SCRIPT ANALYSIS: Part 2 Life & Death Importance of Understanding the Story of your Scene!
By Coach Clay Banks
In Part 1 of this two-part Script Analysis article we discussed how crucial it is to understand and respect the ‘Writers Intent’, or said a different way, ‘Given Set of Circumstances.’ We talked about how script analysis all begins with a basic understanding of story. And, we provided resources for further reading on different types of story. If you haven’t read it yet, and you’re intent on becoming a serious actor, go back and read Part 1. I’ll wait!
While understanding story is an ultra-uber important foundational work for script analysis, it’s also theoretical. In Part 2 of this article, we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty points that will help you immediately grasp onto something solid for your performance. While you may not consider this topic the most fun aspect of acting, without it, well… you won’t be doing much acting.
Quick Analysis Audition Tip:
More times than not when going in for an audition, you aren’t able to read the entire script. You’re given just a few pages of sides with very little time to analyze and prepare the material. Having only a few pages gives you way less information for script analysis than having access to the full script. So, with this limited information how do you know if you’re making choices in the audition room that line up with the writers intent?
First of all, make sure to read everything at your disposal. Read your character breakdown, read the other character’s breakdowns, read the plot synopsis, google the writer and the director for information on style in their previous work. Read any stage direction or dialogue that’s crossed out but still readable. All information is valuable. You have to act like a detective and dig out every vital clue that may be available in the limited info you have. Leave no piece of evidence untouched! YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! Because if you’re not doing the work — you can rest assured there’ll be other, more serious actors, who will be doing the work — and those are the actors you’ll be going up against.
Once you’ve read EVERYTHING, here are a few extra clues you can take a look at:
Understanding Story Structure and Character Arch will help you Interpret Page Numbers.
When you’re handed sides for an audition take a look at the top right hand corner of the copy. If these are not mock sides and are indeed pulled from the actual script then you should see a page number there. The page number is significant because it offers a huge clue that will help you know if the scene you’re working on takes place at the beginning (first act), middle (second act), or end (third act) of the story.
For example, with a 100 page script, the first 25-30 pages generally makes up the beginning (Act 1), about the next 40 pages (31-70) would constitute the middle of the script (Act 2), and, subsequently, the last 30 or so pages (70-100) would make up the end of the characters journey (Act 3). If you read part one of this two-part article and did the research on story then you’ll understand that there are general patterns in character arch and story structure for the beginning, middle, and end of the story. So, you can see where knowing the page numbers of your scene is one simple but powerful insight that can help get you calibrate where your character is in the overall story.
Always Take Note of Letter Casing
When analyzing the limited information your sides provide, take note of the casing of each character’s name – casing, as in, CAPITAL and lower or sentence casing. Standard script format states that the first time a character is introduced in a screenplay their name will be written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. This detail will help clue you in on the fact that this particular character listed in ALL CAPS is probably near the beginning of their journey. If the character’s name is not in all capital letters then the character has already been introduced.
Don’t have page numbers? Casing can help. For example if you know that you’re auditioning for a lead and you have sides with your character’s name listed in ALL CAPS then you can safely deduce that this is not only the beginning of your character’s development, but it is also likely the beginning of the entire story (probably taking place within pages 1-25 or 30).
On the other hand, if you have both a page number and you take note of the casing of your name, then you can piece together even more information. If you look at your sides and see a page number that tells you the scene is located towards the end of the script (i.e. pgs. 70-100) and the character you’re reading for is introduced in ALL CAPS then this gives you clues to your character’s role in the context of the whole story. In this case, you know this character will likely assist in the resolution of the plot.
These little formatting clues (page numbers and letter casing) are just reminders that understanding story structure is important if you want to make sense out of every minor clue you can dig out of your sides. And if you pay attention to these clues, they’ll help you to realize something about your character that will make you stand out in an audition because you have a more complete understanding that much of the competition who simply won’t do this work. Don’t be that actor!
The Who, What, Where
As you analyze a script you should gain a strong understanding of, Who – What – Where – When – Why – How – but most importantly, the Who, What and Where. These are the “Big Three” and when it comes to script analysis they are a great starting point. Making a conscious effort of knowing these essentials when preparing your material will greatly improve your performances, even when given limited time with the copy. Think of them as the building blocks of storytelling. I call them the Amino Acids of story.
