Piper Beat Sheet
Can a six-minute short film without dialogue tell a story about transformation? It certainly can, as Pixar’s Piper — which played in theaters with Finding Dory — demonstrates!
Written and Directed by: Alan Barillaro
Genre: Rites of Passage
Opening Image: The tide washes onto the sandy beach, leaving behind bubbles as it recedes.
Set-Up: Sandpipers rush along the shore, racing away from the incoming waves and hurrying back to peck the wet sand for food. A mother sandpiper gets up from her nest, turning the baby (Piper) around to view the behavior of her species.
Theme Stated: While not verbally stated, the theme that must be learned by Piper is to overcome her fears and to try new things as she learns from the other sandpipers.
Catalyst: Piper’s mother runs out to the other birds, beckoning Piper to follow.
Debate: Piper is unsure of what to do. She watches as her mother demonstrates how bubbles show where to find tiny shells containing food. Piper opens her mouth, waiting to be fed. In her thesis world, the work is done for her. The mom drops the shell in the water, inviting Piper to give it a try.
Break into Two: Piper bounds happily beyond the safety of her nest, joining the others of her kind.
B Story: While it might not seem like there is a B Story in such a short film, it’s in the subtext. Piper’s relationship with the beach that surrounds her, the ocean, and the other creatures, will help her learn the theme and enable her to survive… and thrive.
Fun And Games: In the promise of the premise, Piper dashes back and forth along the sand, exploring her new, upside-down world. In her antithesis world, she must find her own food without the protective safety of her mother. She reacts to bubbles with curiosity, hoping to find food as her mother did. As all of the other sandpipers rush past her, she stops to examine more bubbles, the tide washing over her.
Midpoint: In a false defeat, Piper sits back at her nest, shivering. As A and B Stories cross, Piper refuses to leave her nest and step back onto the beach, insisting that her mother bring her the food.
Bad Guys Close In: Her mother refuses, and Piper feels fear from the rolling tide. Hunger causes her stomach to rumble, and she cautiously ventures out toward some bubbles, but another wave sends her scurrying into some seaweed on the shore.
Soon, she begins to move again, though not of her own will; she is standing on top of a small crab, who is now carrying her out onto the dangerous beach. Curious, she interacts with the crabs, noticing them digging deeper into the sand.
All Is Lost: Another wave rushes in, and Piper watches in fear as it overcomes the crabs. She knows she cannot outrun it. To her, it seems like certain doom. Mimicking the crabs, she buries herself deep into the sand.
Dark Night of the Soul: While she is momentarily under water, a crab taps on her beak, inviting her to open her eyes. As she does so, Piper sees all the shells around her, full of delicious food.
Break into Three: Now that she knows the “secret” of how to find shells on the beach, Piper is excited to see the bubbles in the sand as A and B Stories meet.
Finale: With a newfound enthusiasm and joy, Piper darts about in the sand, no longer afraid of the water; in fact, she welcomes it. In her synthesis world, she shows her mother that she has learned the theme and is no longer fearful of trying new things. She hunts for her own food, but in a way that differs from the other sandpipers.
Final Image: Just like the adult sandpiper in the Opening Image, Piper plays in the surf as she searches for food while the sun begins to set. In an after-credits scene, her transformation is evident as she sleeps next to a pile of tiny shells.
- Tom Reed
Good job, Cory. I think short stories often demonstrate STC beats even more clearly than features, as is the case here. And not just the 15 beats, but also the genre emphasis (ROP here). Everything is stripped down its storytelling essence — story beats! Well done.
- Forrest Knutson
I agree with Tom Reed. Excellent analysis, and short stories so beautifully exemplify the genius of 15 beats and genre. I loved it when Blake used a detergent commercial and a Tom & Jerry skit during a class to show it’s still all there.
- Tiffany Chow, MD
This little film really spoke to me. When I took others to see Finding Dory, I found Piper the actual gem of the event!
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Thank you for showing how little is required to tell a heartfelt story. Congrats to Piper!