Why Script Analysis?

Script analysis leads to better acting

Several years ago I had the privilege of lecturing a room filled with aspiring young playwrights and screenwriters. My task was to educate them in the process actors use to approach their material.

“The script, I always believe, is the foundation of everything.” ~ Ewan McGregor.

They were surprised to find the professional actors had such respect for the written word. For a writer, the process of developing a play or screenplay is about the ability to inform the actor on how they wish their work to be seen. They do this, I assured them, by the specifics they write into their plays.

Good script analysis is about training the actor’s eye to see all the playwright has written into the material. The actors then marry that information with their own imagination, resulting in a unique portrayal of the playwright’s intention. The seeds to a great performance are within every script. It is the job of the actors to find the seeds the playwright has planted for them.

“It’s the actor’s responsibility to understand the script rather than relying on someone else to interpret it.” ~ Acting Coach, Stella Adler

Script Analysis

Step One: Read the script. Read it several times if necessary. Enjoy it if possible. Remove all judgement. It’s not important whether you like it or not if your intention is to work on that particular piece of material.

A young actor approached me to help her prepare an audition for an important film role. She said the audition script was terrible and she didn’t know what to do. I asked her if she wanted this job and she insisted she did. I told her whether or not the script was terrible, she had to treat the material as if it were written by Shakespeare. She had to approach the material with respect or not do the audition at all. She acquiesced. When we got to work, we discovered many wonderful gems hidden in the material she missed because of her original judgement. Did she get the job? No, but the final casting was between her and Sandra Bullock.

“It’s possible for me to make a bad movie out of a good script, but I can’t make a good movie from a bad script.”  ~ George Clooney

Step Two: Divide the work into sections. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. (This is a simplification of the process, but necessary to make the process easier to understand.)

Choose the beginning section as your primary point of focus. I recommend taking a scene from a play to begin this process. For most actors, these three sections are referred to as beats. First beat, second beat, and third beat. What occurs between each beat is called a transition.

Step Three: Discover the information the writer has supplied by using the script analysis formula:
1) Pull out the facts the writer presents in the script.
2) Marry these facts and come up with a conclusion.
3) Use these conclusions to activate your imagination.

Let’s look a piece where the writer hasn’t informed us specifically where a character lives. It is our job, then, to find out where our character lives.

Man: I’m sorry I’m late. It seems everything went wrong this morning, I ran out of my apartment and discovered only one elevator was working. Now, I live on the thirty-second floor of a fifty-story building. It took the elevator forever to get to my floor and even longer to reach the ground. I fled past the doorman who was busy trying to get cabs for other tenants and then ran a couple of blocks to the subway.

Look at the facts the writer has put into the script. The character lives on the thirty-second floor of a fifty-story building. He takes the elevator, tries to get a cab, and takes the subway. All this information makes us know the character lives in a big city. Since the writer uses the words elevator, subway, and cab, I now know the city isn’t London or Paris, or for that matter, Boston, Washington, or Los Angeles. (Look up on the internet what elevators, cabs, and subways are called in these other areas.) He has a subway a couple of blocks from his apartment building. I can now use my imagination and say the character lives on Park Ave near 85th St. in New York City.

Step Four: Seek out the questions the script surfaces and use your imagination to answer these questions with all the knowledge you’ve learned about your character.

“Facts are death to the actor until they are fed through imagination and become experience.” ~ Stella Adler

Here is one short line from an actual play. Use this method with any line from any play to discover the deeper meanings within a scene. A woman recalls her first day at school.

Lila: Momma let me pick the loveliest roses in the garden!

Lila is a very unusual name. Why did the writer choose the name Lila? (It is an Indian name meaning dark beauty. It’s also a Hebrew name meaning night or dark night.) She calls her momma, not mother, mom, or ma? Her mother let her pick, meaning choose, the roses. Why? Is she too young to physically pick flowers? Is her mother strict about the garden? Her mother let her pick the roses. Who else could have chosen the flowers, a sibling? They were the loveliest. What made them lovely? Were they different colors? Were they in the full bloom, buds, something in between, or a combination? She picked the flowers. Does this mean just choose or physically picked? If physical, did she use clippers, scissors, or did she pulled them out by hand? How did Lila or her mother deal with the thorns on the roses? Lila says the garden, not our garden. Why? Is the garden not hers? Is it a neighbor’s garden or perhaps a grandparents? The sentence ends with an exclamation point. Why such emotion?

Young aspiring actors should use their wonderful imaginations to create Lila’s memory of those flowers on that day in her childhood. If you were cast in the role of Lila, you would have to do this work in order to be truthful on stage or film.

Now that the imagination is engaged, go further. Did Lila choose an array of colored roses from the garden? Did the mother patiently break off all the thorns so Lila wouldn’t hurt herself? Was the pink tissue paper wrapping the stems her favorite color? Were all the roses in full bloom, with morning dew remaining on the petals? Did the mother divide her backyard into two sections? One a play area for Lila and the other a closed off area for her precious garden. On the day the flowers were cut by her mother, did her mother allow Lila for the first time into her private place, that special place, her garden?

My imagination can easily continue to create. Most importantly, I can’t be wrong in any of my created choices because they are all inspired by the script, by what the writer has written.

“To make a great film you need three things—the script, the script, the script.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

The actor is responsible only to his or her creativity. Your imagination and the writer’s imagination are what make a script come alive in performance.

The young actor today has at its fingertips the knowledge of generations. Search the internet for all the wisdom it contains. As always, I wish you all the best and much success in your endeavors.

To read the feature in Pageantry Digital, please Click Here

To learn more about Craft Acting Studio, Click Here