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From Cold Reading To Set Prep, Memorization Is A Life Skill We Should All Explore

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The wiring of the human brain makes storytelling the easiest way to absorb material. Storytelling forges a connection and therefore forms a lasting impression in a separate part of your brain. Vanessa Boris writes about storytelling for Harvard Business:

“Telling stories is one of the most powerful means that leaders have to influence, teach, and inspire. What makes storytelling so effective for learning? For starters, storytelling forges connections among people, and between people and ideas. Stories convey the culture, history, and values that unite people. When it comes to our countries, our communities, and our families, we understand intuitively that the stories we hold in common are an important part of the ties that bind.”

What Makes Storytelling So Effective For Learning?

All of our entertainment and cultural values point to stories, storytelling, and the concept of arcs in ideas. If learning and connecting is deeply rooted in the storytelling style, memorization is more efficient in this way as well.

As an actor, when I walk into a cold reading, I never think to myself that I’m memorizing the material, but I do want to read into the story of the material, not just predicting the outcome of the scene, but using every piece of information to inform the next line. I am building the story AS I read and after reading thousands of pages over the years, I can guess how beats and action are crafting a physical story to inform my emotional state. We should take this attention to detail to every script we read, no matter the context.

In the theater word, the Writer Is King. That doesn’t bleed culturally into the screenplay world, because we know a screenplay is often a tool to continue being crafted with a director’s collaboration and ultimately the editor. Whereas the play is supposed to stand strong enough to surpass generations of adaptations and iterations. But, we should treat them as the same. Screenwriters work just as hard to assume it will stand exactly as-written, the talent level and work involved is no different from one medium to the other. Team members should break down the screenplay and word-for-word honor the screenwriter the way we culturally honor the playwright.

Getting invested in the material is the first step. In the 2020 article, The Neuroscience of Story: How Stories Change Our Brains, Simona goes in depth about how our brain and story connection:

Mirror neurons are activated when we observe another person perform an action or go through an emotion. Often unconsciously, we then mirror these actions or emotions. When we watch our favorite character fighting for his life on the movie screen, we feel the fear and anxiety as if we were the ones being attacked. This is because their feelings are reflected in the mirror of our own neural wiring. The characters’ actions and emotions are quite literally mapped over onto our own brain’s sensory representations.”

The Neuroscience of Story: How Stories Change Our Brains

Once we’re invested, we need to take a look at the script with a desire to read, connect, and absorb. prime yourself and set aside an hour every other day for a few days to enjoy the material. The rest comes so easily, you’ll never memorize another word in your life. You’ll simply create a place inside where the piece lives effortlessly.

When we work on a script, we should go through a few processes in order to absorb the work to the best of our ability. Here is a short list to help you adjust your current processes in order to most effectively become an expert in the shortest amount of time.

  • Read the screenplay beginning to end.
  • Read the screenplay AGAIN beginning to end – this is vital. You know what could happen, now the action, beats, call backs, and more will have a deeper impact. You will finally see the script the way the writer wants you to see it.
  • Establish yours or whoever’s intentions. The objective of each scene and super objective of a character is the lens in which you should read the script.
  • Break down the script into acts, then break down scenes into acts, and NAME them. Yes, name each section. This scene could be broken down as: 1. Tired and hungry, 2. Misunderstanding, 3. Smelling and distracted by the food at the next table, 4. NEWS: She is single and available again!, 5. IDEA: Call her as you run out of the bakery. This could be a 10 page scene or 1 page scene, breaking down the story of the scene makes transitions simpler and organic.
  • Draw pictures next to each section. yes, the act of crafting, drawing, and seeing those pictures builds a place in your mind palace for the concepts of that section. Giving words to that section becomes incredibly easy. Your brain wants to label the picture in your mind with the words on the page.
  • Read difficult scenes a few times right before bed. You don’t want to work hard on them, JUST read them. Your brain learns songs and builds pathways while you sleep. Simply reading a scene a few times actually helps you memorize the scene while you snooze.
  • Read aloud. Always be sure to read aloud early in the process and late in the process.
  • Read with another person, this tests your engagement and puts into motion everything you have done thus far. It is the final step in engaging the emotional connection. Talking to a person is always more personal than talking to yourself.
  • Get up and move. Whether or not a scene has movement written into the action, you should be moving. Our whole body is an instrument and using all aspects of stretching and moving gets a piece on it’s feet and your emotional expression heightens through abstract and open ended movement.
  • Other ideas to consider for particularly hard pieces: recording and listening, handwriting, reading to music, reading while chewing the same gum every time, and having it read to you by different people.

It’s time to crack open a script and practice this skill. I’m going to do the same.

Tell me your fav memorization techniques: @JennicaRenee

Jennica Schwartzman, Managing Partner at Purpose Pictures Productions, Co-Founder of Little Sister Entertainment, and a member of The Producers Guild of America, SAG/AFTRA, and Moms-In-Film LA, loves tackling a project from idea to distribution as a multi-hyphenate actress-writer-producer. Jennica has been published in the Producers Guild Magazine "Produced By," Legacy Arts Magazine, Paragon Road, Bustle, and she is a guest writer for the acclaimed entertainment industry websites MsInTheBiz.com, FilmmakingStuff.com, Artemis Motion Pictures' #WomenKickAss Forum, and WomenandHollywood.com. She has been invited to speak on film festival panels and is a workshop teacher for The International Family Film Festival's Road Scholars intergenerational filmmaking camp. Jennica has produced ten feature film releases. Jennica and her husband /producing partner /writing partner Ryan have two kiddos and reside in Hollywood.

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