This post came about because I was thinking about creating a worksheet for Sunday Script Club, but everyone learns + works differently and there is definitely not a 'same size fits all' when it comes to decoding a screenplay. However there are some key things that I've been analysing with every Sunday Script Club weekly read which I thought may be of interest.
Character Roles + Goals
In its simplest form, I look at which (if any) of the characters fit into the generic character roles prescribed by millennia of storytelling; i.e. protagonist, antagonist, ally, fake ally, subplot characters. Not only do I define them, but I take a closer look at their individual journeys throughout the screenplay.
What are their ghosts? What obstacles do they face (internal / external)? Does the character have a weakness? What are the characters' needs / desires / goals? And most importantly, I try to track and note down the character arc / character change, with defining moments throughout the story.
Story World + Theme
When decoding a screenplay, story world + theme are two key players in gaining a greater understanding of what is going on, but perhaps often overlooked. Figuring out the theme of a screenplay is good fun, and of course - you may never get it right but it's essentially unpicking the writer's mission statement which (if done correctly) should be really what the film is about; i.e. not the premise.
Story Structure + Plot
This is hands-down my personal favourite part of decoding a screenplay. Plot / story structure - whatever you wish to call it - I bloody love it. Starting by picking out the key plot points, figuring out whether it fits into the three-act structure, figuring out key sequences and creating a skeleton. It's not a pretty process but it's personally helped me a lot with understanding what makes good stories. I'm still learning, I'll always be learning but dissecting a screenplay's story structure is my numero uno - highly recommend!
Exposition + Dialogue
It's not that I go deep into this part, but I definitely make a note of how the screenplay reads. How heavy was the exposition? Are there any great monologues? What is the dialogue like? How does it translate on screen?
So there you have it, the four main ingredients of decoding a screenplay, the Sunday Script Club way. If I more time, I'd definitely take a look into individual scene structure, but I'm working on getting better at making the best of playing around with the time I have. I'm keen to hear about how you deconstruct a screenplay, or do you just read it, gauge the pace / tone / story? Let me know what you think or if there's anything that I should add to the list!