Trying to analyze a script can be overwhelming for anyone. Stories are complex and intricate machines that depend upon several elements working in tandem. It takes an expert storyteller to get a script firing on all cylinders, which explains why so many movies and television shows don’t always work.
Writing isn’t formulaic. At best, it’s an imperfect science. For those reasons, understanding story is as valuable a skill as any in Hollywood. Breaking down a screenplay with these ten points in mind will help simplify the process. Not only are these points valuable for readers, but screenwriters can also benefit from knowing what exactly their readers will be analyzing.
Did the writer use the typical three-act structure to write their piece? Did they show the plot in several stages, beginning to end? The three-act structure isn’t necessary for every screenplay that you read, but the majority of successful scripts have plots that can fit the structure. Overall, the script should be laid out in a fashion that makes sense.
A script should also show an emotional change (called an arc) in the main character. The structure of the screenplay needs to be formed with that emotional arc in mind. The subplots are also important factors to consider when looking at the overall structure. Each subplot should strengthen and coincide with the premise and theme.
Not to say that every single film has to contribute something new to the world, but it should at least have an interesting and unique hook. This means that it compels the audience to keep on reading. Nobody wants to experience the same movie five times in a row. It is best when the writer’s concept can be summarized. An idea may be too complex if it can’t be described in just a few sentences. Movies are sold to the public in thirty second TV spots and two-minute trailers. As a result, simplicity is key.
Another important point to remember when analyzing the concept of the script is that the conflict needs to be universal. The conflict must resonate with a wide variety of people for the script to be a success. If only one culture or demographic can relate to the characters, it lessens the film’s potential to appeal to the rest of the world. It’s important to consider whether or not this premise can be sold.
Character development is one of the most important aspects of a script. If the audience can’t empathize or identify with the protagonist, the message isn’t getting through and people aren’t being entertained. There needs to be at least one moment where the audience “gets” the protagonist. One way to achieve this is to give the protagonist a goal or emotional need they need to have fulfilled. A protagonist needs to learn a lesson to develop. The main character also needs to take charge, make decisions, and be active in the story. If the protagonist is merely reacting to things that others do, they aren’t developing. The other characters in the script should serve a purpose for the protagonist. It’s also important that they do not overshadow the protagonist.
The character’s dialogue should be realistic. The characters need to be using speech patterns consistent with the era and location they are from. It also helps if there are memorable pieces of dialogue as well. If the idea for a film is one that will have people repeating lines for years to come, it’s generally going to be successful.
Subtextual dialogue is another key factor in a script. This means that the characters should not be telling each other how they are feeling. It is better if their emotions and feelings are being expressed in a visual way, leaving it to the audience to interpret what is occurring in the story.
Entertainment value is the selling point of most scripts. Is it interesting? Is it compelling? Is it exciting? Will somebody anticipate this movie weeks in advance? Does the script have a twist that makes it unique in comparison to others like it? Is it unpredictable enough that an audience will continue watching?
While it’s important for a script to be unpredictable, it’s also important that there is a logical flow to the order of events or an internal logic to the story. A script with plot holes and logical leaps needs some revision before it’s ready for the big screen.
This one is a no-brainer. With very few exceptions (such as being a famous writer like Cormac McCarthy), the script needs to be in the accepted screenwriting format for it to be considered. The planning and production of screenplays depends on accurate formatting. One page is equal to one minute of screen time. Scene headings, spacing, and page counts all contribute to a ballpark estimate of budget and scheduling.
The action paragraphs of the script need to be concise. It is generally considered bad form if the script reads like a novel. Screenwriting is all about word economy. The fewer words a writer can use to get their point across, the better. Generally, as long as the reader understands what is going on, it is acceptable. Sentence fragments and one word sentences are common.
Yes, the first impression does matter. A person’s gut reaction needs to play a role in the coverage. Potential audiences will be using their first impression of a film to relay their opinion to a friend. It is important that this factors into the overall analysis of the script.
SPELLING AND GRAMMAR
Spelling and grammar are the two elements that should be considered last when looking at a script. If it is egregious enough that the reader would find it distracting than they need to be mentioned. In general, they are never a deciding factor, but more of a footnote.