A beat is the timing and movement of a film or play. In the context of a screenplay, it usually represents a pause in the dialogue. In the context of the timing of a film, a beat refers to an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way the protagonist pursues his or her goal.
Beats are specific, measured, and spaced to create a pace that moves the progress of the story forward. Audiences feel uneven or erratic beats. Uneven beats are the most forgettable or sometimes tedious parts of a film. Erratic beats jolt the audience unnecessarily. Every cinematic genre has a beat that is specific to its development. Action film has significantly more beats (usually events); drama has fewer beats (usually protagonist decisions or discovery). Between each beat, a sequence occurs. This sequence is often a series of scenes that relate to the last beat and leads up to the next beat.
In most American films the beat falls approximately every five minutes. Following is a beat example from The Shawshank Redemption:
After each beat listed above, a significant series of results takes place in the form of the sequence, but what most people remember are the beats, the moment something takes place with the protagonist.