How to analyze the script as a Casting Director?

How to analyze the script as a Casting Director?

Casting is the most important part of filmmaking, and a good casting director can improve a movie by finding the right actors for its roles. However, in order to do a good job, you need to be able to analyze scripts and identify the type of character each role requires. In this article we'll look at some of the things that make up an actor's "package" (their looks and personality) as well as some common problems with casting decisions made by directors who don't have enough experience in this area.

As a casting director it's critical to read the script and understand it on multiple levels before you start your script breakdown process.

The first step in this journey is reading the script. The best way to do this is by reading it thoroughly, line by line, page by page and scene by scene. If there are any visuals that go with the story or if it's an animated project then look at those too as they can help you visualize what's happening in each scene or moment within scenes. You don't have to be an expert on everything but do try and get an idea of how long each scene lasts and how many lines there are in each one (and if there are any other characters involved).

This is an important step because it helps you understand what's being asked of you and how much work might be involved. It also helps you get a better sense of who the characters are and what their motivations are.

Understand the POV of the director and writer.

Before you can begin to analyze a script, it’s vital to understand the perspective of both the director and writer.

The POV of the director is how they want their audience to experience the world they created. It’s how they want their audience to feel and perceive things. If you think about it, every movie or TV show that has an effect on society has some sort of message or theme present throughout its narrative—it’s different from simply “telling a story” because there are certain elements in place that help shape our own views or opinions about life. The same goes for any piece of art: music, painting, etc., have all been used as tools for spreading messages and making people think differently about themselves or other people around them. In short: knowing what kind of message is being told helps us understand who made this film so we can better interpret its purpose, and therefore, the kind of characters that inhabit that world!

The genre of the script

The genre of a script is its story type. In the same way that we can identify a novel as being either a romance, sci-fi or mystery, we can recognize which genre a screenplay falls into.

Why is the genre so paramount? Because it will determine how our characters will behave and will give us a clear picture of the actors we're looking for. If we cast comedy actors for a horror film, chances are the audience might laugh at a jump scare. 

  • A romance is about two people who fall in love and overcome obstacles to be together. It's often set in the past with an older cast of characters (and actors).
  • A thriller is about someone who gets involved with something dangerous or illegal while trying to gain something they want. The film may have lots of action and violence but usually has no sex scenes or swearing.
  • A comedy usually has quite a few laughs throughout it, but there aren't too many sad moments or scary bits - it's just fun!

Find out the mood of the script

The mood of the script is important to understand because it can be conveyed through dialogue, music, and setting. The mood can also be conveyed through characters' actions and reactions. Finally, the mood can be conveyed through visuals and cinematography.

If your script has a story happening in the present, but the mood is portrayed as an homage to film noir movies, then that’s going to determine the way the characters look, talk, dress and feel like. And not only your leading roles, but also all of your extras!

Now that you know what's going on with your script as a Casting Director, let's look at some specific ways you can analyze it:

Breakdown the acting roles of the characters

Now that you have a complete picture of the story, it’s time to breakdown and categorize your characters by acting role. This is based on the amount of times the character appears in the story and also their importance. The type of acting role is very important for casting and production, because it will determine how many characters will be needed and also the pay-scale for them.

In a movie, these are the types of acting roles:

  • Lead actor/s: These characters are the ones where the story is mostly focused upon. It can be one leading actor or several. They usually are the ones with more screen time and also more lines of dialogue.
  • Supporting actors: These characters help the lead actors on their journey. They might appear in a lot of scenes too (or even only in one scene) and they might have a lot of dialogue too, but the narrative importance of these characters is below the lead characters.
  • One-Liners/Bit Part: These are characters who appear in the background but have a very limited interaction, usually only one bit of dialogue, with the lead of supporting characters (hence the name “one-liners”).
  • Day Players: Day Players are principal or recognized actors whose appearance on the script is very limited and are only needed on a very short-term basis (usually, just a couple of days) instead of a long-term contract.
  • Background/Extras: Background actors or simply “extras”, are extras who appear in the background without any dialogue. They’re usually used to fill out locations so they look natural (like other people eating in a restaurant or people walking down the street). 

A good tip to know who’s a One-Liner or Background is if their character is written on the script. If there’s a specific mention of the character in the script (even if it is “Maid” or “Cashier”), then it’s usually a One-Liner/Bit Part. If there’s no mention of the character individually and it’s only mentioned as a whole (or not even mentioned at all), then it’s probably a Background role.

See whether a character has a breakdown in the script

You can use the script to determine whether or not a character has a breakdown or an arc.

A breakdown is a list of characteristics that describe the character's personality, background and physical appearance. It's important for casting directors to have this information handy when they're reading through scripts because it helps them visualize characters in their minds' eyes. For example:

"Jim is 28 years old, single and works as an accountant at XYZ Corp, the largest firm in New York."

When creating your own casting breakdown, you can also write down things that might be implicit on the script. For example: If there’s a background character who’s a construction builder and is tearing down a concrete wall with a hammer, even if it’s not on the script, it’s very probable that the body build of that character is going to be somewhat fit with some muscle definition.

