Script Breakdown: Script and Scene Analysis

by Peter D Marshall

A) Director as Story-Teller

There are many facets of a Director’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.

A director 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.

Copyright (c) 2000-2012 Peter D. Marshall / All Rights Reserved

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Reality February 5, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Dear sir,
I want to use these time to thank God for ur live and how u change my live.
I find these web of urs very helpful for any actor.
Sir, I just lack words to thank you.
God bless.

Prince Tonnio February 5, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Dear Sir,
I just wanna thank you for the articles that I find helpful to me.
Acting is something I can die for, your articles is just too good.
Thanks.

Peter D Marshall February 9, 2010 at 10:09 am

Hello Prince,

Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate feedback from subscribers. It helps me to decide the articles I put into the ezine.

Best of luck,

Peter

Nelson Kimbi March 12, 2010 at 6:41 am

All my lot is thanks at least for the moment. A favour by writing more to me about script writing and screenplay structure. More success will come your way!

gutu March 24, 2010 at 12:08 am

hi dear sir, how nice to meet u. so i have an script of a movie and what can i do to make it a really movie i just need an a dvice from u
thanks
bless u

Firoz August 2, 2010 at 8:57 am

Hi Peter

I am writing to you from India. Pune to be Specific.
I am new to facebook and saw your article.
What i see is that you have good clarity of the subject of screenplays.
But
I would like to know whether are you interested in buying scripts.
Animation and drama.
indian culture is such that it spins out stories that people in the west wont even think of in your whole lifetime. Its not all dance and drama or singing , its heart touching stories ….
do they interest you.
If so then we can have a discussion . mail me on iamfiroz@gmail.com

kell August 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Yes thank you. I am a first year english teacher also teaching drama and have been having trouble with where to start, but this really helped.

patrick mwangi January 27, 2011 at 8:33 am

am a working writer in kenya and i find your article very insightful especially now that i want to develop a pilot and shoot it. i understand that 60%of any good production is a good script and thats what i want for my producing debut…thanks for the poiters

Santtosh Kumar Arya February 12, 2011 at 11:21 am

Hello Peter,
I’m really lucky to be one amongst your 2500 Facebook friends. I have just been going through this site and especially your “Steampunk Neverland” – A Film Director’s Journey (Pre-Production) blog. I have to say that I’m learning more about Film Making through your blog, than what I should have learnt in a 12-month, film-making course I had undertaken, here in Mumbai.

I can only thank you for this.

I will be in touch in the future, Thank you.

Eternal and sincere thanks,
Santtosh Kumar Arya :)

Peter D Marshall February 12, 2011 at 11:59 am

Santtosh, thank you for your comments. There’s lots more to come on the Steampunk journey. Please keep in touch and let me know what you think. :)

craig February 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I am writing a script for a one hour drama which has confilct and fully developed characters. I am about half way through with the first draft. I see the plot through to about half way through the next script (one hour dama -hopefully a series). Even though there is no conclusion (as of yet) I am having a hard time thinking of additional content. The idea alone should have more going for it then Entouage yet Entourage is consistently able to keep it interesting. How do I do this as I feel my script has characters and conflict easily as interesting as the Entouage.

Mahanth May 11, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Dear Sir,

I am from India & firstly I would really like to thank you for providing some inputs for developing a script. I am trying to add some comedy scenes to make the film more enjoyable, but I am really struggling hard to get those ideas. I would be great full to you if u provide some tips to me.

Thank you.

OCEANWALK MOVIES June 24, 2011 at 4:11 am

this is really a blessing in disguise.this is just perfect.this is an up and coming movie production in ghana and i’m the director,i really didn’t know where to start but you’ve really helped me.thank you so much

Peter D Marshall June 24, 2011 at 8:50 am

Thank you for your comment. Best of luck.

mykells July 20, 2011 at 7:51 am

hi peter
i really appreciate your insights regards the film making proceedures . i will like to know if the steps you mentioned in the Script Breakdown: Script and Scene Analysis can be applied to any category and type of production
secondly, how do i know how to categorize my script into either a drama, soap, series etc

xolani September 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Dear Sir.

Thank you for the insight regarding the script breakdown, but I would like to known the different between plot point 1 and plot point 2, and how long can a climax be.

Many Thanks.

Xolani

Aravind September 23, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Sir,

i am from Bollywood, I say Thanks A Lot

The Red Ranger November 14, 2011 at 4:05 am

When you come to Mauritius please let me know. Thanks

Peter D Marshall November 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I sure will :) Any need for some filmmaking workshops there?

grey December 14, 2011 at 6:31 am

i really appreciate your work.thanks alot.

Mussa Bakali December 16, 2011 at 12:44 am

hie

im mussa Bakali from Malawi,writing and acting is my dream, All my lot is thanks at least for the moment. A favour by writing more to me about script writing and screenplay structure. More success will come your way!

