Script Breakdown

By AM Staff

  • Script Breakdown – Script and Scene Analysis

    A) Actor as Story-Teller

    There are many facets of a actor’s prep on any film or TV show – from location scouts and creative meetings to casting and scheduling.

    But the first, and most important part of your job, is to understand the script – what the story is about; the themes; the story points; the characters.

    An actor is a story-teller, and to be a good story-teller, you need to understand every detail about the story you are telling. There’s an old expression that says if it doesn’t work in

    the script, it won’t work on the set – and boy is that true! Understanding the story requires a lot of work on your part because you need to rip the script apart to find out what it is about, what works and what doesn’t.

    B) Script structure

    Here is the “traditional” Three Act structure of any story:
    ACT ONE – THE SET-UP (Boy Meets Girl)
    ACT TWO – CONFRONTATION (Boy Loses girl-fights to get her back)
    ACT THREE – RESOLUTION (Boy Gets Girl)

    NOTE: There has been a lot of debate lately on script structure – how many acts there are in a script! Because this is not a writing course, (and every story ALWAYS has a Beginning, Middle and End), I will refer to all scripts as having the traditional Three Act structure. Even Television scripts follow the Three Act structure – they are just divided into Act Breaks because that is where the commercials go.

    Here is a “general guide” to the physical structure of TV scripts:
    1) Half-Hour Episodic TV (22-25 pages and Two Acts)
    2) One-Hour Episodic TV (50 – 65 pages and Four Acts)
    3) Two Hour TV Movie (100 – 110 pages and Seven Acts)

    Television scripts can also be broken down further by using a Teaser and a Tag. So a one-hour TV Script could be divided up like this:
    a. Teaser
    b. Act One
    c. Act Two
    d. Act Three
    e. Act Four
    f. Tag

    C) Script Analysis

    When you first get your script, find a nice quite place and just read it through once – from start to finish. Your first pass is to get an idea of what the story is about, where it takes place and who the characters are. This is when you form your first impressions of the story and it is probably the only time you will ever enjoy the script as a story – because from now on it’s all work!!

    Then, read the script again (and again, and again…) and start making notes and jotting down the answers to the following questions:
    1) what is the PLOT? (what is the story about)
    2) what is the THEME? (what is the message)
    3) what is the LOGIC? (does the story make sense)
    4) what is the EXPOSITION? (what are the characters doing/thinking)
    5) what is the COMPLICATION? (what is the drama in the story)
    6) what creates the tension? (what will happen next)
    7) what is the MAIN QUESTION? (what problem is to be solved)
    8) what is the MAIN action? (what event hooks the audience)
    9) what is the CAUSE OF THE action? (what happens to the main character)
    10) what is the RESULTING action? (the answer to the main question)
    11) what is the CONCLUSION? (how does the story end)
    12) who is the PROTAGONIST? (the main character)
    13) who is the ANTAGONIST? (could be one or more characters)
    14) who is the MOST INTERESTING character? (not always the main character)
    15) where does the story TAKE PLACE? (location, time period)

    D) Scene Analysis

    Once you have an understanding of what the story is about, you then need to analyze each individual scene in the script.

    1) what is the INTENT of the scene? (what is the scene used for dramatically)
    2) what are the PLOT POINTS? (points that move the story forward)
    3) what is the climax of each scene? (what is the turning point)
    4) what is the RESOLUTION? (how is the theme resolved)
    5) what is the CONCLUSION? (how does the scene end)
    4) what are the important LINES OF DIALOGUE? (contain story points)
    5) which character CONTROLS the scene? (who pushes the story forward)
    6) what are the BEATS/UNIT CHANGES? (where does the story change directions)

    E) Other Structural Elements

    Here is a partial list of some other elements you need to look for during your script breakdown:
    1) foreshadowing
    2) recurring motifs
    3) scene transitions
    4) counterpoint
    5) repetition
    6) contrast
    7) clarity of information
    8) action and stunts
    9) comedy scenes
    10) special effects (explosions etc)
    11) visual effects (CGI, green screen etc)
    12) locations

    F) In Conclusion

    Your script breakdown will be a never-ending process. Each time you read the script, you find out something different about the story or the characters.

    The script will constantly evolve. It will change because of the your creative notes – writer changes – actor changes – producer changes – network changes – location availability and on and on and on…

    As long as you know what the story is about and where the story is going, you can adjust to all the changes.

