Beats Writer Miles Orion Feldsott on Using Your Past to Authentically Write the Present
August 8, 2019
For Miles Orion Feldsott, writing the Netflix original Beats was personal.
“Art was the thing I felt saved my life and gave me purpose,” Feldsott says. “I don’t know what I’d be doing or if I’d even be alive if I hadn’t found something that resonated with me like that. So for me, this was the chance to tell that story.”
While Beats premiered in June, it’s a story that began in 2015 when Feldsott, known for the TV series Deadly Class, was approached by producer Robert Teitel about writing a music-driven film.
“Robert was like, ‘Can you come up with something?’” Feldsott recalls. “I was watching a few docs at the time and great music was coming out of Chicago, the city where multiple generations of my family come from. It was resonating with me in a deep way and a story started to percolate.”
The story Feldsott pitched to Teitel involved a budding but unlikely friendship between a reclusive teenage music prodigy and a ‘fallen from grace’ music manager-turned-security guard at the teen’s school.
“I spent the first half of 2016 writing it for another studio, who said we're going to make it but then the project stalled,” Feldsott says. “Then Netflix came in and rescued the project and pulled it out of that studio.”
Feldsott’s budget increased because of the studio transition and a few rewrites later, production began.
The movie, shot in Chicago, features Khalil Everage as the teenage prodigy, and Anthony Anderson as Everage’s friend and mentor. Megan Sousa, in her first major role, plays Everage’s sister, Kari Monroe.
“I felt such a big connection to her, reading the script,” Sousa says. “I easily identified with her, so it was easy to get into character.”
Besides falling in love with her own character, Sousa said she was immediately enthralled by the script. “Miles did such a great job capturing the voice of black people, you know?” Sousa says. “I was shocked that a non-black person wrote this script. I’m sitting here reading it like, ‘Oh my gosh, this dialogue is on point!’ It is captivating.”
Many of the characters in the film felt authentic, Feldsott says, because they were based on people from his past.
“There is a lot of myself in there and kids I grew up with,” Feldsott admits. “When you write characters, you have to in some way know them, or there has to be some kind of love or emotion for them. If you don’t know those specific people, then it’s hard to write them authentically.”
Besides music, one of the other themes explored in the movie is violence in Chicago.
Feldsott spent months researching in order to accurately reflect the city.
“I was watching the news and some news reporters were almost giddy about violence that came out of Chicago. It felt like they were relishing the statistics as a way to bash Democrats.
Beats is an opportunity to tell a story about a single act of violence and how it affects an entire community and family while showing compassion for the fact that these lives are more than just statistics.”
In one particularly scary moment, Sousa recalled the day a shooting happened close to where they were filming. Production was ultimately cancelled for the day.
“It was happening in real time as we were pretending,” says Sousa, whose character is murdered in the film. “It was disturbing for my friends and family to see me dying, so I can't imagine what people go through when their family members are victims of violence.”
Unfortunately, it’s violence the city knows all too well. According to the Chicago Police Department, there were 316 murders in 2018. Already in 2019, there have been 281. These statistics are down from the whopping 762 murders recorded in Chicago in 2016.
“These are real lives being lost by senseless violence,” Sousa says. “It’s destroying families. You take someone out and it’s lights out for that person, but what happens to the people who love them?”
But while Beats allows the viewer to connect and empathize with victims of violence, it’s also a story about following your dreams, overcoming fear, and how the most unlikely person may be the key to your success.
“It was about making sure Chicago was represented in a positive light,” Feldsott says. “It’s a story about a guy and this kid, and them helping each other get over the baggage of their past.”
Feldscott said he also wanted to paint a picture of imperfect people, providing guidance to the next generation.
“I had those mentors in my life who were flawed individuals, but they were able to help me artistically,” he says. “I wanted to authentically show that relationship too.”
From many of the messages pouring into Feldsott’s inbox, the film appears to have been well received. “People who are suffering from PTSD reached out and feel honored we’re telling a story that rings true with their experience and they feel seen,” Feldsott says. “People are seeing themselves in the characters.”
Beats is available to stream on Netflix.
Written by: Allison Collins-SmithAllison Collins-Smith is a twice Emmy-nominated journalist who has worked as a television reporter and anchor in markets around the country. She has covered a variety of stories from the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to President Trump’s travel ban in the fourth circuit court of appeals. Allison has also won AP awards for her work and a Catalyst For Change award from the Arc of Virginia for her reporting on the disabled community. Allison just moved to Los Angeles with her screen writer husband and two cats and is excited for all LA has to offer!