Script AnalysisThere are almost as many ways of analyzing a script as there are actors. No two actors are alike and each one will take something different from the process.

Consider the process of two Oscar winners, Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins. Meryl Streep has said that she reads a script once and lets it penetrate, becoming a vision she then adopts. She rarely reads a script twice. Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, has said he reads a script more than 200 times out loud. These two great actors, with two very different methods, show how “different” does not equate to wrong. Script analysis is not about a correct or incorrect method, but about what works best for each actor.

Many actors’ script analysis will land somewhere between the wide spectrum embraced by Ms. Streep and Mr. Hopkins. Reading a script is sometimes about more than familiarizing oneself with lines; for an actor, reading the script may be a way to access a deeper understanding of the person that s/he is portraying. The goal of script analysis is to derive insights and a connection to the imagined world, as a way of being prepared to function in it during both rehearsal and shooting. Script analysis isn’t always over once the performance begins. Even after editing, more changes or re-shoots can require additional character analysis.

Script analysis takes those reading on a journey that extends beyond the words on the page.  Every person who approaches the script comes with his or her own vision of the world created in it, and that vision can be strikingly different.  Films that successfully interpret the story, through choices like casting, lighting, direction, and location, ultimately create a world that is engaging to audiences.

Analyzing the Story and Characters

Although story and characters may seem vastly different, they are closely aligned. Understanding a character’s emotions, physicality, mind set, and behavior is just the beginning. The events of the script happen to the character, so those events must be addressed as well.  When analyzing a script, an actor or director needs to fall in love with not only the characters but the story as well.

Actors should be wary of directors who don’t take characterization into consideration. Think about the difference between an actor who assumes that a character is “obsessed” or “angry” and a character who, with the actors, questions why that character is behaving the way that s/he is. For an actor to be able to respect a director’s creativity and leadership, the director should have a deep connection to not only the characters, but to the story as well. Good directors know a script as well as if they wrote it themselves. The script becomes their vision, an essential part of the creative process.

When an actor or director searches beyond what is apparent on the page, s/he is finding the subtext of the script.  From that subtext, an actor and a director can find the key to portraying the emotional truth of the character’s journey.  That search for subtext happens between the lines and not necessarily in the words themselves.

When is Too Much?

Questioning is essential in script analysis.  Even directors who write a script themselves need to learn how to look at their script with fresh eyes. They need to question it and be critical of it. Characters that seem less developed need those questions to help the writer fill out the details.  Thinking about the script critically, with imaginations free to wonder, question, direct, and even manipulate the contents, helps to create characters and plot lines that are engaging and well developed.

While some directors may be uncomfortable with what they consider excessive questioning, actors can find those same questions calming. Knowing that there are no questions that haven’t been answered can take the pressure off of playing the character. Understanding how the character interacts with the world and the events taking place can lead to a more truthful portrayal. A character should always feel real and whole, rather than a two-dimensional creation, regardless of what the marketing department wants.

The most noteworthy reason for asking questions is the connections or links that result. Paul Newman once said that he used 10% of the ideas he came up with, and the other 90% just didn’t work. If he didn’t constantly question the script and the characters, he may not have even gotten that 10%, leaving the characters he’s played much less enthralling or entertaining.

You’re Telling a Story

When developing a strategy for film production from script analysis, it’s important to remember that you are telling a story about people, no matter how that story is being told.

For example, if you have a script that revolves around a friendship, you don’t just need to know if the friendship is funny or loving. You need to understand why these two people became friends in the first place. What is their common bond? How do they support or play off of one another?  If the opposite is true, and a script is geared toward gratuitous violence or special effects, actors may have a hard time developing characters that seem authentic.

The best filmmakers understand that storytelling is about each individual character, including their loves, passion, victories, and losses. Finding this human element during script analysis should always be the goal, so that the film can be as successful as possible. Remembering that every story, at its heart, is about people and their experiences will certainly help that process.