    About The Author

    Peter D. Marshall has worked in the Film and TV Industry for over 32 years. In 2000 he created www.ActionCutPrint.com as an online resource center for Filmmakers where you will find filmmaking tips, articles and directing workshops. Peter also publishes the free monthly ezine, “The director’s chair.”http://www.actioncutprint.com mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com

    Recommended Posts

  • Ad

  • 10 Actors We Loved and Lost in 2020

    10 Actors We Loved and Lost in 2020 Here’s a partial list of some of the actors we will miss (by Carmichael Phillips) (Photo source: Jamie Street/Unsplash) No doubt, 2020 was a rough…

    What is a Must-Join? 

    What is a Must-Join?  Let’s explore this SAG-AFTRA status… (by Tonya Tannenbaum) (Photo: Eunice Lituanas | Unsplash) A “Must-Join” is the label placed on actors who have surpassed the grace period (usually 30…

    Bill Nighy: “I still don’t have a process” 

    Bill Nighy: “I still don’t have a process”  (arranged by Carmichael Phillips, excerpts from an interview with Bafta Guru) (Bill Nighy) “I’m old enough to say that I’ve never knowingly been in character…

    Create Your Own Opportunities!

    Create Your Own Opportunities!  What’s your excuse for not producing your own projects and casting yourself?  (by Jim Webb) (Photo: Gianandrea Villa/Unsplash) The advent of things like social media and the internet allows…

    Viola Davis: “I write a bio of the character.”

    Viola Davis: “I write a bio of the character.” Viola Davis describes her character-building and collaboration process (arranged by Carmichael Phillips) (Viola Davis) “I read the script over and over and over again….

  • Ad

  • Do You Have an Acting Mentor? 

    Do You Have an Acting Mentor?  How having a mentor can help you save time, money and your sanity (by Jim Webb) (Photo: neONBRAND/unsplash) You already know that taking acting classes can help…

    Good News & Bad News for Background Actors

    Good News & Bad News for Background Actors  There are lucrative opportunities for those fortunate enough to find them  (arranged by Carmichael Phillips)  (Photo: Sigmund/Unsplash) There has been lots of bad news for…

    The 3 Main Types of Commercials 

    The 3 Main Types of Commercials  Commercial actors can benefit from understanding the distinctions (by Javier Guerra) A commercial is a commercial is a commercial. They’re all the same, right? Except, they are…

  • Ad

  • Ed Harris: “Acting is a lifelong situation.” 

    Ed Harris:  “Acting is a lifelong situation.” (arranged by Carmichael Phillips) (Ed Harris in Westworld) “Acting is a lifelong situation…’til you drop dead.” Ed Harris is one of the most successful character actors…

    The Easiest Way to Improve Your Acting Life? Go to Sleep!

    The Easiest Way to Improve Your Acting Life? Go to Sleep!  The subtle ways that sleep impacts your performance (by Todd Bruce) (Photo: Damir Spanic/Unsplash) Not getting enough sleep at night? Do you…

    The Self-Tape Request from Hell!

    The Self-Tape Request from Hell! Sometimes casting directors ask for far too much! (by The Anonymous Actor) (Photo: Usman Yousaf/Unsplash) Forgive me for saying this, but this self-taping thing has gone too far!…

    10 Reasons Why Being a Modern Actor is Bad Ass

    10 Reasons Why Being a Modern Actor is Bad Ass There simply has never been a better time to be an actor (by Carmichael Phillips) (Photo: Roy Alanwar/Unsplash) Aren’t you glad to be…

    How to Sell Yourself in 10 Seconds or Less

    How to Sell Yourself in 10 Seconds or Less Quick! Sell your acting career in 10 seconds or less! (by Tonya Tannenbaum) (Photo: August de Richelieu/Unsplash) Quick! Sell your acting career in 10…

  • Ad

  • What is a Right-to-Work State?

    What is a Right-to-Work State?  There are currently 27 Right-to-Work states in the United States (by Tonya Tannenbaum) (Photo: Joey Csunyo/Unsplash) A right-to-work state is a state that forbids union security agreements. That…

    7 Words That Can Trip an Actor Up

    7 Words That Can Trip an Actor Up  Confusing, isn’t it? (by Tonya Tannenbaum) (Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash) As if the acting business was not perplexing enough, there’s always something else to confuse the…

    Edie Falco: “Just make sure you’re always working on something. Representation or not.”

