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3 Script Analysis Hacks We Use In Our Script Coverage

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by Script Reader Pro in How To Write A Screenplay, Script Coverage
May 13, 2015 4 comments
script analysis

In this post we thought it’d be a great idea to give you an exclusive look inside our script analysis process, and the hacks we advise screenwriters implement when writing a script.

These script analysis hacks will simplify the often abstract and confusing screenwriting advice out there you may have heard. We also include some of the hands-on, practical exercises we suggest writers use to improve specific areas of their screenwriting.
Most important of all, you’ll get to see how you can do your own DIY script analysis by going through each section and applying our techniques to your own screenplay. Sound good? Then let’s get to it.

3 KICK-ASS SCRIPT ANALYSIS HACKS

SCRIPT ANALYSIS HACK #1: CONCEPT

Unfortunately, one of the most common problems we find in screenplays is that the initial concept isn’t as strong as it could be. In our screenplay analysis, we focus on strengthening the concept by breaking it down into three simple elements:

Protagonist + Struggle With Antagonist + Death Stakes

The reason why so many concepts and loglines fail at the first hurdle is usually because they’ve missed out one of the three steps in that equation. Here are some examples from well-known movies:

Bridesmaids: “A down on her luck pastry chef [protagonist] clashes with a competitive bridesmaid [struggle with antagonist] while struggling to handle maid-of-honor duties for her best friend’s wedding.” [death stakes]

Birdman: “A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero
[protagonist] battles his ego, family, and cast members [struggle with antagonist] while putting on the Broadway play intended to revive his career.” [death stakes]

World War Z: “A United Nations employee [protagonist] traverses the world in a race against time to stop the zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, [struggle with antagonist] and threatening to destroy humanity itself.” [death stakes]

If the concept needs work, we strengthen it by making sure it contains these three elements—most notably that it contains “death stakes”—the thing that will convey to audience that your protagonist will die (either literally or figuratively) if they don’t succeed in their struggle with the antagonist.

SCRIPT ANALYSIS HACK #2: THEME

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A really simple way to get a grip on expressing your screenplay’s theme is to think of it in terms of your protagonist’s character arc—an expression of the their transformation from flawed individual to a more rounded individual. (Or the other way around, depending on the story.)

Traditional three-act structure can be used to chart this arc like this:

Act 1: The protagonist is unaware of the theme and unknowingly resists it.

Act 2: They have experiences that draw them closer to understanding the theme and their resistance lessens.

Act 3: They finally realize the truth behind the theme’s message and fully embrace it.

Here are some examples:

Sideways: “You must be emotionally mature if you want to be ready for love.” Miles is oblivious of this message at the start, but learns to accept it at the end.

Fargo: “Money can’t buy you happiness.” Jerry is unaware that money can’t buy you happiness at the start of the movie, but as his plan goes awry and he’s carted off to prison he realizes it at the end.

The Shining: “The mistakes of the past are bound to be repeated because human nature is inherently flawed.” Jack is unaware of this message at the start, but succumbs to it at the end.

It doesn’t matter how well written it is, without a strong theme a screenplay is always going to feel like “something’s missing.” That’s why we place a strong emphasis on establishing what you, the writer, want to say in your story by charting the theme through the protagonist’s character transformation.

SCRIPT ANALYSIS HACK #3: SCENES

500 Days Of Summer script

You’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage if you believe what other script gurus say about always approaching a scene through the lens of a protagonist with a goal up against an antagonist.

In fact, the best way to approach writing a scene is by stepping back from the character’s minds and what they want, to focus instead on what you want. In other words, your thoughts shouldn’t be dictated by what the protagonist’s goal is in a scene, but simply by how best to reveal a key piece of information to the audience.

If you think of every scene as a tiny nugget of information the audience needs to understand what’s going on, your approach to writing a scene should be, “What’s the best way to show the audience what this character’s like here?”

Or, “What’s the best way to show the audience how the plot’s moving forward here?” Ideally you want to do both, but it’s probably easier to stick to one or the other while first mapping out your scenes.

Here are some examples from popular movies:

(500) Days of Summer: During the second half of the film, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber wanted to show that Tom is having a hard time meeting anyone new after breaking up with Summer.

Here’s the scene they came up with: Tom walks with a date and tells her up front it’s not going anywhere. In a diner, he complains to her about Summer and later sings some angry karaoke. His date leaves.

Road to Perdition: At the beginning of the film, the writer David Self wanted to show the audience that Michael Sullivan Jr. is fascinated by his father’s occupation—which involves carrying a gun.

Here’s the scene he came up with: Michael Sullivan Jr. is asked by his mom to go fetch his father. He stops at the end of the corridor and watches from a distance as he sees his father emptying his pockets… including a gun. Michael steps forward and says “dinner’s ready.” His father acknowledges this, without looking.

The Blair Witch Project: Near the end of the movie, writers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez wanted to show that Josh is probably dead, while also letting Heather and Mike realize it too.

Here’s the scene they came up with: Heather and Mike wake up to find a bundle of sticks in front of the tent. Heather throws it away at first but then goes back to take a look… Inside she finds a pouch containing bloody human teeth.

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A scene, therefore, is best approached by working out what aspect of a character, or plot, you want to reveal to the audience, and then by engineering (or rewriting) the scene to clearly show it.

Naturally, often the best way to show this is via conflict—one character wanting something and the other opposing it—but it’s best to have a base of knowing what you want to show the audience first, clear in your mind.

It’s not so much a question of cutting a scene if it doesn’t make sense, (although this can also true) but more a question of cutting a scene if you can’t pinpoint what exactly you’re trying to show the audience.

It’s fine to think about what happens when you first write a scene, but ultimately you need to know why it’s happening. If you’re not really showing the audience, say, Jenny’s attitude to homeless people, or the fact that Gavin’s just messed up his one chance to make the soccer team, then that scene could probably be cut.

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These are just three of the script analysis hacks we use in our screenplay analysis because we feel they’re some of the most important. You won’t find us starting a script report with a paragraph on why the script’s title should have a comma in it (an actual complaint we had from a writer about feedback they received from another consultancy.) We get down to the brass tacks of what’s working and what’s not, and how to fix it.

Feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions about our script coverage services. You can also find out more about Script Hackr, our online screenwriting course which contains many more script analysis hacks by clicking the banner below.

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4 Comments
  1. Jake Brennan says:

    This was most helpful and very interesting . Many many thanks .

    1. SRP says:

      Thanks Jake – glad it helped!

  2. Theo says:

    Thanks, I’m looking forward to getting some coverage from you guys.

  3. Cody says:

    Do you guys need a script reader? I have plenty of experience with major studios.

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