Story should always have: A Who – A What – A Where
- Who is the character? – This is deeper than just your occupation. Use three adjectives to describe.
- Who is the person(s) in the scene with me? Use three adjectives to describe.
- What is your Physiology, Sociology, Psychology? Your place in life.
- What are your likes and dislikes… your attitude?
- What makes you tick? What drives and motivates your actions?
- What is your backstory? What makes you who you are?
- NOTE: The who is not the what. The WHO is the nature of the person, not the circumstances they’re in. You must look into the nature of the characters to find the WHO.
- What’s going on in the story, the inciting incident, scenario, action, business?
- What is the conflict?
- What is the relationship between you and the other actors in the scene?
- Familiar or Unfamiliar?
- Does this relationship change during the story?
- What is your objective/goal in the scene? Your motivation (yup, it had to be said)
- NOTE: In any given scene, The WHO and The WHAT can change with each action, each movement, or even each line of dialogue. You must comb through each moment carefully. Yes, this takes more time but it’s an essential part of the craft. After all, we call it script analysis for a reason– you must ANALYSE! When it comes the WHO and the WHAT, you can’t just make sweeping statements for the entire script. It’s not script look-over or script glance-at… it’s script analysis.
- Where is the scene taking place?
- Not geographically (ex: California or Europe) Non-geographically. Be specific. (ex: the library, your kitchen, at a concert)
- What are the sights, sounds, smells, colors, weather, atmosphere of the specific location? Be detailed.
- NOTE: Everything has to take place somewhere. Fill your imagination with as much detail about the location as you can so that even when you’re in an empty audition room, the environment that you built while analyzing the script is affecting everything you so much that you bring the casting director into the scene with you.
Script Analysis – Subtext and Character Attitude!
Look for INTERESTING. Study INTERESTING. Be INTERESTING!
After all, that’s the actor’s primary job alongside being BELIEVABLE. And, those who do it best are the ones we enjoy watching the most. The bottom line is if you’re interesting and believable and enough of us enjoy watching you, you’ll have a much better chance of being cast. Now, I don’t believe that actors give uninteresting reads intentionally. On the contrary, I believe it’s the direct outcome not properly analyzing the script and, therefore, they simply do not know what to do!
So, let’s address two areas where actors can improve their watchability and become more interesting through script analysis:
- Subtext – The underlying and distinct theme of what’s being said or implied. It’s what’s being said or implied underneath the spoken or implied dialog.
Subtext or underlying meaning is the actor’s playground. It’s where the actor gets to do his or her thing with the written words. It’s similar to the brush stroke of a painter or the moves of the dancer. It’s where the actor has the opportunity to personalize the text and make it their own.
As you analyze a script you need to realize that subtext is a huge aspect of the way in which the characters communicate. In real life we don’t always say what we mean; we speak sarcastically or passive-aggressively, we soften the blow, we beat around the bush, we hide the truth, cover our true intentions, and sometimes we even flat out lie to spare someone’s feelings… or to get away with something. In effective communication, this is a big No-No!
Just because the writer has written a line for your character that says: “ Sure, I’d like to join you,” does not mean that your character actually, literally or truthfully wants to join you. If you approach a script and attempt to deliver all your lines with a literal delivery then you’ll find yourself regularly misinterpreting writer’s intent. Being able to interpret subtext becomes easier as you begin to analyze your character’s, intentions, objectives, integrity, and attitude.
- Character Attitude– [Attitude– Perspective– Disposition – Take – View] This is the behavior of the character resulting from opinionated feelings and thoughts. It’s a specific expression of the characters evaluation of people, things, and matters (situations). It’s commitment to inner conviction.
This is where the actor cannot afford to be wishy-washy with their choices about their feelings, thoughts, and opinions…period! Even if the character’s attitude seems banal, there must still be strong conviction underneath it. Your job as the actor is to scour the script for clues that will help you piece together the full picture of the character’s attitude. And in order to be effective, this must be done again and again and again.
