How Screenwriting Activates Actors


Writing a film script is no easy task. Every screenwriter knows that a successful screenplay is more than thrills and spills (or they should know.) It is the underlying sequence of emotions that underpin the characters’ story arcs rather than actions

There are number of ways to explore this concept. Firstly we need to separate the plot from a character’s emotional journey. It’s all a matter of practice and awareness. Take some classes related unrelated to screenwriting.

Every script writer experiences writing workshop fatigue. However,  we must continue to explore new avenues of expression and fresh ways to bolster the emotional quality of our film and TV scripts.

Try taking an acting or standup class. After all, when we write a movie script, we want to attract acting talent to it, right? This approach also helps establish the mis en scene, the point of each scene. That is what an actor hones in on before they utter a single word. How will they “play” a scene. Quite often, they only have a few pages during auditions with little guidance where they’re at in the entire story, so make everything clear.

It is true that writing dialogue is a lot like taking vitamins. A tiny amount can make you healthy, but too much can be toxic. So when your screenwriting teacher tells you to trim your dialogue to its bare bones, listen to them. Very few actors like seeing a wall of text, unless its a monologue for the stage. Waffly, or on-the-nose dialogue, is as unattractive as an unrelenting flirt. Many actors see dialogue as words on a page that are used as a guide. Being word perfect isn’t always vital. Think about how an actor can emote your words. Can these words be replaced with silence, a look or a gesture?

Examine the subtext of your dialogue. What is being said as opposed to be what is really being said. One of my acting colleagues had to ask someone the time in different contexts during an exercise; in the first was she was trying to annoy a colleague who was struggling to meet a deadline and in the second there was a man she’d like to get to know better. Same words, different tonality. Actors love this and so do screenwriters.

Given that film is about an emotional experience for an audience, dialogue must serve the same purpose. My acting coach asked his actors to dissect the dialogue to determine where the emotional changes happen. And given that we are emotional creatures, emotions can jack-knife through a range. This keeps your writing exciting.

Writers use the term “goal” and “motivation” to describe character. Actors use “desire” and “pursuit”. They can be used interchangeably because they essentially mean the same thing. It’s a great help to write from a non writer’s perspective. After all, film making is a collaborative process.

So there you go. Figure out the emotional states of all your characters, what their immediate goals and pursuits are, and whether there any obstacles to stop them.

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