Find out your character's motives

Now it’s time to understand the characters themselves. As a Casting Director, one of the most important things you need to do is understand each character's motives. You have to understand why they're doing what they're doing and where they're going in order for your cast to be believable.

Ask yourself:

  • What does the character want?
  • How are they motivated?
  • Why do they want what they want?
  • What are their goals and ambitions?
  • What's their backstory—how did they get where they are now?

Make sure you understand the environment of each scene.

You should also pay attention to the environment of each scene. You need to understand what kind of place your character is in, as well as their motivations and emotions within that moment. For example, if they are in a bar drinking, it might affect their behavior. Maybe they're looking for love or companionship? Maybe they're just there because they want to forget about their problems? Or maybe they are there because they want trouble? You get the idea - take note of where each scene takes place and why it was shot in that particular spot so you can use this information later on when analyzing your script as a Casting Director

Understand the culture of the story.

One of the most important things to think about is “what is the culture of this story?” It’s not an easy question to answer, but it will help you cast better actors.

The first thing that you need to understand is how does this culture affect your character? And what kind of cultural element do they represent? A story set in Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the same characters as a story set in 1960’s New York or 1850’s China. These nuances fill the character with life and give you clearer instructions as per how your characters might behave, talk or look. A latino as an emperor of 1850’s China might be inclusive, but not be very historically accurate.

Another example: if I'm working with a script about an American family living in California and they go on vacation in Mexico, then I might want to think about how we can find actors who speak Spanish or know how people from Mexico act or talk. There's nothing worse than actors pretending to be from a culture they're not: It might look okay to the untrained eye, but to those from that culture, that poor imitation will completely shatter the illusion of the story.

Identify stylistically descriptions from the script

Stylistic choices are the ones that aren't necessary for the story to progress, but rather add to the story. They are used to help characterize a character or set the mood of a scene. Often stylistic choices will be made by directors and writers as they attempt to tell their stories in unique ways.

Here's an example: In Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, when the "Jew Hunter'' was arriving to the LaPadite’s farm, it describes the farmer reaction as "after living for a year with the sword of Damocles suspended over his head, this may very well be the end". This line is purely stylistic, but it paints a complete picture of how the performance should be in that scene. Little notes like that give us hints of how the characters are and behave, and those are the little nuances we have to look for in actors when auditioning for the roles.

Identify dialogue that is key for the story.

The next step is to identify dialogue that is key for the story. Key dialogue sets up the scene, reveals character traits, and reveals plot points. Dialogue that is used for these purposes usually falls into one of four categories:

  • Opening Lines (these are lines said by characters at the beginning of a script)
  • Closing Lines (these are lines said by characters at the end of a script)
  • Conflict Action (this can include arguments, discussions about problems between people)
  • Exposition or Background Information

Look for recurring words or phrases used by different characters in different scenes.

A recurring word or phrase is any word or phrase that appears more than once in a script. This can be anything from a character’s name to a description of their environment, but it’s always helpful for casting directors to see how many times each actor says something like “I love you” (or whatever other dialogue may be important for your particular project).

In terms of analyzing the script as a Casting Director, recurring words and phrases are one of my favorite tools because they help me understand how much an actor will need to memorize before he/she comes into an audition! If two characters say “I love you” multiple times throughout the course of this film, then that certainly means those two people are very important in each other's lives. This can also tell us whether they're together romantically or just consider themselves family members—either way it helps us figure out what kind of chemistry might exist between them on screen.

Check if scenes have a point-of-view character for visual reference.

As a Casting Director, you want to make sure that every scene has a point-of-view character for visual reference. A point-of-view character is the character whose perspective we see the story from. This could be an actor, or it could be implied by the action of the scene (i.e., if we see a POV shot looking at someone through binoculars). The more information we have about this character—their age, gender and ethnicity—the easier it'll be to find the best actor/actress for their role.

Try to find out what character traits are used to distinguish between similar characters in the script (i.e; color, physicality, attitude, etc).

A character trait is a quality, habit, or characteristic that defines a particular person. For example, someone might be “introverted” or “sarcastic”. When you go on an audition for a role, it's important to think about the traits that set your character apart from other characters in the script. If there are two similar characters (e.g., both male and female), then try to find out what character traits are used to distinguish between them (i.e.; color, physicality, attitude).

Some writers like to use stylized language as a way of revealing information about their characters' personalities and backstories without having them explain themselves directly through action or exposition—which sometimes feels unnatural in stage plays where there aren't any cameras following around each individual person all day long! Some examples include “I'm just saying...” when someone says something offensive; or “You're so selfish...” when someone hurts another person's feelings by doing something selfish at their expense; etcetera.. These phrases reveal details about their personalities without explicitly stating anything outright--which makes sense since these types of conversations wouldn't happen naturally within real life!


In summary, it is important to take the time to thoroughly breakdown the script. It can be difficult, but if you know how to analyze it form a casting perspective, then you will find it much easier. You need to look at who the characters are and what they want throughout the story as well as their relationships with each other. Once you understand all of these aspects of a script then your job becomes easier when casting actors for roles!


Jane Horowitz

Jane Horowitz

Published December 13, 2022

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