In order to determine a character’s attitude look at what the character says about themselves and what they say about other characters, look at what other characters and the writer says about them. You must also look at the characters actions and how other characters act around them and then compare that to what has been stated in the black lines. This process will help you determine subtext and your character’s attitude as well as your character’s power.
If you’re struggling with understanding your character’s attitude take a deeper look at the nouns, then fill them with meaning. We call this:
Packing the Significant Nouns
Step 1: Locate the significant noun (anything important to your character).
A noun is a person, place or thing and a significant noun is one that you can’t just blow over in the script because it has a deep meaning or is of great significance to your character. The significant nouns can be nouns that the writer has obviously written into the script to be significant or they can be nouns that are less obvious, but, through character work, analysis, and construction of your character’s backstory you identify them as important and give them significance.
Take this line of dialogue for example:
Today, at the playground, I saw two boys playing with a little red wagon. I didn’t think they made those anymore. Seeing it brought back a flood of memories from my childhood.
Step 1: Identify the significant nouns.
In this scenario let’s focus on: little red wagon
Step 2: Attach the Emotion
Once you have identified the significant nouns you must decide its importance and how they make you feel. Ask yourself the question: how does this noun apply to you the character and the story. Always connect an emotion to your noun and then dedicate yourself to truly connecting to that emotion.
In our Little Red Wagon example, the writer helps you out a lot by basically spelling out that the character is experiencing the emotion of NOSTALGIA. To facilitate the emotional response you must build the story of the little red wagon so that you the actor has a connection to it:
- What did your wagon look like? See it in your mind’s eye with great detail.
- How did the wagon make you feel? What did it mean to you? What does it represent?
- Use your imagination to develop a few specific memories that your character has with the little red wagon
Step 3: Make eye contact, deal, feel and deliver.
Once you have “packed” the noun with personal heightened emotional value (which can be done as quickly as eight seconds) you should find that your delivery of the line containing the noun will become explosive. This should happen naturally without fabricating, forcing, punching, lifting or emoting your emotional point of view.
The words “a little red wagon” have more meaning and when you deliver them now, you’ll become more believable. (Do you need to do this with ALL significant nouns? Only the ones in the lines that you want to make an impact with… hint!) Serious actors do the work!
Look at it this way: completing steps 1 and 2 is like filling a balloon with confetti. Step 3 (delivering the line) is popping the balloon, which will be loaded with information (confetti) and will naturally have a direct effect on and whomever else is listening:
Don’t take script analysis for granted. Future you will be glad that you didn’t!
If you feel that analyzing scripts is not one of your natural strengths then resolve yourself to putting in the hard work to become better at it. Be patient with yourself, improving this skill will take time and practice, and you’re not likely to become a pro overnight. But stay positive! There is one simple task that is sure to improve your ability to analyze script and identify writer’s intent:
That’s right! Read, it’s that simple: Read scripts, copy, stories, and screen/teleplays!
How many? How often?
Start with the first one. I guarantee that after reading only one you’ll naturally elevate your ability to understand and analyze script. Then, two, then the next and the next. Get used to this now because when you become its very much a part of the ongoing lifestyle of the working actor!
Scripts are not hard to come by, you can find them all over the internet, just do a google search. You can even find the screenplay to the movies you’ve already seen. Reading a script to a movie that you’ve already watched can be incredibly enlightening for a variety of reasons including:
- You’ll become familiar with script layout
- As you read you will be able to reflect back and gain a unique insight into the actor’s interpretation of the written word
- The written words will come to life right before your eyes.
As you analyze script consider this quote:
“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”
Clay Banks is a Writer, Director, and Coach. He’s also a former Fortune 500 Business & Life Empowerment Coach, a Motivational Speaker, and Consultant. After a successful eighteen-year acting career, he founded Clay Banks Productions & Studio International (CBSI) where he’s the Head Coach offering ongoing on-camera acting classes. He’s presently a recurring Master Coach at SAG-AFTRA Headquarters as well as a regular Guest Master Class Auditioning Coach with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hollywood. You can find a list of his TOP 100 MOVIE PIC’S on the CBSI website: ClayBanksStudio.com. Check-in, there’s always something going on at CBSI!