Creating a script breakdown is all about identifying various "elements" in a scene to better understand its shooting requirements. In this post, we'll review the process of marking (or "tagging") scenes to create a script breakdown.
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.
Pro Tip: Who Marks 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, 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 the script for formatting errors
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. 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.
Learn more about How to Properly Format a Script Before the Script Breakdown.
3. Break script pages 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 . Sounds funny, but, 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.
Pro Tip: The Trouble With Musical Performances
Be especially conscious of the screen-time:page count ratio for 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 his 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, paragraph breaks, and descriptions .
4. Mark the script using color highlighters and pens
Again, the purpose of marking is to identify all the elements in a scene so they can included in the script breakdown sheet and shooting schedule. It’s standard to use highlighters and pens to identify each element. This is tedious and careful work. Missing elements can impact departments, so it’s important to be detailed.
You can find “standard” script breakdown colors for marking a script below. It is not essential that you use these colors, but it is important to be consistent and methodical. If you’re using custom script breakdown colors, make sure to create a legend on the script and breakdown.
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.
Standard Script Breakdown Colors
|Cast – Speaking Roles||Red||Underline|
|Extras – Silent Roles||Yellow||Underline|
|Extras – Atmosphere||Green||Underline|
|Vehicles & Animals||Pink||Underline|
|Makeup & Hair||Black||Asterisk|
|Special Equipment||Black||Box Around|
5. Input Markings into a Script Breakdown Sheet Template
After marking the script, you’re ready need to input all of elements into a Script Breakdown Sheet, a summary list of all the elements in a scene. Since scheduling software like Movie Magic Scheduling can be a bit pricey, we created a created a free Script Breakdown Sheet Template. Sign into your Gmail account, then click the “make a copy” button.
6. Use Software Like StudioBinder to Generate the Stripboard
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!
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