Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:
Today: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown. Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:
* We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.
* By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.
* A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.
Written by Richard Linklater.
IMDb plot summary: The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.
By Jacob Jensen
(p.1-2) We are introduced to our curious lead protagonist MASON and his mother OLIVIA. We found out that Mason has been rather distracted at school and not turning in his homework. We can tell that he is very curious about things, and always has a reason for what he does.
(p.2-3) Mason and his friend TOMMY spray paint a concrete wall in the middle of a drainage ditch. A girl named SAMANTHA, his sister (although we don’t know for sure) comes looking for Mason.
(p.3-4) We are introduced to TED, who is either Olivia’s husband or boyfriend, probably the latter. He seems to have a bond with Mason. He wants to go out with Olivia, but one problem—they don’t have a babysitter.
(p.4-5) Olivia reads a story to Mason and the other kids.
(p.5-6) Mason sits in his room listening to his mother and Ted fight. Ted wants her to let loose and go out, but she says she can’t because her kids are more important.
(p.6-7) Mason gets out of bed and peeks through the door as Ted and Olivia continue to fight.
(p.7-8) As Mason quietly sleeps, Samantha comes in and smacks him with a pillow and sings to him very annoyingly. He’s upset at this. Olivia comes in and suddenly Samantha pretends to cry and blames Mason for “throwing things at her.” Olivia is upset and tells them both to be quiet and go back to bed.
(p.8) Mason and Tommy sit on a swing in the backyard looking at the lingerie section of a catalog.
(p.9) Mason has an “introspective moment as he gazes upon a deceased bird’s carcass in the dirt.”
(p.9-10) Over lunch, Olivia announces to Samantha and Mason that they’ll be moving to Houston, near their grandma, so that she can go back to college because she doesn’t make enough money at the job she currently has. The kids aren’t thrilled about this.
(p.10-11) While lying in bed, Olivia and Mason talk about his father. Mason’s worried that he won’t be able to find them, or visit them, after they move to Houston. Olivia tries to be re-assuring. We also find out the father’s possibly in Alaska.
(p.11) Olivia’s emptying out the house as the moving van drives off.
(p.11) Mason helps Olivia paint over the walls of their house.
(p.11) Samantha’s on the phone with her friend. Tommy calls and wants to hang out with Mason. Samantha rudely tells him that Mason can’t because they’re moving.
(p.11) Mason paints over the “growth chart” lines on the door.
(p.12) Mason, Samantha, and Olivia get into the car and drive off. Samantha has a bad attitude, while Mason doesn’t really say anything. Through the side mirror, Mason notices Tommy riding on his bike, gesturing towards the car. Still Mason doesn’t say anything and Tommy recedes in the distance.
(p.12-13) Mason and Samantha playfully fight in the back seat. Olivia makes them put a pillow between the two of them to keep them from fighting. The car moves towards the Houston skyline.
(p.13) Mason gets ready for the school day. Olivia makes him eat and warns that the bus will be there any second.
(p.13-14) As they eat breakfast, Olivia tells the kids that their grandma will pick them up from school and that their dad is in town. Of course, Mason wants to know if he’s moving back.
(p.14-15) Mason sits in school, playing a game, but the teacher makes him get back to his school work.
(p.15-16) Mason quietly plays a video game as his grandma, CATHERINE, listens to Samantha boast about her good grades.
(p.16-20) Mason’s DAD pulls up in his Pontiac GTO. He comes to the door to get the kids. He talks to Catherine about life and asks about Olivia. He offers to bring them back home so he can see Olivia, against Catherine’s wishes.
(p.20-22) Mason, Samantha and their dad are bowling. Samantha is doing great, but Mason’s keeps getting gutter balls. He asks if they can use the bumper, his dad refuses.
(p.22-25) The three of them sit at the cafe and talk. Dad is a little preoccupied with talking about the war in Iraq, and trying to instill his beliefs on them. They clearly don’t care about that and ask if he’s moving back. Dad tries to explain why he’s been gone and why him and their mother fight so much. He apologizes for the gutter thing and says he’ll work on getting better with things like that and that he’ll be around a lot more.
