A script breakdown is one of the most important phases of pre-production. It’s usually the first time you start to develop a clear picture of the size, scope, and cost of a production. Breakdowns allow filmmakers to find the balance between telling the strongest story for the lowest budget. Easier said than done, but in today’s article (and video!), we’ll show you how to budget creatively.

We’ll take a closer look at two films that have similar production values but wildly different budgets: Titanic vs. Brooklyn. Yes, we’ll match one of the most expensive movies ever made to a comparable period piece that cost 1/20th of its price. Let’s explore exactly how Brooklyn shot a complex story without breaking the bank (and you can too).

Script Breakdown Example: The Grand Budapest Hotel


It starts with the script breakdown

Titanic, directed by James Cameron, and Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley, are two beautifully realized films, each with period details, romance, and sea voyages.

They both achieve their goals as they tug at the heartstrings with memorable cinematic moments throughout.

One had a literal Titanic budget and the other, Brooklyn, had a much more modest backing.

Both scripts are well visualized, and both achieved acclaim, but the budgets meant that their breakdowns, and therefore their paths to the screen, became a difference of David and Goliath proportions.

Breakdown Definition

what is Script Breakdown?

script breakdown helps identify the key scene elements that are needed for your production. Walk through our guide on how to break down a script.

The breakdown for Cameron’s masterpiece must have been titanic.

This revelatory scene at the dock has everything an epic film could ask for in thousands of extras, amazingly detailed costumes, brilliant art direction, A-list talent and CGI galore.

There is a car floating in the air onto the boat! No doubt everything James Cameron asked for.

This scene is one of the most expensive ever filmed with a price tag of at least 2 million dollars.

In contrast, here is a “comparable” scene from Brooklyn:

John Crowley’s breakdown didn’t sink Brooklyn.

Brooklyn has a boat scene on the docks and the water, but the film’s entire budget could fit into three scenes from Cameron's gigantic film.

The difference in the planning and execution of both begin with a breakdown of the scripts.


Titanic film scene


Brooklyn film scene

The scripts are not so different, but the realizations are. In both, we have a ship, horns, a crowd with luggage, and the sea.

But they are not so similar on screen as on paper.

In Brooklyn, the ship is unseen even though it is a significant part of the scene and the story.

We have the sounds of the ocean voyage with horns, seagulls, and the noise of the crowds... but we don’t see any of it.

The water is created with CGI, and there are a couple of well-placed extras. The contrast on screen is stark, but both pictures are stunning.

This comparison goes to show that every department on a film production defines what is necessary for the scene to be fully realized. However, the necessities are subjective until finances enter the equation.

Brooklyn shows what happens when each department is budget-conscious and asks for only what is really necessary to tell a story. Whereas Titanic shows what happens when a director breaks down a script based almost entirely on vision with little regard of the budget.

There are always ways to reduce costs without compromising the story.

...And it starts with a breakdown.

Remember, before James Cameron made Titanic for $200 million, he made Exogenesis for $20,000.


1. Talent is expensive, but not all

A-List stars are great, but they can cost as much as an entire indie film. Lesser known talent can keep your story, budget, and schedule in the black. Working for scale is familiar to someone who already has a steady income and wants to work.

Reach out to the agent or manager of your favorite TV actor. If you let them know you have written the perfect role for their client, they will consider reading your film.


With smaller budgets, many reps won’t consider your project unless it comes from a legal rep.

So, don’t ignore your lawyers. For smallish fees, they will get your script directly to talent. Also, It shows you are serious even if your budget isn’t.

The cherry on the new media sundae is...

Social media influencers are a new wave of inexpensive talent. Netflix and Youtube are already committing to projects with this new kind star. You might have a reasonable and symbiotic relationship.


2. Consider locations 

When breaking down a script, consider two locations.

  1. Story Setting: The first to be considered is the location in the story. This is literally where your story takes place. Is it in England or Ireland or Brooklyn?
  2. Shoot Location: The actual location where the shoot will take place.

Ninety-nine percent of Brooklyn was shot outside of the United States.


Travel cost can’t eat up your budget like a PA next to craft services. Also the tax benefits by location can add real money to a budget. Also ask if the location be substituted for a sunnier place, thus reducing light setup times and rentals.

Also consider if it would be cheaper to do it on a stage. These are all excellent reasons to hire a location manager. They'll help you think outside the box to make your budget work.

Why Shoot in Hollywood?

Film shoots still happen frequently in Hollywood because production supplies, talent, and crew are plentiful. Shoot in Los Angeles; travel less. There are perks to being a film town. It's much harder to find a porta-jib in Cheboygan, Wisconsin.


3. What is seen and unseen

Look at your breakdown…

What must be shown in the scene to get your point across? What don’t you need to show? What you do and don’t show can make a massive dent in the cost of your film.


What you don’t show can be as important as what you do. 

For example, when a scene is really about the dialogue, cut the visual and financial distractions. Necessity is the mother, father and entire family of invention.

An example...

You have a scene set in the 1920s, but you don’t have the budget for cars, buildings, or props…

Again, look at your breakdown.

Put your characters in costumes and set the scene in a park? Add period-appropriate music. Throw in a few extras crossing with parasols and voila! Sunday in the park… 1920’s… (But if those extras want to get paid, start throwing them away).

Independent filmmaking is a “by any means necessary” art-form.

Don’t have a dolly? Grab a shopping cart and stabilize in post!

Can’t be in the Moulin Rouge in the 1880s? Set it in any park in Paris — they’re all timeless.

Finally... Just remember it’s what your characters are saying that matters. The details of where or when they are usually secondary. Yes, film is a visual medium, but one that starts with a story.



Create a script breakdown

We've touched on how a breakdown can define and save your budget. Now let's explore exactly how to do it.

Next up, we go over the nooks-and-crannies of a script breakdown and even provide a free breakdown sheet template to get you started.

Let's break down the breakdown.

Up Next: How to Break Down a Script →
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Import scripts. Tag elements like props, wardrobe, and cast. Create breakdown summaries and DOOD reports in a snap.

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