Trust The Words
I’ve taken a lot of directing and script analysis classes in college, and they can usually be boiled down to one sentence. “Spend as much time as possible looking deeply into a script, because you’ll find a multitude of messages hidden by the author.” For some people in creative industries, this is the most fun part of the process. They love taking a work of literature that they admire, and working with it long enough to discover everything the author included. It makes them feel like they’re having a conversation with a great writer.
I enjoy this too, but I’ve always wondered why it’s still necessary. You’d think that by now, smart people would have discovered everything there is to discover about Hamlet or A Streetcar Named Desire. With the thousands of productions and hundreds of books written about these plays, you’d think there’d no longer be any ambiguity about what’s in these scripts.
But on a film shoot last weekend, I began to learn why I was wrong. As I’ve mentioned on here, I was directing a short film from a script that I wrote. It was the culmination of a two-year process, so it’s safe to say that I had been living with these characters for quite some time. But as I worked with the actors, I began to notice things in my script that I almost certainly hadn’t planned. Patterns emerged, symbols became apparent, and character backstories began to make more sense. I’m certainly not saying that it was anywhere close to Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams, but my point is that I was discovering things that were layered into the script. A rhythm began to emerge that was different from anything I had imagined, but completely appropriate for the film.
That’s when it all made sense. Script analysis isn’t always about searching for the author’s intentions. It’s about looking for new meaning that emerges once the words and characters are allowed to stand on their own, separate from their author. Things were occurring naturally, things that I’m not nearly a good enough writer to plan for. But I’m a decent enough writer, and a decent enough script analyst, and hopefully the two skills combine to make a decent movie.
As I wrapped, I began to notice dramatic devices from Greek and French neoclassical theatre in my script, subconscious additions resulting from three years of non-stop theatre classes. In addition to sparking my imagination about future iterations of this script, it finally made me appreciate script analysis as an art form. Writers can be good, but words will always be better. Sometimes, they end up meaning a lot more than we mean them to.
Student, blogger, rejuvenated script analyzer