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How Long Does it Take Actors to Memorize a TV Episode Script?

How Long Does it Take Actors to Memorize a TV Episode Script?

I’m sure many of us would jump at the opportunity to be an actor or actress in our favorite tv show.  We have fantasized about being on screen with our celebrity crushes and having those “passionate moments” on screen.

We would love to be famous, a household name, and receive the financial compensation that comes with it.  However, to be a tv actor, we would have 12–14-hour days of filming scenes to piece together a tv episode.

In addition, what we must consider before being on screen is how good are we at memorizing the scripts we will be using.  Which may be a chore because we struggle to remember passwords and codes on our computer and other things around the house, right?

If you were ever in the drama club in school, you realized that some people are a natural at memorizing lines.  In contrast, others may have more difficulty despite much rehearsing.  It works much in the same way with the stars we see on screen today.  

The time it takes actors to memorize their lines for tv shows vary.  Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer.  One forum on answered the question stating 6-8 weeks to memorize lines.

Actors told the Chicago tribune they could learn a six-page script in about an hour.  But actors rarely remember an entire script before the filming process starts.

Several factors go into an actor’s ability to memorize scripts for tv shows. 

  • An actor’s individual skill and experience.  Experienced actors have “honed” their skills to mentally absorb many lines of a script in a short time frame.
  • An actor’s age.  Older actors have been known to have more trouble memorizing lines as their memories grow weaker.
  • Those overcoming health issues like injuries or illnesses. 

When shooting scenes with tighter schedules, the directors may have the actors read from cue cards to get through the recording process faster.  

Furthermore, many television scripts aren’t highly detailed.  While some tv-series require an actor to digest complex dialogue, most are pretty simple to remember. 

The tv scripts are made “easy” so that a wide variety of diverse audiences follow them with ease.

Besides the lead actor or co-star, the lines for most other actors will be few and can be memorized very quickly.

Again, it all depends upon the actor’s skill, the importance of the role, age, and health conditions. 

Related to: How Many Interviews Do Actors Have to Do as Part of their Movie Promotion Obligations?

How do actors memorize their lines?

A young actor on the theatre reading scripts.

There has been much controversy surrounding  Hollywood actors using personal sound engineers and production assistants to “feed” them their lines through earpieces.  

It has been said some actors pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for this service and don’t bother memorizing lines.

But for those of us that don’t have that type of money and prefer a more traditional method of acting, here are 5 steps to memorizing lines.

1. Write down your lines.

Many aspiring actors try writing their lines down by hand — not typing them.  In addition, this technique works great when memorizing long scenes or speeches.  This method of writing your lines down by hand helps your mind with the words as you write them down.  

You would want to focus on jotting your lines out and yours only.  That way, it helps you focus on your part without the distraction of other actors’ part of the script.

2. Practice your lines with an actor friend.

A photo of co-actors practicing their lines.

Practicing your lines with a partner is the most used method for remembering lines.  But, of course, the most effective approach is to run lines with another actor.  But not your friend you barbecue with on weekends or go shopping with on Sundays with no acting knowledge.  

Practicing your lines with another actor helps you to be accountable.  In addition, be humble enough to allow another actor to coach you and follow stage directions.  

Furthermore, during the first run, you need to focus on listening to the words of the script so you can absorb them. 

If you don’t know anyone personally to help you practice your lines, the Rehearsal Pro app is available for around $20.  It lets you highlight lines in the script, record the lines from other characters, and serves as a teleprompter. 

3. Recite without looking, one line at a time.

Using this method, you will quiz yourself.  First, take a spare piece of paper and cover everything except the line you desire to remember.  Then, read the line repeatedly that you are memorizing.  

Once you feel you’re ready to, try reciting your line of the script without looking.  Once you’ve got it down, go on to the following line.  Continue reciting without looking until you’ve memorized your lines. 

4. Listen to a recording of your lines.

An actor listening to his recordings.

Record yourself reading your lines.  Then play the recording back.  Some of us learn better by hearing the lines read than simply reading them or any other method.  This technique is also helpful to help you understand the pitch in which you should speak.  

For many, this will be one of your fastest methods of learning.

5. Learn your cue lines.

You should always learn your cue lines in addition to learning the lines of your particular part of the script.  These cue lines are the lines in the script that lead into yours.  Therefore, by memorizing the cue lines, you will be more efficient in delivering your lines in an accelerated fashion.

When the script changes.

Lines on tv and in movies consistently change during filming.  Hence, actors and actresses continually have to learn new scripts until filming has been completed.  However, learning the new parts of the script have been simplified for actors. 

The process of learning the updated scripts vary from reading them off the dashboard during car scenes to reading cue cards held by a production member offset or a body double on film with their back to the camera. 

So, no matter how long it takes to memorize your lines for tv, they will likely change, but there are tricks in the business to help you get through it, and the people at home watching are none the wiser.