(p.25-27) While at home, Mason starts to show dad his collections of feathers and grass and other things, until Samantha comes in and steals all the attention by showing dad her basketball photos. Dad is clearly more interested in Samantha playing basketball than Mason’s collection.
(p.27-29) Olivia comes home to find the kids and their dad. It gets really awkward really quick. Olivia and dad walk outside to talk, while Mason and Samantha try to eavesdrop. Although they can’t hear anything, they see them fighting. Dad walks off and the kids are disappointed.
(p.29-32) Olivia and Mason sit in one of her college classes. She brought him with because he wasn’t feeling well. After class, Olivia introduces Mason to her professor, BILL WELBROCK. It’s clear that they have more than a teacher- professor sort of relationship. Mason doesn’t know how to feel about that.
(p.32-33) Mason and Samantha now have two new step-siblings, RANDY and MINDY. They have a sign made to welcome Olivia and Bill back home from their honeymoon.
(p.33-36) The new family goes out to eat at a restaurant. They talk about the honeymoon. Bill asks if Randy got his science project done, which he didn’t. Bill blames it on Mason saying all they did was play video games. When the waiter comes, Bill and Olivia order wine, while Mason asks for a coke. Olivia won’t let him order one, and makes him get water instead.
(p.36-37) The kids walk home with other neighborhood kids. They talk about a teacher at school everyone thinks is a lesbian.
(p.37) Mason beats Randy at a video game.
(p.37-39) The family plays a game of charades. The girls win.
(p.39) The kids are at a Harry Potter book release party. They participate in a trivia game. Samantha gets a question right, while Mason doesn’t know the answer. Because Samantha won, they all get to move up to the front of the line.
(p.40-41) Bill takes Randy and Mason golfing. He coaches them on their swings. It’s clear Bill underestimated Mason. Mason makes a putt that the other two missed.
(p.41) Bill, Randy and Mason stop at a liquor store. It’s hinted that there might be alcoholism involved.
(p.41) Bill drinks some Vodka in secret. He then hides the bottle in the laundry room.
(p.41-42) Bill yells at Samantha for not getting her chores done.
(p.42-43) As Mason and Randy are out back weeding and raking, Bill comes out to tell Mason his dad’s there. Bill’s not pleased that they’re only half way done with the job.
(p.43-45) Samantha and Mason are about to leave with their dad, but Bill’s still upset that they didn’t get their chores done, so he makes Olivia back him up. We can tell that Olivia’s a little upset that Bill is so strict.
(p.45) Dad comes to pick up Mason and Samantha. Dad and Bill just say hi and nothing more.
(p.45-48) In the car, Dad asks Mason and Samantha a bunch of questions. They don’t really have much to say. Dad pulls the car over and tells them that he wants to them to tell him stuff and be more open.
(p.48-49) Dad, Mason, and Samantha have a fun time at a butterfly museum.
(p.49) They play outside in a sculpture garden, having a good time.
(p.50) They play catch with a football at a park.
(p.50-51) They are at a baseball game. As dad’s talking baseball, Mason asks him if he has a job. Dad says he just finished his second actuarial exam, but doesn’t mention anything about a job.
(p.52-53) The three go to Dad’s home. We’re introduced to his roommate, JIMMY, who made a mess and forgot to hide the paraphernalia. It’s kind of a pig stock.
(p.53-54) Jimmy and Dad sing and play a weird song based on how Olivia and the kids have a new life, and Dad’s left out.
(p.54-55) Dad tucks Samantha into bed. Jimmy comes in to say goodnight.
(p.55-56) Dad and Mason lay on the couches in the living room. Mason asks him if he thinks there’s such thing as elves and magic. Dad goes along with it in a cool way.
(p.56-57) Dad drops the kids back of at Bill’s house. Samantha tells him that she has a sleepover the next weekend, so she can’t go with dad.
