(picture above: a sample of what my scripts look like when I’ve finished script analysis.)
** Note: the following script analysis process is ideal for when an actor has difficulty connecting to a script. Sometimes you come across scenes/scripts that you totally identify with and may not need to complete the following process. It is entirely up to you.
I’ve spent years collecting valuable tips and information from various casting directors, actors, directors and schools on how to analyze a script. So here is my method of script analysis which is a combination of them all. It’s very thorough, so if you have doubts about your character and scene objective after this process then you need to take another look. This script analysis process helps you make clear choices and stick to them as well as completely understand your scene objective. It’s intense but will increase your emotional tool box and flexibility.
A huge tip I’m a big fan of is ONLY USE PENCIL on your script (no pen). In case you need to erase a comment and pencil is lighter so doesn’t draw your eye away from your dialogue.
What you need:
– your script
1. Highlight your dialogue: literally the lines your character speaks only. Don’t highlight other characters dialogue nor the names of a character. This helps you see the amount of dialogue you have at a quick glance. It also helps you see the other characters dialogue and what’s left for direction.
2. Underline the facts: this literally means indisputable direction or dialogue. Information that is not questionable. E.g. he wanders out of the alley. Either he does or he doesn’t. Totally indisputable. This step highlights very quickly what information is left for interpretation. That’s where the fun begins! You cannot play around with facts. If you do, you’re messing with the writing (tut tut!).
3. The 5 W’s: following on from underlining the facts write on a separate piece of paper (or the script, whatever you prefer) WHO is in the scene, WHERE you are (many actors tend to forget to play the where), WHAT you are doing, and WHEN is it (WHY is totally interpretative, we’ll come to that later). Again, this is more basic indisputable information. E.g. Ben and Cherry are standing in an alley having a conversation and it is night time. Notice I didn’t say they’re having a ‘heated’ conversation as this is interpretative. This step open doors of what is possible. It could be a cold night outside a noisy nightclub. This would totally affect your choices.
THE FUN (INTERPRETATION)
4. Decide truth or lie: each line of dialogue needs to be determined whether you think the character is speaking the truth or telling a lie. You need to do this for ALL characters in the scene, not just yours. This helps give you an overall comprehension of what’s going on in the scene and potentially what you think the other character’s objective may be. Whatever you decide can alter scene objectives and obstacles. Basically it can totally change the dynamic of a scene.
5. Interpret: go through your dialogue and re-write it in your own words (beside the lines on the script). This helps with understanding the sub-text and what’s not written in the scene (this is the exciting bit). As a writer myself I always look forward to seeing how actors interpret my words.
6. Emotions: choose one emotion that best describes what your character is feeling in the whole scene. Yes their emotions and choices may change throughout the scene but usually there is always one underlying emotion that drives us through an entire conversation. Then go through your dialogue line by line and again choose one emotion that sums up your characters feelings in that moment. This helps understand mini-objectives (as in the Ivana Chubbuck technique) as we have a goal with each line.
7. What if: Geoffrey Rush is big on this. Put yourself in your character’s shoes or hat and really imagine what if that happened to me…
8. Objective: if you’re analyzing an entire script then what is your overall objective? The one goal that you wish to achieve throughout the whole story. In other words what is your life goal? Then what is your objective scene by scene? Each scene objective must contribute to the overall objective. Choose three objectives and play around with each. You’re looking for the objective that has the most effect on you. This is your truth. Remember we are all uniquely individual so your truth may vary from another actors. This is also the WHY in a scene. Why are you doing/saying what you are? Probably the most important step.
9. Obstacles: identify the obstacles scene by scene. If you’re not sure how to do this then please read my other post on How to identify obstacles? This is an important step because they raise the stakes of the scene.
10. Go for it: the most popular three words I ever use to direct actors. You’ve done a lot of script analysis so now is the time to really test the waters. After a performance I ask my actors from a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest risk taking) what would you rate your performance? Be honest. If it’s around 5 then you still have plenty of room to raise the stakes. If you come in at a 9 you’ve left very little room for the emotional roller-coaster. However, sometimes a scene calls for high stakes right at the beginning.
The next direction I would give if I wanted an actor to raise the stakes is to imagine a gun being held at your head. This is a life and death situation and you need to find a way or connection to raise the stakes.
Finally, which is usually the most effective, when an actor finishes a scene I give them very little time to analyze it with their head as this is not instinctive. I ask the actor to do the complete opposite of what they just did and go straight back into the scene. Go! This puts an actor on the spot and encourages them to go with their gut instinct as they have no time for anything else. It’s in this third take that I see miracles happen. Beautiful performances that give me goose bumps! But to get to this step it’s really important for actors to have done their preparation and know their lines frontwards and backwards.
Don’t skip any of the previous steps. They all have validity in helping you make choices. This script analysis process also increases your flexibility. So when you go to your audition you’re as ready as you’ll ever be for whatever direction the casting director throws at you. And who knows? You may introduce a new idea to the director or writer that they’d never contemplated before. Very exciting!
One more thing…
John Jarratt is big on this one and with good reason. If you don’t have a previous scene to the one you’re working on that clearly tells you what your character just did you need to come up with page zero. More interpretation, yay! What just happened to your character right before the scene starts? This choice will determine the dynamic you enter the scene with and drive it from there.
FINISH THE SCENE
Following on from page zero make a clear choice at the end of the scene too. What happens to your character next? If you decide or are directed to stay in the scene then make your choice, stick with what you’re feeling and keep acting until you hear cut. IT IS NOT UP TO AN ACTOR TO DECIDE WHEN TO CUT A SCENE! This may sound simple but I’ve seen many actors finish their scene, fall out of character and say how was that? Noooo! I was so into that moment and you’ve just cheated me!! If ever I’ve learnt anything from interviewing many casting directors over the years it’s that sometimes they see the most beautiful moment out of the whole scene right at the end when an actor finishes their dialogue. Stay in character until you hear cut!
Have fun thesps!