SCRIPT ANALYSIS: Part 2 Life & Death Importance of Understanding the Story of your Scene!

September 14, 2018

script analysis

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:

  • 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:

  • 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:

  • 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

READING!

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.” – Frank Capra


Clay BanksClay 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!

 

SCRIPT ANALYSIS: Part 1 – Actors! You Really Should Know What You’re Talking About

July 17, 2018

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Two Questions:

If you were given the instruction manual for a new product but the manual was meant for a completely different product, do you think you’d have much success properly operating that product?

If you landed in a foreign city and were given the map to a completely different city, would you be able to navigate the streets of that city very well?

Answer:
Not likely!

Holding a script that you haven’t correctly analyzed is like holding the wrong instruction manual or trying to navigate with the wrong map. Imagine being handed a script for one scene in an audition but after reading it you then deliver a read that’s completely different from the scene as it is written. Now, would you purposely do that? Of course not. However, it happens all the time. Right now, just as you’re reading this article, there are actors all over this city, and beyond, misreading their copy, and as a result… blowing their reads as well as their chances of winning their auditions (let alone the room). Not a very good situation to be in.

Resolve:
Continue reading this article for a deeper insight into the prevention of this chronic actor ailment.

WRITER’S INTENT – THE BLUEPRINT

We’re going to cut to the core of script analysis in order for this teaching to empower you with the tools necessary to understand copy as the writer had intended it; we call this Writer’s Intent or Given Set of Circumstances.
Writer’s intent is similar to the blueprint for a building project. If you don’t follow the blueprint during construction, the end result will not turn out to be exactly what the designer had initially envisioned. In telling a story on film, it’s the writer’s job to provide the roadmap or blueprint, and it’s the actor’s job to stick to that blueprint. That is if your intention is to bring the story to life as the writer originally envisioned it.

 

Of course, actors are always looking for ways to make strong and interesting choices in order to stand out. In and of itself, the bold act of making interesting choices is not a bad thing. However, it’s important to remember that interesting choices can’t directly conflict with the given circumstances and must line up with the story’s original intent or there’s going to be issues. What kind of issues? The kind of issues that will prevent you from getting called back.
Remember: It’s not the job of the actor to change the blueprint… even if you think you have come up with something better. You must first understand what’s on the page before you can nuance what’s on the page.

AUDITION TIP

Never criticise or insult the writing during an audition. The writer could be in the room! If you honestly feel the writing is subpar and you’re still willing to audition for the project, then prepare something nice to say about the script ahead of time, such as “I am excited to be working on this material right now.”

I often remind actors in my studio to consider the writer as the smartest person on the project. Remember, more often than not, writers have worked very hard and labored long hours over word choice, syntax, grammar and placement of punctuations. It’s out of this general respect for all the hard work committed by the writer that the actor should seek to honor writer’s intent.

If you feel judgemental over the quality of the writing you’re only building up obstacles that can prevent you from really analyzing the script and digging out all the nuggets. Sometimes the simple act of believing that the writer is the smartest person on the project will open your eyes to things in the script that you hadn’t seen before and you’ll end up elevating the writing through your performance. Just as bringing the character to life is your performance art, the writer’s art are the words on the page. Honor them!

SCRIPT ANALYSIS

Now that we’ve established that the script is the blueprint for an actor’s performance we can set about the daunting task of reading this blueprint. Because, after all, a blueprint is completely useless if you don’t know how to read it. In other words, we know that it’s the job of the actor to understand writer’s intent, but how exactly do we know what the intent is? The process of figuring out writer’s intent is called script analysis.

As actors, we need to be able to read a script and understand all of its ins and outs, its literal and suggested content, its text and subtext and all of its detail. Basically, it’s our job as actors to be able to properly decipher and then communicate to the audience what the writer wants to communicate through the story. This is a tall order, and for some actors, decoding and analyzing story is incredibly intimidating. If this applies to you, don’t worry… we’ll take it step by step so by the time you’ve finished with this article you should have a lot more of the tools necessary to become a better interpreter of copy, script, and, story and as a result you’ll become a better actor!

ANALYSIS BEGINS WITH STORY

It’s true. Everything is all about story! Any actor who’s studied with me for even a little while knows that I fervently reinforce that everything, everywhere, all the time, has always been — always is — and will always be — about STORY! Think about how we communicate in everyday life: What’s your story? Would you like to hear a story? What’s the latest news story? Let me tell you what happened. Look at this picture. Check me out on Facebook and Instagram. Look at all of my photos, videos, blogs, and status updates. It’s all story!

And, that’s exactly how we’ve all been constructed. We’re built to respond to story. So, keeping all of this in mind, can you see how having a better understanding of story will empower you in your ability as an actor to tell stories? It should.

So let’s talk story.