(p.57) Mason, Randy, and a neighborhood boy stare at a laptop. It’s probably porn. Mindy comes in to tell them that bill is making them get haircuts.
(p.57) Mason, Randy, and Bill get haircuts at the barber shop. Bill says to Mason that he’s gonna look like a real man now, and not a little girl. Mason’s not amused.
(p.58) As Mason is in his bed in the morning before school, the kids walk by and shake their head.
(p.58) As they’re about to leave, Mom asks where Mason is. They say he’s in his room and that he doesn’t feel good. They think he’s faking it.
(p.58-59) Mom comes in and makes Mason get ready for school.
(p.59) As mom is dropping Mason off at school, he tells her that he’s upset about Bill making him get a haircut. She understands and said she’ll talk to him about it later. Mason exclaims how Bill is such a jerk.
(p.60) As Mason walks into the classroom, all the kids laugh and make fun of his new haircut. Except, Mason gets a note that says “Mason I think your hair looks kewl -Nicole.”
(p.61) Mason and Randy ride their bikes home to find Olivia lying on the floor of the garage crying. They ask what’s wrong, but she tells them to get inside the house. Bill is there and tells her to get off the floor. We don’t really know what’s going on, but it’s something bad.
(p.62) Moments later, Bill comes in with a bottle of booze. He makes a big scene and yells at Mason saying “You don’t like me very much do you?” He then throws his glass right in front of Mason, and his bottle at Randy.
(p.63) The kids sit in Mason’s room watching a video and talks about Bill’s big scene.
(p.63-64) Bill makes all the kids give him their cell phones. He asks where Olivia is. They all say they don’t know, but he proves Samantha wrong by showing her a message off of her phone. It said to stay in there rooms and she’ll be back later. Bill makes them get in the car.
(p.64-65) Bill makes Mindy get money out of the ATM at the liquor store parking lot, as he sits in the car. She comes back and says it won’t work because of insufficient funds.
(p.65) Bill writes out a check and gives it to Randy and Mason. It’s clear he’s been drinking. He says to tell the clerk he’s not feeling well or something.
(p.65-66) The boys cash a check for 500 bucks and goes back to the car.
(p.66) Bill weaves in and out of traffic. The kids are really scared.
(p.66-68) Olivia comes back to the house with her friend CAROL, to get Samantha and Mason. Bill tries to step them from leaving, but ends up letting them go. Olivia tells Bill she’s leaving him and he gets very upset.
(p.68) In the car, Olivia tells them that they’ll be staying with Carol and her family for awhile. Carol tells them that everything will be alright.
(p.68-69) Back at Carol’s house, the kids ask questions. Olivia says that she called Child Protective Services and Mindy and Randy’s mom to let them know what was going on. Carol and her daughter ABBY say that they can stay as long as they need to.
(p.70) Olivia drops Samantha off at her new junior high school. She’s upset that she had to leave their old school, home, clothes and everything they own behind.
(p.70-72) Mason starts at his new school and his teacher tells KENNY to be his new buddy. They seem to get along well.
(p.72) Mason and Samantha go door to door trying to put up Obama/ Biden signs in their yard. Not a lot of takers.
(p.72-74) We find out that it is their dad who made them hand out signs, and when they’re driving down the street, he makes Mason get out and steal a McCain sign from somebody’s yard.
(p.75-79) While at the cafe, Samantha tells Dad that she can’t go camping with him and Mason because she’s going to a party. Dad attempts to tell her to have safe sex and not make mistakes. A lady named TAMMY runs into them and turns out she has a date with Dad the next day.
(p.80-81) Mason and Dad go swimming in a riverbed and dad tells him he got a job at an insurance company.
(p.82-83) Mason asks Dad if the lady at the bowling alley was his girlfriend. He says kind of. We find out that Mason has a kind of girlfriend to. Dad gives him advice on how to talk to her.
(p.84-85) Dad and Mason sit around the campfire roasting s’mores and talk about Star Wars. The next morning, Mason pees out the fire.
