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

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Yasmin July 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I am currently supposed to be breaking down a script for burke & hare 2010 and i am having difficulty i am doing this for a course in make up what tips would you give
many thanks
yasmin

Peter D Marshall July 19, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Hi Yasmin, I don’t fully understand your question. Could you please be more specific. Thanks.

marv August 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I have written my first script, is there a format or formular to start my character breakdown?

Anne-May August 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Hi!
What would you put in a scenebreakdown(film) except from what happens around the characters?

MAYUR September 1, 2010 at 6:33 am

I HAVE A SCREENPLAY. I NEED TO WRITE THE BREAKDOWN STORY OF THIS. SO CAN YOU SUGGEST ME HOW TO WRITE? WHATS THE FORMAT?
what actually means the breakdown story? please reply soon

Darryl Vaz April 21, 2011 at 10:34 am

Hi Peter,
I have browsed the net several times on scene breakdown, but nothing had come to my aid and finally i came across your article, this and the previous, and you are a life saver. I hope your guidance helps me as an AD with my first project.
Waiting for your further guidance.

Darryl Vaz

Peter D Marshall April 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Thanks Darryl. Best of luck.

sunshine October 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

I need a sample on how to give a written analysis on a film/movie

Neenah October 19, 2011 at 7:12 am

I am supposed to do a character analysis its asking me to describe her feet, annkle, calves knees and so forth, I need a sample of what it is they are asking for….

Marie McGowan November 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Your article on “Script Breakdown: Character Analysis” addresses everything I am seeking and just what I need to improve my acting technique. Do you offers courses on this topic in New York? If not, can you refer me to someone in New York who approaches character analysis as describe in your article.

Marie McGowan

Peter D Marshall November 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

Marie, Thanks for your comments on “Script Breakdown: Character Analysis.” I don’t have any workshops planned for the NY area yet. When I do, I will contact you.
Cheers,
Peter

Renee November 24, 2011 at 2:04 am

Hello,

I have to write a textual analysis of a play from the director’s perspective. Do you have any suggestions of what are the core concepts that should be addressed in this essay? Greatly appreciate any advice offered.

Thank you.

breanna January 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm

i need a script or like u know whhen caracters talk in a book well i need to make a script for a film im doing about a film where would i find a website like that

brett February 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Great article. I’ve taken so many acting classes in my time, but I’ve never had it laid out so simply. Much appreciated!

Peter D Marshall March 1, 2012 at 8:45 am

Thanks for your comments Brett.

DON CHECHE April 30, 2012 at 11:34 am

Hi PETER, i love it all but can you explain or answer most of the question so i can learn more.

C.B Josef May 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Nyc article, very educative and well written

bless reeves August 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

i love your instruction and hope it will help to develop profile for my characters for a TV series/

molly January 25, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I am interested in new post.

Emma February 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

Hello Peter,
Can you recommend me a good breaking down the script for actors book?
Thanks a lot!

Peter D Marshall February 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Judith Weston’s “Directing the Actor” and “The Film Director’s Intuition” discusses script analysis

Dani March 14, 2013 at 5:14 am

Can you please give me a sample of script and character breakdown?
Thanks

Victor April 16, 2013 at 4:16 pm

As I make my character list should I list the Narrator and a voice over character who’s only heard as a live on air radio personality?

Peter D Marshall April 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm

You should list only the live on air radio personality. This person will have to be cast and recorded before you go into post-production. The narrator is strictly done in a post-Production.

subhasis June 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm

the articles you write are much help to newcomers in this field like me. have got so many answers i was looking for. thanks. :)

mak August 22, 2013 at 2:31 am

thanks, book which you refer helped me a lot :) . i am working on my short film.

Gregory February 20, 2014 at 11:31 am

Hi Peter,
Thanks for all your information, its been very helpful. I have completed several scripts and I am ready to put them on the market. I have also signed on with an attorney to start the marketing process for me. Was this a bad move? What would be the best avenue?

Thanks,
Gregory Lambert

Peter D Marshall February 21, 2014 at 9:14 am

There is no one best way to go about selling your scripts. You have protected yourself by getting an attorney and that is good. All the best.

Athi February 25, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Hello Mr Marshall thank you for sharing your professional insight on character breakdown. I’m an aspiring young actor and I think this post is as much help to an actor as it is to a director/ writer. I’m also currently in the process of writing a script (stage play) I hope I’m not veering you outside your wheelhouse by asking stage/actor related questions. I would like to know how important is the specificity of the setting eg. Time/era? I’ve seen good plays where there is no reference to the time/ place but ofcourse the setting (props/furniture) costume and dialogue give the audience a certain idea. Also do characters HAVE to change by the end of the story?

Peter D Marshall February 25, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Hi Athi. First of all, there are no rules for art – only guidelines. Having said that, I believe showing time and setting are important because it gives a framework for the story that the actors/characters and the audience can relate to. And if your characters do not change by the end of the story, you have no journey. And that is what the audience wants to see. Hope this helps :)

Gregory Lambert February 26, 2014 at 10:41 am

Hi Mr Marshall,
I recently submitted three of my best scripts to a film maker. It was a great opportunity in that this film maker does not give out his personal information. I later found out that I submitted the unedited versions instead of my edited. It looked really bad. In your honest opinion, have I ruined a great opportunity and should resubmit the edited versions noting that there was a mistake made in the submission.

Peter D Marshall February 27, 2014 at 9:17 am

Gregory, if you think this is a good chance for you to get your work shown, then do a “mea culpa” and send him the right scripts. If your stories resonate with this filmmaker, then that oversight will soon be forgotten.

Gregory Lambert March 26, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Peter, when submitting or trying to sell a script, should I submit just the logline are would it be safe to submit the whole script?

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