Without turning this into a writing intensive I’d like to point out that there’s a general agreement amongst writers that there are really only a small handful of basic story plot structures that simply get reinvented over and over again. Some believe that there are only seven basic stories, some think that it tops off at twelve. Director Ron Howard makes the statement that there might only be one! Regardless of the number you come to, the bottom line is that there aren’t that many. As an actor it would greatly benefit you to learn these stories and become proficient at recognizing their patterns and identifying their structures. Doing so will definitely help you when it comes time to analyzing a script. If you’re serious about diving deeper into this topic, here’s a great blog-post I came across by Neil Perkin. Neil’s post is a good jumping off point in your study of basic plot and story because he presents an argument for seven core story structures as well as a couple opposing views. He also provides links to further resources that you can reference for a deeper understanding.

This particular post is titled How Many Stories

If after reading How Many Stories you still want to learn more, or confuse yourself a little further… then read Damien Walter’s post titled Two. Four. Seven. More. How Many Stories Are There? Damien also provides resources for the monomyth theory (the argument that there may only be one type of story).

The more you dive into the research the more you’ll find there is contention over the number of different stories there may be. But remember, as actors, knowing the number doesn’t matter… being educated in story structure is what matters. So take some time, do the research, learn the difference between a story that’s about overcoming a monster, and a story about a journey. Having this knowledge will greatly benefit you as you journey through the analysis of scripts.

There’s so much more to properly understanding story for effective auditioning. However we’ll pick this up in Part 2 of this teaching. But for now, the first step is to raise your awareness of script analysis and writer’s intent. Don’t miss this because you want to focus on memorizing your lines. Instead, develop proper cold reading skills you can count on and spend the little time you don’t usually have prior to your audition on the understanding of scene-story as well as the character’s story. Doing so will take you so much further than simply giving a memorized read. Take your time, put in the work and you won’t be that actor who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.


Clay BanksClay Banks is 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.

Tips to Analyze Scripts

November 11, 2016

The skill set of script analysis is a powerful, if not vital, tool for actors. This applies to small parts, starring roles, and anything in between. To understand, move, breathe, and speak for another person, actors must dig into the internal life of the character. And how much time and effort an actor invests in their character shows. Indeed, preparation can be the key to unlocking a truly moving performance.

New York acting coach, John Windsor-Cunningham tells a story of Anthony Hopkins who once answered questions before a reading, saying sometimes there are actors who read a play 20 times to prepare. Continuing, he’s quoted to say, “I don’t understand that…everyone’s welcome to work in their own way, but it wouldn’t enter my head…To read a script in advance 20 times. Because it wouldn’t enter my head to turn up at a first rehearsal of a play or a film without having read it at least a hundred and twenty times.”

While that might sound extreme, properly analyzing a script can indeed take several reads. The journey of exploring the material starts with getting acquainted with the storyline and characters, but soon moves on to interpretation. Actors can notice similarities with their own experiences, or what they’ve observed in others. Interpreting the material also requires a curious mind to ask questions like “Why?” and “How?”

Kimberly Jentzen, the author of Acting with Impact urges actors to, “Remember that history justifies behavior. So if you don’t understand why a character does what they do, the best thing to do is to read the whole script or the whole play, and you’ll really get some clues. A script is laden with clues and dynamic, interesting thoughts and ideas and metaphors that give us the meaning and the understanding and lead us to our interpretation.” Jentzen strongly believes that any time actors sense they are being general about something, then that is not good. When it comes to matters like a character’s history, intentions, or personality, she insists, “Everything must be specific.” 

Also in pursuit of interpreting a script, many performers make a point to experiment with which word to emphasize in each sentence. Robin Wright, for example, chooses a word that she loves in each sentence, and one she hates–as well as the reasons why her character feels this way. For practical purposes, once actors have decided on which word to emphasize, they can pencil mark their decision onto the page before continuing with the script. Also, many actors find it advantageous to pencil mark their script where changes in emotion occur. For example, if a portion of a particular sentence starts off tearful, an actor can mark precisely where those tears shift to outright anger. For this reason, a script can get messy with markings and notations. Pencils are always handy because they allow for changes later on.

Script interpretation comes in many shapes and forms though. Christopher Walken, for example, has described breaking down his scripts in a unique way. He describes his process saying, “I cross out all the stage directions, I cross out all the places where it says, you know, ‘He says this angrily;’ I cross out all the punctuation. And I just speak without punctuation. I mean, except the way it happens…No periods, no commas, no nothing. Really. A period comes when it comes. But it’s a good thing really. If you, next time you take a script, take all of that out and read it. Because the other actors are going to tell you what their talking about anyway. And it’s better to hear it from them.”

Regardless of your personal approach, it’s vital to come to understand your character without passing judgement on him or her. Uncovering the character’s true nature along with his or her vulnerabilities and flaws is much more important than if you personally like the person he or she is. And really getting to know your character frees you up to be spontaneous when new approaches to the material are thrown at you. After all, many people on set might be involved with the details of your character including wardrobe specialists or, of course, the project’s director. Directors likely have their own vision, and have a say about creative decisions for your character. Whether the director gives suggestions or specific directions, actors need to be ready to adapt, while maintaining a firm understanding of their character. Often times, the collaboration between a well-prepared actor and the director takes the depth of a character to the next level.