Diana Black on What Actors Look For in a Script

gablereadsWriting for Actors – 2
by Diana Black

A Sow’s Ear or a Silk Purse?

Okay you’ve written a killer script that’s going to knock the socks off the gatekeeper…or so you think and hope; based on whose opinion?

There are ways to increase the chances of it being of the ‘silk purse variety’; every scriptwriting course worth its salt conveys that information. But delivering on the page in accordance with those instructions may depend on your level of security as a writer (or not), whether you’re willing to embrace new ideas and how intelligent and intuitive you might be (or not).

Where’s the proof that you actually listened, took note and delivered? What if the concept is great but the writing sucks – ‘sow’s ear with potential’?

You might get lucky with them buying the concept. A staff writer will probably do a ‘Page One rewrite’ but does that ensure your TV writing career success?

Probably not. If it’s a ‘silk purse’ and it’s been green-lit in its original form – it must be awesome, how have you as the screenwriter delivered for the actor? It is after-all, your job; especially if want an A-list to go in and bat for you. What of the Director who has to work with your material? Do you write in a vacuum as the sole person in the known Universe or, are you a team player?

It’s your choice whether you’re easy to work with or a pain in the butt. Following is what a professional actor is likely to work through as part of their ‘homework’.

For an A-list, perusal of the script may be enough to convey the following; they’ll internalize it and everybody’s happy. But what if it’s missing? While a good percentage of this stuff never makes it into the script, you’d better hope you’ve given them enough so they can find or create feasible answers.

Likely questions: Who am I? What is my age, health, social role/s in this narrative, personality, my weakness/ flaw/wound, my peculiar traits? What is my deep psychological want versus my unconscious need?

Who’s in the driver’s seat and who is in this particular scene with me? What is my relationship to them? What is my emotional response to them as a person? When? Is there any significance to the date? What time of day is it? Where? What country, region, address?

Is the scene indoors/outdoors, public/private, formal/ informal, familiar/unfamiliar, safe/dangerous? What are the given circumstances in this particular scene? What is happening in the scene in terms of character action and dialogue – beat-by-beat?

What do I discover in this scene? What’s changed by the end of the scene? What don’t I know – in context with the narrative arc?

The mise-en-scene – what’s ‘in frame’? Any objects of significance? Objective – what do I want? What am I fighting for – major/overarching and immediate?

What does the other character want – can I tell?

The Stakes – how important are they and why the hell am I in this scene?

What if I win, what if I lose and what are the likely outcomes either way?

Action Metaphor –‘In this scene I am going to get the ‘other’ to….,’ the tactics/tools – first beat of the scene only. The subtext, line-by-line. What am I really communicating?


Sounds like a lot of work? Think of the joy of it all…when you get past the reading gatekeepers and the actors as well, and reach the place where you have nothing to worry about but – oh yes! – the viewers. Remember, what’s what you have written is actually being broadcast, no matter what anybody else may think, for now you’ve won.

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer. TVWriter™ is proud to call her a member of our Advanced Online Workshop.

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