(p.86) Olivia drops Mason off at schools and tells him that Samantha will pick him up.
(p.86-87) Mason has an altercation with some bullies in the bathroom, but he doesn’t get beat up.
(p.87) Mason waits outside, sure enough Samantha didn’t pick him up.
(p.87-90) Mason walks down the side walk with JILL who invites him to go to a party because her friend LeeAnn has a crush on him and wants him to go.
(p.90) Mason observes Olivia’s classroom at a college. She invites the class to go to a Thanksgiving get together at her house.
(p.90-92) Olivia yells at Samantha for forgetting to pick up Mason, in front of her friend GABBY.
(p.92-93) Tommy’s friend CHASE stops by and asks if he wants to go camping. He asks Olivia and she says he can.
(p.93-99) Mason and Chase hang out with some senior guys. They break boards and throw knives. They talk bout “gettin pussy” and the senior guys tell Mason that if he joins a band, he’ll have more success with the ladies.
(p.99-101) Olivia’s having a pre-Thanksgiving get together and has a few college students over. A college girl goes into Mason’s bedroom and he shows her his art and graffiti he made.
(p.101-103) At the get together, a student named JIM talks about his tour in Iraq and 9/11. Later, the college girl plays the guitar and other people sing. Mason can see Olivia and Jim outside, talking on the porch.
(p.103-104) Mason gets dropped off by a bunch of teenagers. He makes out with a girl and takes a few puffs of a joint before getting out.
(p.104-105) Inside, Jim, Olivia and other students are having a get together. Mason walks in and his mom asks if he’s been drinking or smoking, she doesn’t seem to mind. It’s implied that they’re living with Jim now.
(p.105-106) Dad comes to pick up Samantha and Mason in his new mini van. It’s implied that Dad is now married to a lady named Annie and they have a baby named Cooper. It’s also Mason’s 15th birthday. Jim got Mason a camera, and Dad’s impressed that he’s into it.
(p.106-110) Mom is in the back yard with the plumbers, who are fixing a pipe. She encourages one of them to go to community college. Olivia, Jim, Annie and Dad talk and they seem to get along well with each other. Annie, Dad and the kids drive off to Houston for the weekend.
(p.110-114) In the mini van, Mason and Dad talk about the old GTO. Mason is mad because he remembers dad saying that it will be his when he turns sixteen, but turns out the Dad sold it to buy the mini van. Annie and Samantha watch a Lady GaGa music video and Annie says that she will buy her tickets and she can stay with her and dad during the concert in Houston. Dad gives Mason his birthday present, a cd of the Beatles and Mason’s not very impressed with it.
(p.114-118) They all go to a GRANDPA CLIFF and NANA’s ranch house. They sing Happy Birthday to Mason and eat cake. Nana gives Mason a bible, Annie and Dad give him a suit and tie, and Grandpa Cliff gives him a shotgun as presents.
(p.118-119) Dad, Grandpa, Samantha and Mason shoot guns. Mason hits the target after a few tries.
(p.119-122) Mason goes to church with everyone, he’s wearing his new suit. Annie’s parents seem really into it, but Mason doesn’t really follow.
(p.122-124) They walk through the woods as Mason takes photographs. They talk about Cooper’s upcoming baptism and turns out dad is becoming one of those “God people”.
(p.124-126) Mason works on his photo’s in the school’s dark room. His teacher MR. TURLINGTON comes in and gives him a speech about how he’ll never make it as an artist if he doesn’t try harder and have a better work ethic. He forces him to photograph the upcoming football game.
(p.126-127) As Mason walks back into the classroom his friend NICK gives him crap about being in the room alone with Turlington.
(p.127-128) Olivia makes Samantha help post pictures online for an auction. Mason comes down wearing fingernail polish. Samantha re-assures that he’s only wearing it to try to be cool.
(p.128-129) Mason takes pictures at the game. He, Nick, and CHASE are going to a party after the game.
