Creating a script breakdown is about identifying various “elements” in a scene to better understand its shooting requirements. Script breakdowns are typically put together by the 1st AD or Producer during the pre-production phase prior to the shooting schedule.
In this post, we’ll review the complete process of marking (or “tagging”) scenes to create a script breakdown sheet. Learn how to break down a script by following these 6 steps.
1. Read the script as if you were a viewer
Before you mark anything on the script, read the script from an audience’s perspective. You only have one first impression of the story, so give yourself a chance to connect to it. Beyond the emotional connection, the more familiar you are with the story, the more likely you will be to identify all the elements once you begin marking the script.
Who marks up the script?
Scripts are marked by different people, at different stages of the project. The producer usually completes a simple script breakdown first in order to create a preliminary shooting schedule and budget. The 1st AD then conducts a more comprehensive script breakdown to create the stripboard, scene breakdown, and production shooting schedule. The DP marks the script to generate a shot list and equipment requirements. Other department keys (i.e. production design) will do their own analysis as well.
This will continue through pre production, production and post production and includes foley, music composition, voice-over and ADR work.
2. Scan for formatting errors in screenwriting software
After you have read the script all the way through, read it once more, this time scanning for any formatting errors that may cause hiccups when importing the script file into scheduling software such as Movie Magic Scheduling or StudioBinder.
Here are some of the most common formatting errors to look out for:
- Scene locations should be phrased consistently throughout the script.
- Character names should be consistent as well.
- Scene headers should be formatted only as INT or EXT (interior or exterior).
- Scene headers should be formatted only as D or N (day or night).
- Scene numbers have been generated.
These changes should be saved in the screenwriting software. Afterwards, you should be able to import the new script correctly in scheduling software. Learn more about How to Properly Format a Script Before the Script Breakdown.
3. Start breaking down your script into 8ths
Marking 1/8s of a page is exactly like it sounds. Divide every page into eight, 1 inch parts. This measurement is used to estimate the screen time and shooting time for a scene.
Just make sure that you and your scripty (script supervisor) are on the same page. All puns aside, it’s important that both of you measure scenes in exactly the same way. On a typical dialogue-heavy indie production, you can expect to shoot roughly 5 pages per day where one page equals one minute of screen time.
Some things that take longer to shoot: Stunts, Crowds, Busy Locations, Car Chases, Entrances and Exits, Action Sequences, Gunshots, Musical Performances, Practical Special effects, etc.
Budgeting enough time for musical performances
Be especially conscious of the ratio of screentime : page count when it comes to musical performances. Otherwise you may not budget enough time to shoot what you need. It’s common for screenwriters to summarize on-screen performances into brief one-liners like “Stuart performs a song.” It may be only a few action lines in the script, but the performance could take 2-3 minutes of screen time. The page count should reflect this and be rewritten as 2-3 pages as well. We suggest writing out all of the lyrics as dialogue, with plenty of beats and action descriptions.
4. Mark your script elements using colored highlighters
The purpose of marking a script is to identify all the elements in a scene so they can included in the script breakdown sheet, shooting schedule, and then prepped prior to production. Marking a script is tedious and careful work.
If you’re doing this lo-fi on a physical script, it’s common to use multiple highlighters and pens to identify specific element types. If you’re marking the script using software, Movie Magic Scheduling, Final Draft Tagger, and StudioBinder all support element tagging.
You can find “typical” script breakdown colors below. If you’re using custom script breakdown colors, include a color legend with your script breakdown sheets.
Script Breakdown Color Code
Pro tip: Creating new element categories
Depending on your project, you may want to create more tailored element categories and colors. For example, if you are shooting a horror film, you may want to define all the elements related to prosthetics. If you are shooting a western, you may need to add categories for horses and weapons. Just make sure to define the custom category and color in a legend.
5. Use a script breakdown sheet template or software
After marking up your script, you’re ready to input them into a script breakdown sheet, a summary list of all the elements in a scene. Here are some ways to achieve this:
StudioBinder is a more modern, cloud-based film production software that achieves the same results as Movie Magic, but with a friendlier user interface and a freemium price tag. Full disclosure, StudioBinder is the company that brought you this article, but we really do have a fantastic tool for creating script breakdown sheets. StudioBinder is free to get started here.
StudioBinder features a more visual select-and-tag script view when creating a script breakdown sheet
Logging breakdown elements using Movie Magic Scheduling (aka EP Scheduling)
Script Breakdown Sheet Templates
The third option is to input all of your markings into a script breakdown template via Excel or Google Docs. The best thing about this approach – it’s free. The downside, there is no automation which means it takes much longer to create scene breakdowns, and is prone to human error. You can download a free Script Breakdown Template via Google Docs here.
Script Breakdown Sheet Template in Excel (PDF print out)
6. Create the shooting schedule with a stripboard
Online solutions like StudioBinder’s Shooting Schedule Builder takes the grunt work out of this process. You can import your script right from Final Draft, reorder scenes to create the shooting schedule, and spin-off call sheets to send to your cast and crew.
You can also grab a Stripboard-style Shooting Schedule Template made in Google Docs here.
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We hope this article was helpful in explaining best practices for marking a script and creating the script breakdown. Once your script has been marked, and your script breakdown sheets are complete, it’s time to explore how to create a stripboard and shooting schedule!
Film production software
• Organize talent and crew details
• Create shooting schedules & breakdowns
• Create, send & track personalized call sheets
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