February 24, 2016

A Step-by-Step Guide to Breaking Down a Script for Production

Okay, you've finally got your script set. Now all you need to do now is painstakingly go through it piece by piece to get it ready for production.

Script breakdowns are no joke; they are a tedious, detailed, daunting task. You have to comb through each page looking for elements that are important for scheduling, budgeting, and pretty much anything else that you'll need to prepare for the project. So -- where do you start? What do you look for? RocketJump Film School's Andrew Spieler, Assistant Director on RocketJump: The Show, has some answers for you in this very helpful video, in which he shows you his process for breaking down scripts from start to finish.

Spieler shares a ton of great insight in the video, like what exactly to look for and how to break each page down into smaller sections ("1/8ths"), but a lot of what this job requires is kind of intangible. Not only do you have to be extremely detail oriented, but you have to anticipate what each element is going to require and from whom. Take one of the lines from Spieler's script for example. Try to pinpoint each element:

Sally sees her entire family has been shot and are dead, facedown in their soups.

Even though there are only 15 words in this line, there is actually a lot going on here. Let's break it down:

"Sally sees her entire family": Family? How many family members are there? They're all dead, so are they all going to require make-up and/or special effects set-ups?

"Has been shot and are dead": Okay, shot and dead -- can you see blood? Can you see wounds? If so, is there a blood gag that requires special effects or do they just require bloody make-up?

"Facedown in their soups": Putting your face in soup is dangerous and could kill you -- so this is definitely considered a stunt.

That's a ton to digest, but just understanding how important it is to be organized when compiling your elements is a great start. You are going to be looking for a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons: certain items of clothing and make-ups for your costume and make-up department, props and set dressing for your set designer, music and sound for your foley artists and composers. The list goes on and on. 

Spieler recommends color coding each element so you can spot and mark them easily in your script. Most screenwriting software will allow you to do this, like Final Draft and Celtx, but you can always go analog and assign your own colors and go to town with a bunch of highlighters on a hard copy.

What's your process for breaking down a script? Do you use any clever tricks to make the process easier for you? Let us know in the comments below!      

Your Comment

9 Comments

This was insanely helpful. Thank you.

February 24, 2016 at 5:30AM, Edited February 24, 5:29AM

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Sahit Anand
Director and Co-Founder of DO. Creative Labs
200

I use more often for breakdown a Sophocles. Sometine use MMS or Fuzzlecheck, but Sophocles is the best for short films.

February 24, 2016 at 5:38AM

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You are using Sophocles, did it ever get support back, it was by far the best over all tool for everything.

February 25, 2016 at 9:46AM

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Darren Orange
Director/Producer
262

I like to mark up a script with my shots to get an idea of what coverage I need and the way in which each scene will be edited.

Then I type out my shot list in Excel. Afterwards, I do storyboards for the more complex scenes.

Generally, I create a very comprehensive production book. That was my training in film school, and it has always served me well.

February 24, 2016 at 12:21PM

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I will like to add that when you divide your script in 8th's is very useful to know that one 8th of a page takes around 20 minutes to shot, so in this way you can calculate how much shooting time can a scene take, obviously not counting the setup time.

February 24, 2016 at 8:59PM

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Matias Rispau
Director
173

I would have to completely disagree. It really depends on what is happening in that 1/8th a script. Is it a man sitting solemnly alone in the dark. Or perhaps two luxury cars speeding down a windy road. I wouldn't suggest looking at eighths in units of time. It's all about the scene, the directors vision for that scene and how the cinematographer wants to shoot it. The same 1/8 can take widely different amounts of time depending on how the creatives want to make the scene.

February 25, 2016 at 9:24AM

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There are a lot of great books, that break this down much better, that have also been around for decades. I'd suggest using those as guides.

February 25, 2016 at 9:19AM, Edited February 25, 9:25AM

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Names please?

February 25, 2016 at 4:34PM, Edited February 25, 4:34PM

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Stefan Foderingham-Garraway
Director/Cinematographer
223

The way he's demonstrating would make a mess of the script with blending colors and too many shades. Instead of a single script, have a copy for each purpose (set design, costumes, props, actors/extras, etc) with highlighted key words. It's also easier and more efficient to focus on one category through the whole script instead of trying to catch every element in a single pass.

February 28, 2016 at 4:38AM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
436