(p.129) Mason is at a party. Kids are drinking and a band plays. He talks to SHEENA.
(p.130-131) Mason and SHEENA talk in a quiet place at the party. They talk about how Mason wants to live in a world where people don’t judge and control him all the time. He says he feels comfortable talking to Sheena.
(p.132) Mason comes home late and Jim is sitting on the porch with a lot of empty beer cans. Jim yells at him for being late, and says that it’s his house so Mason must do what he says. Mason gets upset.
(p.133-134) It’s implied Olivia divorced Jim and now has a lot of debt to pay off, so she decides she’s gonna sell the house they’re living in.
(p.134-136) Mason is working at a restaurant. He flirts with a girl named APRIL. His boss comes in and tells him to pick up the pace and get back to work instead of flirting with April.
(p.136-140) Mason video chats with Dad. Mason’s gonna drive to UT to visit Samantha in college, with Sheena. Dad tells him to be careful driving. Mom gives Mason some money to use in case of an emergency.
(p.140-142) Mason and Sheena drive to Austin. Mason tries to explain how life is better without a Facebook account and technology.
(p.143-145) Mason meet’s Samantha’s BOYFRIEND and plays pool with him. Samantha and Sheena talk about college life.
(p.145-148) Mason and Sheena go to a concert and then to a cafe. They talk about what college will be like and the future.
(p.148) Mason and Sheena are up all night. They go to the top of a roof and kiss.
(p.149-150) Mason and Sheena are sleeping in Samantha’s roommate’s bed. She walks in and finds them.
(p.150-151) Mason won a silver medal for pictures he took of Sheena. A TEACHER congratulates him and wishes him good luck in life. He gets a text from Sheena to meet her at a tree.
(p.151-154) Mason and Sheena get in a fight because Sheena’s going to prom with a college guy and she’s cheating on Mason with him.
(p.154-155) Nick gives Mason a ride home from graduation. Mason takes a few gulps from a flask before going in to his house for a graduation party. He drags Nick with.
(p.155-157) Mason walks in the house and Olivia takes a bunch of pictures with Nick and Grandma and everybody.
(p.158) Carol and Abby made it to the party and Mason and Samantha talk to them.
(p.158-161) Mom, Dad, Samantha, Mr. Wood and others toast Mason.
(p.162-163) Catherine talks to Dad and Annie. She’s rather rude.
(p.163-164) Mason, Dad and UNCLE STEVEN have a manly conversation about sex.
(p.164-165) Dad talks to Olivia and thanks her for everything. He offers her some money for throwing the party.
(p.165-170) Dad and Mason hang out backstage at one of Jimmy’s (dad’s old roommate) concerts. They talk about him breaking up with Sheena and Dad gives him advice. Jimmy dedicates a song to Mason.
(p.171-172) Mason, Samantha and Olivia eat at a cafe. They talk about what items they want to keep because Olivia’s moving to a smaller apartment. The restaurant manager, ERNESTO, comes out. He’s the guy who worked on the septic line a long time ago. He thanks Olivia for encouraging him to go back to school, and pays for their lunch.
(p.173-175) As Mason is packing everything to move out, Olivia has a breakdown and is sad that he’s leaving. Mason doesn’t know how to respond.
(p.175-177) Mason leaves for college. He meets his roommate DALTON and his girlfriend BARB. He also meets her roommate NICOLE. They decide to ditch the orientation and go hiking in the woods. They eat some weed brownies.
(p.178-180) The four of them are hiking and Mason talks to Nicole. She seems to be creative and outgoing like Mason is. They seem to click.
(p.180-181) The four of them watch the sunset and howl at the moon. Mason talks to Nicole about seizing the moment.
If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments or email me. We are using scripts available on our site here. Note some of the 2014 scripts are now available there including Belle, Birdman, Boyhood, Calvary, Get On Up, Gone Girl, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Kill The Messenger, Locke, St. Vincent, The Boxtrolls, The Fault In Our Stars, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and Wild.
For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible. Thanks!
Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.