Scene Breakdown

How to read a movie scene?

The movie script has a distinct format from a stage play or a graphic novel. All movie scenes consist of the very same elements. And you, an actor, are supposed to know how to read it and what each of the specific elements means. Otherwise, you'll only be able to analyze the scene through the dialogue, and you might miss the bigger picture and essential clues that indicate what is expected. 

Scene Heading 

The scene heading would always be left aligned and start with  either:

Right after the indication that the scene takes place indoors or outdoors, the scene heading specifies the location, for example:

After the location, the scene heading has a dash symbol "-" followed by the time when the scene takes place:


The action line is always left aligned and follows the scene heading. This is simply the description of the scene. It is always written in the present tense. New characters, non-speaking characters, and props are emphasized with CAPITALIZATION, while emotions are sometimes emphasized with an underline. When a new character is introduced to the script in the action line are given their description in parentheses, for example:

When the production goes through the script, they map all the characters and props. Making those vital script elements in uppercase makes it easier for the production department to catch everything. For example, imagine a BASEBALL FIELD scene, but the BAT and BALL were missing from the props, and the production didn't have an appropriate location booked for shooting. Those seem like a small detail, but - the script is like a receipt, not only for actors but for everyone involved in the process of cooking the movie. 


The character names are always in CAPITAL LETTERS and centred on the page (formally 3.5" from the left margin). You would see it written in two ways:

Character Cue (Extension)

Sometimes right after the character name, there'll be another element called EXTENSION. This indicates that the dialogue is:

Parenthetical (Personal Direction)

Parenthetical is an additional instruction the screenwriter provides right below the character name on how the dialogue has to be played. Common parentheticals include:


The dialogue is indented 2.5" from the left margin, and each line has 30-35 characters. It never has CAPS, bold or italics, but it's quite common to see parts of the sentence that should to be emphasized with an underscore. Some specific things you might see in the dialogue are:


The transition in a script is an instruction that the camera's location or time changes. While this is mostly an editing note, for the actor it can give valuable information about the nature of the narration and the character of the scene. Every transition apart from one (FADE OUT) ends in a colon, and every transition is on the right apart from one (FADE IN:). Here are some of the common transitions you'll find in the script, starting with the most common ones:


In the script, the shot will look very much like a scene heading, but instead of starting a scene, it will move the focus in the scene. Those elements are usually added later in the script rewriting process to give the director particular guidance for narration. It's unlikely to see those, but if you see this, it means you're most likely reading the final reversion of the script or a script written by the director. Some examples in order of those that would affect the scene interpretation and your acting:

How to analyze a movie scene?

Once you've read the scene, you should have a mental picture of what is happening. There's no single correct way to analyze the scene, and each actor does it differently, even here in British Columbia. Depending on the acting school you attend, you'll find at least 3 different methods. Below is the compilation of learnings from  Tricities Film Studio, YVAS The Seven, Story Institute's G.R.E.A.T. O.P.E.R.A, and some of the scene breakdown instructions on Stanislavski's Technique learned from Actor In You. Each one of those approaches emphasizes a slightly different set of points. Pick and choose what works best for you for a specific scene. If you live close to Vancouver, use the opportunity to attend classes and learn those analysis techniques firsthand from experienced fellow actors that will guide you through the process.

Contextual breakdown

Scenes are not happening in the void. They're part of a bigger picture, a whole script, even if it is just a single scene, that is part of the audition. Usually, there's some back story or a character description associated with the provided sides. All of those provide substantial information that would let you make appropriate choices and are required to reconstruct the character most truthfully. Even if you just have the scene, you should try identifying or guessing the given circumstances

Character breakdown

In the character breakdown, you have to recognize and identify the specific arc of the character in the scene. By the arc, we understand the change within the character during the scene.

Structural breakdown

Theoretically, the scene breaks further into a series of beats - those are specific smaller units of action that cannot be divided further. At a minimum, the scene should have at least 3 parts consisting of one or more beats each. The opening part (rise) states the problem or the conflict between the characters, the middle part (crisis) is where the conflict evolves up to a turning point, and the final part is where the scene resolves (release).

Emotional breakdown

Once you have identified the context, the character's arc and the scene's structure, you have to go to the next level. There's no truthful performance unless you do the proper emotional preparation. Knowing all of the circumstances, you should either:

Regardless of which method of acting you're using, the script is the only source of truth. You have to remain honest to the story. You have to figure out the gaps and things that were not told. You have to figure out yourself based on your experience, knowledge of the context, and strong choices showing your artistry. That freedom of interpretation makes all actors and those that perform music different from each other. Make your own strong choices.

Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part

The book by Michael Shurtleff is what The Seven takes inspiration from. 

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