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While there are many ways to break down a TV & film audition scene, I want to walk you through a few quick and easy things to spot, circle and focus in on that will help unlock the scene for you and provide a roadmap for how to play it.

When you see the words, butifandokorsowhich or what, notice them, focus on them and circle or highlight them. Why? When you see these words, think of them as gear changers in the scene and indicators of how the writer is having the characters think. These words unintentionally provide insight into how we should speak. They are like the green lights and stop signs of our language and when we pay particular attention to them on the page, they give us a road map to what is actually being said by a character in the scene. It is an easy way to help ground yourself when you are trying to break down the scene.

The red lights, or stop signs in the scene, are but, if, and, ok, or, so, which or what. Make sure that you see them and don’t run through them.Ask yourself why the character is saying but or agreeing with the word ok or giving options with the word or and adding to his thoughts with the word and. Don’t minimize these words. By slowing down and paying attention to them, you can unlock clues in how the scene can be played and what it might be about.

Let’s take a film audition scene: I have changed the character names and the words a little to protect the rights of the scene, but this is from an actual script.

INT: Squad room/ police station

Detective: We’ve canvassed every house with a view of the mountain. No one saw the man with the hacker or saw David with the hacker.

Jennie: Which doesn’t mean John Redford did the murder.

Detective: No. But why wouldn’t he mention it when we spoke to him. Did he really not remember or did he choose to lie. And do we think the money and drugs in the car are connected.

Notice the words I have mentioned in the above excerpt of the scene. Highlight these words and focus on them very closely. We have an idea of how the Detective is specifically thinking by the way he uses or in the first line. No one saw the hacker or David with the hacker, which obviously is very important to him because the word or acts to emphasize to his point.

READ: “How to Make the Most Interesting Choice in a Scene”

Jennie disagrees with the Detective and says not so fast when she uses the word which as a way of defending John Redford: Which doesn’t mean John Redford did the murder. The Detective then confirms his point of view by using the word But in his last line, confirming that he thinks John Redford is guilty because he never mentioned anything to him when they spoke to him: No. But why wouldn’t he mention it when….

By focusing on these words, we notice conflict and intentions in the scene by the two characters. And now we can use our imaginations as actors in making a choice in how we want to play the scene. Making a choice, not making the right choice because making a choice is always more important than making the right choice.

Another big clue is always the word sorry, because when a character says sorry, that is an immediate beat change or transition in the scene. You have to play the scene differently immediately after you hear or say sorry or an apology. The behavior in the scene can’t be the same as it was before you said it or heard it. That wouldn’t make sense in life or in acting!

These may be easier to pick up in a two- or three-page film & TV scene, but they can also apply to a theatre scene. In a film & TV audition scene, you have less words on the page and so they pop more, but they definitely are there in theatre scenes. Take a look at the second scene in Streetcar Named Desire when Stanley questions Blanche on the sell of Belle Reve.

Easy Tips to Unlock a TV & Film Audition Scene

  • Circle all but, if, and, ok, or, so, which or whats in the scene.

  • Circle all questions and all forms of apologies in the scene.

  • Ask yourself what the POV might be for each character in the scene because the use of these words.

  • Always behave differently in the scene once you say or hear an apology. It will show that you are listening.

  • Make a choice on what you have deduced and don’t second guess it. Making a choice is more important than making the right choice.

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