad stroke sense of a particular scene. Instead, I have to visualize it in all of its glory. Where are we? Who’s there? What do they do? What do they say? Are those seedless grapes she’s eating? I imagine each scene in great detail, like an angry mother-in-law reliving the memories of the awful day her sweet boy married that witch, running it over and over and over again in my mind’s eye. And then, at some point, I have to start writing things down and, knowing full well that it is a beat sheet I‘m working on, I try to keep it simple. Really I do. But all too often, once you’ve got a scene more or less worked out in your head, it becomes very tough to keep it short. Understand, this has nothing to do with being precious about my work or not wanting to kill my babies (that’s what the script stage is for) but rather emanates from a desire to paint the clearest picture possible. I don’t want the reader to have to question my character’s motivations (these should be obvious), makes suggestions for missing beats (they should all be there), or wonder what kind of grapes she is eating (Concord seedless).
As a result, my beat sheets aren’t beat sheets at all. They’re outlines, usually coming in at a robust 8-10 pages complete with scene headings, buttons, and the occasional gem of dialogue (“Who’s Hootie now?”). And the time it takes someone to respond, I’ve learned, is directly proportional to the length of the document. So, going on past experience, since I put out my beat sheet (actually, outline) for the first part of the Stargate: Universe mid-season two-parter yesterday morning, I expect to hear back no later than Spring of 2009.
Speaking out outlines, I switched gears today and worked on the Stargate: Atlantis movie outline, working my way toward the big finish (for the story and, if things work out the way I’m hoping they will…ah, I’ll save it for another entry). Then, I hopped into my car and braved this season’s first snowstorm (really more of a slushing that had everyone riding their brakes for most of the afternoon) to attend a goodbye party for my pal Jackie who works with our accountant, Al. As far as office parties go, this one was quite nice, a catered affair with tasty duck rolls, samosas, and sushi. In an effort to get me to mix with the other guests (being the notoriously shy wallflower that I am), Al to a heavyset man who was loitering near the cream cheese and cranberry pita rolls. “Joe, this is Paul,”he introduced us. “You’re both writers.” And then, satisfied, wandered off to the apple cider, leaving Paul and I to discuss our like professions.
“What do you write?”he asked.
“Scripts,”I replied. “I’m in television. You?”
“Corporate stories,”he informed me. Or, at least I thought I heard “Corporate stories”. It could well have been “coronate Tories”, “correlate lorries”, or “corrugate quarries” for all I knew about any of the aforementioned processes.
“Oh, yeah,”I said, boldly suggesting even a shred of understanding on my part. And then, in an impeccably smooth transition: “You dine out much?”
As it turned out, he did. And he was also a dog lover which gave us plenty to talk about beside our work (So, how exactly does one go about correlating lorries?).
On my way back to the car, I stopped by the bookstore and made my second big book purchase in as many days. I’m turning into the crazy cat lady except that instead of cats, it’s books, and instead of crazy it’s mildly eccentric, and instead of lady it’s a guy who likes the smell of the grass-scented soap his wife occasionally picks up from the spa. Then, I enjoyed a 45 minute drive back home in bumper to bumper traffic, the result of a snafu that darkened almost every traffic light in the downtown core. You know, it’s really too bad most Vancouverites never went to driving school or, at the very least, remembered the four-way stop procedure they were surely taught there.
Well, I’m going to call it an early night. My French bulldog Lulu has a notoriously weak stomach and ended up vomiting at 1:00, 4:15., and 9:05 this morning. I know because she was sleeping beside me at the time.
Finally – Hey, who noticed writer-executive producer Carl Binder’s cameo in tonight’s episode, Infection? If you missed it and bothered to record the episode, here’s a three-word hint: “Keller’s creepy uncle”.