Charlene January 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm

thanks so much! I’m considering writing my first serious script soon, and this has got to be one of the most helpful articles I’ve even read.
thanks again.

charlene :) x

Emmanuel February 28, 2012 at 5:59 am

Dear sir
good day
thanks a lot for give me important idea on script writing.
pls add more .
Best regards
Emmanuel.

Edward Onyango March 21, 2012 at 7:40 am

Dear Peter,

Grant me to add a word of gratitude towards your service. I have and continue to learn a lot from your articles.

Very best Regards,

Edward
Nairobi – Kenya

Peter D Marshall March 21, 2012 at 8:34 am

Thank you Edward :)

Manali March 31, 2012 at 1:07 am

I just went through this script breakdown process for the first time by myself. This is only because of your clear structured ideas. Peter you have convinced me to stop procrastinating and really push myself in this breaking down process. I’m doing this for my current directing assignment, so when I get an A+, I won’t hesitate to give all the credit to you!

Keep inspiring the future of films!
Manali
New Zealand

Peter D Marshall March 31, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Manali, thank you for your comments. Let me know what happened :)

somnath laha April 6, 2012 at 8:46 am

Dear Peter,
Give some details of angles of camera to shoot emotional,comedy,weeping effects..As you as you great…and have to learn many things from you for my forthcoming assignments.

Thanks
som +91-8697160630

Judy June 25, 2012 at 7:43 am

Do all one hour television scripts have to be four acts?

Peter D Marshall June 28, 2012 at 7:31 am

Typically yes. You can also add a Teaser and a tag. http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/television-script-format.html

Emeka Onwukwe August 30, 2012 at 8:23 am

I’m writing from Nigeria and I thank you for this great insight into script analysis. Over here we have a lot of challenges based on the fact that many non professionals are in the industry. I would love to be getting news letters from you frequently so that I can improve on my screen writing skills.

Peter D Marshall September 1, 2012 at 10:44 am

Hi Emeka, Thank you for your comments. :)

NJagi james October 5, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi peter,am aspiring to be a writer.i have several stories.pliz help me on how to make them play script and how to sell them.thank u.email:jemokinoti@gmail.com

castro M November 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Dear Peter,

I have previously read through many books, articls regarding blocking the scene in filmmaking process, I simply found your tips strightforward and practical, you just making the whole process look simpler than it is.

Castro M

Peter D Marshall November 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

Castro, thank you very much for your comments. Best of luck :)

Lawrence koranteng April 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Sir, may God bless you and gives you long life

decorative grates July 11, 2013 at 7:18 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on scene analysis.
Regards

Karen Rogers March 23, 2014 at 4:27 am

Hi, Peter, a great article. I am a screenwriter, just finished my sixth feature screenplay, and I came to your site after a “character breakdown” search, then went on to this article.
I’ve been thinking that I should find out what directors look for in a script, to make sure I’m giving them what they need. It’s funny, but most of the information that you feel must be broken out of the script is what I must write out before I can ever write the script. I wonder if my outlines and templates might be as important to the director as the script, then s/he wouldn’t have to work so hard just figuring it out. And there would probably be less misunderstanding. This situation almost feels like a disconnected wire in the filmmaking process.

mduduzi June 16, 2014 at 5:57 pm

very interesting ideas,thanks

from
mduduzi hlatshwayo
[south Africa]

cengo July 21, 2014 at 6:13 am

Very helpful notes. Thanks

Ciaran M August 5, 2014 at 9:15 am

I’m just after finishing the first draft of my first short script in twenty-two years and this article and others on script breakdown have been great for making notes and changes and understanding the piece in a clearer way than when I tried my last short. I’ll be referring back to the one on blocking later no doubt.

It’s quite hard to find to-the-point articles on this kind of thing. Many of the headlines imply a practical article but they seem to collapse into memoir or pep-talks instead of this kind of useful advice.

Peter D Marshall August 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Ciaran, thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate it :)

Peter D Marshall August 6, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Ciaran, do I have your permission to use your comment as testimonial on my websites? If so, could you please reply to this message. I would also like to use your first and ast name plus your country if that is okay with you. Thanks again :)

“I’m just after finishing the first draft of my first short script in twenty-two years and this article and others on script breakdown have been great for making notes and changes and understanding the piece in a clearer way than when I tried my last short. I’ll be referring back to the one on blocking later no doubt. It’s quite hard to find to-the-point articles on this kind of thing. Many of the headlines imply a practical article but they seem to collapse into memoir or pep-talks instead of this kind of useful advice.” Ciaran (last name) (Country)

Ciarán MacAoidh August 7, 2014 at 2:16 am

Sure, you’re welcome to use it.

Peter D Marshall August 7, 2014 at 6:16 am

Thank you Ciaran. What country are you from? I would like to add that to the testimonial as well.

Ciarán MacAoidh August 7, 2014 at 8:34 am

Sorry ’bout that; I forget that I’m not actually famous yet. :) I’m from Ireland.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: