Whenever I first receive a screenplay for an upcoming project, my eyes widen and my mind begins to wander. I personally view screenplays as a treasure chest, and while its treasures may be difficult to find at times, within the pages of the script are vast amounts of clues and personality markers for your character.
Following clues found within a script helps shape an organic character that is true to the writer’s vision and unique amongst the sea of identical character choices.
One of the primary problems I see with young film actors is their inability to locate script clues, or rather, they can identify various clues but do not apply these clues to their character development.
When I brought this topic up with a young actor, his response was simply, “What clues?” This got me thinking. While I can easily identify personality markers within a script, this may not be so easily done by all actors.
As you approach a script, it is important to read through its pages at least three times before trying to locate these clues. The reason for this: the first time you read a story, you are becoming introduced to its characters and plot lines, the second time, you delve deeper into the undertones of the story and the third time you know the story and are able to view dialogue and action cues with an investigative eye as you know where the story is going.
Finding the Clues
If you were to take a look at any of my past screenplays, you would notice that within its pages are various highlighted words and phrases. I always use multi-colored highlighters to mark up my script to help visually guide me when searching for personality clues.
For example, if my character had the following sentence:
“Sometimes I wish he’d just stop. The way he talks to her makes me want to hit him.”
Within this dialogue, I would highlight the word “Stop” as well as the phrase “Makes me want to hit him.”
The reason for this, the word “stop” carries many different undertones. Why does my character want him to stop? What is he doing that causes such a reaction within this character that he would want to resort to physical violence? Did something happen in this character’s past to trigger this emotional response?
Within almost any line your character has, there are hidden clues. Imagine these words like secret doorways that when opened offer paths to the inner-workings of a character’s mind.