Script Analysis Hacks Used by Pro Writers That Will Improve Your Script.

And how you can use them in your own writing right now.

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriting Tips
May 13, 2015 14 comments
script analysis

Movie script analysis examples and hacks used by pro writers that will improve your script.

Here’s an exclusive look inside our script analysis process and some of the hacks used by our professional screenwriters.

These screenplay analysis hacks are designed to simplify confusing screenwriting advice. We also include some practical exercises we suggest writers use to improve their screenwriting.

Most important of all, you’ll get to see how you can do your own DIY movie script analysis by applying our techniques to your own screenplay. So let’s dive on in.

Concept: movie script analysis example. 

One of the most common problems we find is that the initial concept isn’t as strong as it could be. In our script 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/ loglines fail is that they’ve missed out one of the three steps in that equation.

Screenplay analysis 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]

We strengthen concepts using the following movie script analysis hack: making sure it contains these three elements.

Most notably that it contains “death stakes”—the thing that will convey to the audience that your protagonist will die (either literally or figuratively) if they don’t succeed.

Theme: movie script analysis example.

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. In other words, an expression of their transformation from a flawed individual to a more rounded individual. (Or the other way around, depending on the story.)

A traditional 3-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.

Screenplay analysis 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. 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 our script analysis places a strong emphasis on charting the screenplay’s theme through the protagonist’s character transformation.

movie script analysis example

Scenes: movie script analysis example.

You’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage if you believe what other script analysis “gurus” say about a protagonist and antagonist have to be at loggerheads.

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.

Think of every scene as a tiny nugget of information the audience needs to understand what’s going on. Then, your approach will 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.

Screenplay analysis examples.

(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 upfront 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 up.

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.

A deeper screenplay analysis on scenes.

A scene, therefore, is best approached by working out what aspect of a character, or plot, you want to reveal to the audience. 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 clear idea of what you want to show the audience first.

It’s not so much a question of cutting a scene if it doesn’t make sense (although this can also true.) It’s 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.


These are just three of the movie script analysis hacks we use 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.

You can also find out more about Script Hackr, which contains many more script analysis hacks below.

script analysis example

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