    Edie Falco:  “Just make sure you’re always working on something. Representation or not.” (arranged by Carmichael Phillips) (Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie) “Just make sure you’re always working on something. Representation or not.”…

  • Ad

  • The Virtual Audition Waiting Room

    The Virtual Audition Waiting Room “It’s now your turn to audition, please enter Studio B.” (by The Anonymous Actor) (Photo: Vladimir Fedotov/Unsplash) The global pandemic has forced us all to reevaluate the way…

    The Pandemic Ruined My Actor Life!

    The Pandemic Ruined My Actor Life! But here’s to hoping things get back to normal (by The Anonymous Actor)  (Photo: Cristian Newman/Unsplash) My Last Normal Day…  I can’t remember the exact date. To…

    The Actor’s Job Description

    The Actor’s Job Description  Help wanted. Apply now! (by Javier Guerra) (Photo: Yogendra Singh/Unsplash) Help wanted: ACTORS Employer: The Entertainment Industry Salary: $52,000 annually, on average Bonuses: Possibly Millions Benefits: Health and Retirement…

    The Power of Positive Thinking

    The Power of Positive Thinking  Pledge to never allow another negative thought to enter your mind (by Javier Guerra) (Photo: Dingzeyu Li/Unsplash) Isn’t it amazing how much our brains can influence us with…

    Deadlines Are DEAD-lines

    Deadlines Are DEAD-lines  Going past deadlines may not get you shot, but they can certainly kill opportunities (by Jim Webb) (Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash) Once upon a time, prisons didn’t have high walls with…

  • Ad

  • Every Take Should Be Different, Every Performance Should Be Different

    Every Take Should Be Different, Every Performance Should Be Different Always keep this rule in mind (by Jim Webb) (Photo: Rene Ranisch/Unsplash) Here’s an easy way to know whether you are truly acting…

    Actor Stories: Michael Clarke Duncan Lied on His Résumé to Get His Big Break at Age 42!

    Actor Stories:  Michael Clarke Duncan Lied on His Résumé to Get His Big Break at Age 42!  He left behind an incredible legacy, and an unbelievable actor story (by Carmichael Phillips) (Michael Clarke…

    Get to Know Zoom

    Get to Know Zoom Zoom auditions offer the acting world a lifeline during this ongoing, global pandemic (by Jim Webb) (Photo: Visuals/Unsplash) You ever get a song stuck in your head that you…

  • Ad

  • Michael B. Jordan: “After all my auditions, I started throwing my sides away.”

    Michael B. Jordan: “After all my auditions, I started throwing my sides away.” (arranged by AM Staff) (Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station) “After all my auditions, I started throwing my sides away.”…

    The Latino Actor: An Uphill Battle for Representation and Inclusion

    The Latino Actor:  An Uphill Battle for Representation and Inclusion (by Javier Guerra) (Photo: Craig Adderley/Pexels) Of all the underrepresented minority groups in Hollywood, the Hispanic and Latino actor probably faces the steepest…

    The Knock-at-the-Door Exercise

    The Knock-at-the-Door Exercise Its main purpose is to introduce actors to “imaginary circumstances” (by Jim Webb) (Photo: Adrienn/Pexels) The Knock-at-the-Door Exercise is an acting exercise, where one actor engages in a serious, consequential…

    Actor Stories: How Aaron Paul Got His Big Break 

    Actor Stories: How Aaron Paul Got His Big Break  Ten years of darkness before the light finally broke through (by Carmichael Phillips) (Aaron Paul in El Camino) Jesse Pinkman is not his actual…

    The Mirror is Not Your Friend

    The Mirror is Not Your Friend Why you should never rehearse in front of your mirror (by Jim Webb) (Photo: Phinehas Adams/Unsplash) Do you rehearse your lines in front of a mirror? Do…

    5 Essential Budgeting Tips for Actors

    5 Essential Budgeting Tips for Actors Budgeting is a crucial skill in the actor’s life (by Javier Guerra) (Photo: Michael Longmire/Unsplash) All you need to do is look at your last W2, the…

    Actor Stories: How Chadwick Boseman Almost Gave Up on Acting Before He Became a Legend 

    Actor Stories:  How Chadwick Boseman Almost Gave Up on Acting Before, He Became a Legend  Nothing, not even cancer, can kill a legend (by Carmichael Phillips) (Chadwick Boseman in Marshall, 2017) Age 43…

    RIP to Chadwick Boseman

    RIP to Chadwick Boseman A fantastic actor, taken much too soon (by Carmichael Phillips) (Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther) The world continues to mourn the loss of Chadwick Boseman, the talented young actor…

    Load More