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I've been thinking lot about how to deal with manuscripts when being an actor. I'm training or learning the art of acting and have recently been part of a movie project (amateur).

I was given a script and read all the words on the page. Then I changed it a little bit in order to sound more natural. People like my second version. In this case, the people who wrote the script have probably never written one for a movie before. They only gave me a script and never really told me anything about how the actors should move or sound like.

Do actors have to take their lines written in the script and make them more natural?

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    Of course, the words are just what is to be said, what actors do is decide HOW they are said.
    – Paulie_D
    Aug 8, 2022 at 14:55
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    @Paulie_D, with direction from the, er, director.
    – Darren
    Aug 8, 2022 at 15:23
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    Can you clarify if your question is about changing the actual words on the script or is it about how actors say their lines when sticking to the exact script? Aug 11, 2022 at 12:50
  • It's up to the director. Some are very strict and critical about even the slightest changes. James Cameron: "Does it say 'um' in the script?!" Ethan Coen: "He wouldn't have said it like that" (referring to the difference between an actor's just-delivered performance and an undisclosed, but specific personal memory of a real-person upon which the character was based). Conversely some like Martin Scorsese and Guillermo del Toro are fans of, and strongly encourage improvisation. Thor's extraordinarily natural, "He's a friend from work" was suggested on the spot by a Make-A-Wish kid on set.
    – Wyck
    Aug 19, 2022 at 19:29

3 Answers 3

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The job of a good scriptwriter is to make the dialog flow straight from the page to the screen.
In a high budget production, this is what happens 99% of the time.

Any changes an actor wishes to make will be discussed with the director. Any changes made will be noted by the script supervisor, so that when it goes to edit, there is an awareness of where any digression from the original is.

In an amateur or student production, people tend to wing it a lot more. The script hasn't been through the same kind of editing process beforehand & people are more free to make things up on the spot. There may not even be a script supervisor.

This assumes the entire production isn't already designed to be highly improv. I've worked improv movies where there's no script supervisor, because there's no scripted dialog at all.

From comments
Your job as an actor is to take what they've written and bring it to life. Their job as a scriptwriter is to give you dialog that works. Without seeing the script or hearing the performance, that's all anyone can say. If this is part of a student project, then take it to your acting teacher for guidance.

There's a joke [tough to get this to work in text, you need the emphasis in speech really…]
"Act like you've never acted before! ..ermm… no, not like you've never acted before…"

It's not the actor's job to take "Is this a dagger I see before me?" & turn it into "Right, I've got me penknife out… now what?"
Shakespeare, to modern ears, feels very stilted, yet every night, probably hundreds of actors around the world make sense of it to anticipatory audiences.

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  • I think OP is asking more about the delivery of the lines as written, rather than ad-libbing changes.
    – Darren
    Aug 8, 2022 at 15:23
  • @Darren - it doesn't read that way to me at all. If you think that's what the OP meant, then raise a clarifying question as a comment to the OP itself.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 8, 2022 at 15:25
  • Hmm, OK. On second reading, you might be right. My first thought of "making it more speechlike" was more like a speech ("Friends, Romans, countrymen..." sort of thing) but possibly they mean "more like natural speech".
    – Darren
    Aug 8, 2022 at 15:26
  • More like natural speech. I don't want to sound like a person reading a message like they do on a train station or how they read the news in the old days. It should sound more improvised. my lines sounded like if I read from a letter. Like the ending in Simon Bitch pethaps. what does speechlike actually mean Aug 8, 2022 at 17:06
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    Your job as an actor is to take what they've written & bring it to life. Their job as a scriptwriter is to give you dialog that works. Without seeing the script or hearing the performance, that's all anyone can say. if this is part of a student project, then take it to your acting teacher for guidance.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 8, 2022 at 17:11
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Do they have to? No. That doesn't mean they can't discuss the delivery with the Director/Screen Writer, or improvise. "Leave the gun, take the Cannoli" was an improvised line that was left in the movie. Actors like Robin Williams and Jim Carey were often given free reign to improvise their parts.

Certainly, if you feel the delivery of the line is not natural sounding, you should offer your change to the writer and see if they agree. Some will consider your request, others are very adamant about their art not being changed.

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It varies by the production.

Some productions, directors, producers, etc., are more accepting of actors changing the words in the script, and others are more strict. If the writer is the same as the director (or has a close relationship), then it's somewhat more likely that they'll be strict to sticking to the script as written. Tetsujin gives the example of Shakespeare, for which productions tend to be very faithful. Others will support (or demand) a lot of improvising. Some directors do a few takes strictly on-script, then one or more where the actors improvise off-script, and they decide later which take works better.

And it may even vary by character or scene within the same production. For example, here's what the director Taika Waititi said in a recent "Lie Detector Test" interview, questioned by friend Rhys Darby (YouTube):

RHYS: You've said this about improvising, 'I figure out who's good at it and who's not and only allow the people who are good at it to do it.' [laughs]

TAIKA: Well, that's true.

RHYS: Yeah?

TAIKA: Yeah, because not everyone's good at it.

He's then asked about a few of the actors in Thor: Love and Thunder. He says Chris Hemsworth is "incredible at improvising". Of Christian Bale he says, "He doesn't improvise as much... Greatest actor in the world. Doesn't need to improvise." (And, FWIW, the polygraph examiner says shortly after, "You are telling the truth.")

I'd say there can be almost endless variations on the practice. If you're a principal in a production, you may wish to feel out or ask the director how close they expect you to stick to the written script.

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