ACTOR TIPS ON THE SCIENCE AND PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND SCRIPT ANALYSIS
How do you see what's going on in a script so deeply you can craft amazing performances and give masterful auditions for any casting director? People often think, "To develop great script analysis or cold reading skills, I need to begin with working on a script."
But, the far more sophisticated answer begins with exploring areas of knowledge you should know all about before you begin script work. For beginners, this may be surprising. And for professional actors there may be advanced areas of knowledge that will deepen your work, break you out of habits and advance your cold reading abilities. This article will introduce you to subjects that will help you become a master of script analysis, auditioning, and cold readings, or even become more masterful than you already are.
1. Before you ever pick up a script, you need to develop intellectual and experiential knowledge of basic needs human beings have – you need a vocabulary of universal human needs. By need, we mean something you must have in order to survive in your specific life (your "character's" life). Some needs are essential constantly (oxygen) and other needs do not have to be always fulfilled (being respected by peers) to survive. A key for acting is that all needs cause action! Acting that is only doing is meaningless indicating. No one ever does anything unless there is an underlying need to do. And there is a difference between intellectual and experiential knowledge of these subjects (in this entire article). You need to learn about these needs intellectually, but most vitally you need to learn to access these needs in your body, voice and emotional realm – experientially.
2. You need to learn relationship dynamics – why people are attracted to one another and/or repulsed by one another – why we love and why we fight. The most advanced system that explores relationship dynamics is a body of work called, The Psychology of Selves, developed by internationally renowned psychologists Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, and adapted for script analysis and acting by others and myself.
The Psychology of Selves breaks down, quite simply and elegantly, how our personalities develop as we grow up and why (how and why character develops). It describes how we learn to repress some parts of ourselves (individual character traits) as we grow up, while developing others. But, no part of our personality ever dies. All character traits are somewhere in our unconscious minds, and these many parts play roles in our lives whether we realize it or not. Many characters struggle with internal "wars of opposite" parts of their personality.
The Psychology of Selves also explains relationship psychology in brilliant terms: what causes attraction to some people (or groups) and what causes repulsion. It describes why we fall in love and why we go to war. You learn about bonding patterns, and they predictably determine, to a large degree, how our relationships with one another play out. This is a cutting-edge key to unlock the code of all the character relationships in any well-written script.
3. You need knowledge of social psychology, of how different kinds of people behave in social situations and why. Social psychology is the study of how individuals behave in groups. Topics that actors benefit greatly from learning about are: how we socially influence each other; how stereotypes, attitudes, beliefs and values are formed and interact with each other; how marketing and persuasion play significant and often unconscious roles in our lives (and careers as actors and singers!); the dynamics of tribalism, gender, racism, religious tolerance, intelligence…and much, much more.The smarter the social psychologist you are, the more characters you can figure out in a script. And the more interesting you can make even the most badly written characters.
4. You need knowledge of socioeconomic classism – how hierarchies evolve among different groups of people – learning about the leaders or the controllers, and the followers or the controlled.
Socioeconomic classism is defined as prejudice and/or discrimination on the basis of social or economic "status." It includes individual attitudes and behaviors and systems of policies and practices that are created to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes, or to control those in the lower classes. Conversely, it can also include attitudes and behavior of prejudice and discrimination by members of the lower class towards members of a higher class, or policies or practices designed to lessen classism or class distinctions.
Screenplays and plays very often have elements of "class warfare" being explored. In the recent movie Crash, the themes were almost entirely about socioeconomic classism. Examples from Crash include a white police officer resenting and punishing a black couple who clearly have far more money and social status than he does; a rich white woman stereotyping a latin locksmith as a "member of a gang" who might break into her house later; a white man assuming a man who seems Arab wants to buy a gun because he is a terrorist; poor black men feeling justified stealing from rich white people. And there are many more examples of explorations of these issues in Crash.In The Matrix series of movies, the class warfare was between the computer class and the human class. In Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, he argues the human class is at war with the planet class.
Studying socioeconomic classism means learning all about social signaling among the classes: how people walk, talk and costume themselves. Obviously, the more you know about this, the better your script analysis and characterization intelligence.
5. A cutting-edge area of study regarding hierarchies and human evolution is Spiral Dynamics. Spiral Dynamics posits that human character is not fixed: many humans are able, when forced by life conditions, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems.
Spiral Dynamics defines different levels of "consciousness" or "awareness." In all scripts, each character falls into different levels of Spiral Dynamics consciousness – or is struggling internally with different levels of awareness.
One example of Spiral Dynamics consciousness is the "Mythical/Authoritarian/Absolutist" level. Characters that are on this level would include traditionalist religious leaders. They advocate a world-view that centers around absolute rules that must be followed to please mythological gods or goddesses. They are heavily focused on law and order or morally related topics. Public figures likely in this category include the Pope and Sarah Palin.
Another level would be the "Scientific/Rationalist/Multiplistic" level. They advocate a world-view based on scientific process and rationality. They often reject appeals to tradition and authority as the basis for life-guidance. Often, they completely reject the previous level of any kind of religious belief. Their morality centers around the use of reason to establish a best system or course of action. Public figures likely in this category are Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher.
Can you see how learning about these different levels of consciousness will help you see what is going on in a script? Warfare and struggle between the many different levels of Spiral Dynamics consciousness is found in any well-written script.
You see, the real secret about script analysis is this: there is no magic to script analysis. It's this simple: the more you know about humanity, the more you know about who we are, why we are, what we are, how we feel, and what we do – the better at script analysis you will be.
And guess what? Every bit of advice on these subjects applies completely to you as an artist who is also a business person. Learning about all these subjects helps you, in magnificent ways, deal with agents, casting directors, producers, actors, directors and everyone who can give you a job or support your project.
Jason Bennett is an acting and voice teacher in Los Angeles City, and via Skype, all over the world. You can read more articles he’s written by visiting JBActors.com, “The Jason Bennett Actor’s Workshop.”