In every script, there are elements that can go unseen. Sometimes even hiding in plain sight. If overlooked for too long, this misstep could affect your scheduling and budget.

Hidden elements can make a huge impact on your bottom line and schedule. It is the producer’s job to find these elements before they become a surprise in production. We’ll discuss how to find the most common hidden element in any script: characters. And we will use script breakdown software to do it.


1. The basic breakdown

Nearly all film, television and new media projects have some form of hidden character. One that stands out is The Crown.
Identify Cast Claire Foy

Queen Claire Foy in The Crown is hiding a courtier or two off screen

From the animals in shooting parties of Scotland, to hordes of adoring subjects, the Netflix hit takes the, er… crown when it comes to hidden characters.

How can we identify these hidden characters?

Let’s start with importing the script in StudioBinder and breaking down a scene.

But before we do that, feel free to check out the video below on script breakdowns in StudioBinder:

Now that you're fully versed in the breakdown process, let's get started.

This is what it looks like before we break it down:

Read the scene and note any recurring characters.  Any characters that are in ALL CAPS are a first clue.

Any scripted extras? Any unscripted extras? Many times they will be in ALL CAPS in television projects. Films may require a finer-toothed comb.

Are there children, animals or special effects present?

Use these four questions to assess every scene.  Let’s try tagging out elements:

After you have made your notes, and are finished tagging your hidden character elements, you see the colorful fruit of your labor:

It will be hard to miss any elements when you can tag so easily.

In this script breakdown template we’ve added a recurring character in LORD ROXBURGHE.

We’ve added extras, scripted and unscripted, in the BEATERS, LOADERS and SERVANTS and PEOPLE KEEPING SCORE.

We’ve added Livestock and Handlers for the DOGS.

We’ve made notes of the other hidden elements of Costume, Set Dressing, Props and Sound EFX.

When we run a report on the scene, it looks like this:

We are now familiar with how to identify and tag elements. Let’s now look at the most common hidden character elements.

You're GOnna NEED a BIgger Boat

2. More on hidden extras

There can be no Queen without her subjects.  Every royalty scene needs extras to provide atmosphere and relevance.

Identify Cast Hidden Extras

In this one still there are recurring characters and hidden extras

Extras are almost always present. This is true not only in The Crown but in any production that seeks to recreate a normal slice of life.  Seldom does the screen only have one person for the duration of the film.

Double check any script that doesn't denote a character number on the board strip. Script breakdowns are essential in catching any mistakes before shoot day.

You are looking for those hidden extras, whether scripted or not.

One Plus One Plus One

3. Children and animals

Children and animals can add time and money to your schedule and budget. They are common hidden characters. It’s important in the script breakdown to pay extra attention here.

Think of the logistics: if a child is too young, there may be more than one on set because of strict labor laws.

If a baby can only shoot for an hour, production will need two babies to complete the filming on time.

Keep in mind, with children comes a parent and a studio teacher.  Now you have four extra persons on set.

Hidden Characters Child

Small, cute, and a hidden character

The same goes for any animals that appear on screen.  Not only might there be more than one, but they also come with handlers and Humane Society monitors.

Hidden Pictures

4. Photos within photos 

In a scene from The Crown, we see a hidden character in the form of a photograph. The photograph contains a hidden and possibly recurring character in the form of a “heavyset man” by the name of “Ivanov,” whom we may see later.

This is an important hidden character as the photograph will require an extra casting and shoot, potentially affecting your call sheet. This is true for any picture within the picture whether moving or not.

The Ones That Don't Show Up

5. Art and special effects

CGI and animated characters means that there are bound to be some hidden characters. They may not speak, or occupy corporeal form, but they still have an onscreen presence.

On The Crown, there are very few hidden characters that take the form of CGI. Though hidden characters can take the form of Art.
Hidden Characters Painting

The Herbert Family still owns the rights the impressive Van Dyck painting featured

The painting here represents an ancestral family portrait of the present Queen. Yet, in reality, it is actually a portrait of the 17th-century Earl of Pembroke and his family, the Herberts.

Hidden Characters Closer Look Painting

A closer look

Attaining the proper clearances may be too costly. The use of this painting could affect your bottom line. You will be able to assess if recreation is a better option for your production.

Up Next

Hidden Locations

Script breakdowns help with identifying hidden characters. They also play a huge role in discovering hidden locations within a script.  Next, we’ll learn how to identify these hidden locations, and how to use what we already know to save our shoot.

Up Next: How to Find Hidden Shoot Locations →
Solution Icon - Screenplay and Documents

Easily create script breakdown sheets online.

Import scripts. Tag elements like props, wardrobe, and cast. Create breakdown summaries and DOOD reports in a snap.

Learn More ➜

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