Script Breakdown: Character Analysis

by Peter D Marshall

In the last article, I talked about the first, and most important, part of a Director’s job – understanding the script: what the story is about; the themes; the story points; and the characters. In this article, I will focus on Character Development and Analysis.

After reading the script and working through the script structure and scene analysis, it’s time to figure out the development and objectives of the characters.

1. Character Functions

Each character has at least one function (or role) in any story, such as:

a) protagonist
b) antagonist
c) best friend
d) love interest
e) confidante
f) partner
g) catalyst
h) mentor
i) comic relief

There are many more, but this is a basic list for you to start with.

2. Character Emotions

Here are the three main character emotions:

a) Sympathy – the audience IDENTIFIES with the character’s problems and triumphs
b) Empathy – the audience UNDERSTANDS the emotions that drive the character
c) Antipathy – the audience wants the character to “GET WHAT THEY DESERVE”

3. Character Components

These are the Internal and External factors that shape each character:

a) Interior – form character
b) Exterior – reveal character

4. Character Background

a) where is the character from (background)
b) what was he doing just before this scene
c) what does the writer say about this character
d) what do others say about this character
e) what does the character say about himself

5. Character Objectives (Most Important!)

These are the main needs and wants of a character (what people want out of life)

a) SUPER OBJECTIVE (example: “Power over People”)
– what is the primal motivation of the character
– what are the main needs of the character

b) OBJECTIVES (example: “Wants to Dominate Character A”)
– what does the character want (motives)
– what are the active choices to achieve the Super Objective

c) MAIN ACTIONS (example: “What they DO to Character A”)
– what the character DOES…
– to get what he WANTS…
– to fulfill his NEEDS

NOTES ON OBJECTIVES:

a) there can only be one objective per character – per scene
b) the simpler the objective, the easier it is for an actor to play it
c) objectives rise out of the character’s needs and feelings
d) objectives help actors react to each other – rather than just “say the lines”
e) an objective should be an active choice for an actor
f) an actor should always play their objective in every scene

When coming up with character objectives, ask yourself: what does each Character want in this story – in this scene?

a) look at the character’s behavior (what he does)
b) look at what the character talks about (what he says)
c) remember my Director Mantra: Motive (inner life ) Determines Behavior (outer life)!

6. Character Breakdown

Go through your script and write down all the characters. You should list the main characters first and the secondary characters last and then assign them a function. Your first character should be the main character – or the protagonist.

NOTE: if you are doing a TV Series, the main characters will already be established for you. They are usually numbered “1,2,3…” on any call sheet.

7. Script Breakdown (Per Character)

Answer these question about how each character fits in the story:

a) what is the story function of this Character
b) what is their Super-Objective
c) what is their Main Objective (in the story)

8. Scene Breakdown (Per Character)

Answer these questions about how each character fits in every scene:

a) what is the character objective in this scene
b) what are the character’s main actions in this scene
c) what are the results of their actions in this scene

9. Character Dialogue

I am a firm believer in the rule ” Less is more!” As the Director, it is your responsibility to take a written document (The Script) and translate it into a visual format (Film or Video). This means that we can sometimes use visuals instead of dialogue to make a story point or to show what an actor is
thinking.

After you have done all your homework on Script, Scene and Character Analysis, make another pass at the script to see what dialogue can be omitted by using visuals to get the point across. It is always better to SHOW the audience what a character is thinking, than have them talk about it. (Motion Pictures!)

WARNING: on a TV series, the producers are usually the writers and they are, for the most part, very hesitant to have any dialogue removed. If you have done your homework (Scene and Character Breakdowns) and can show them that your idea will make the scene better, go for it – they can only say no.

Copyright (c) 2000-2011 Peter D. Marshall / All Rights Reserved

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