What is a Locked Script?

You just typed “FADE TO BLACK” on your script. Congrats! But your script isn’t quite ready for production. A film production must run off of a locked script, so everyone has the same information. Everything is about the story, and if there are different versions of a story floating around, things become complicated.

But what if changes need to be made to a script during while shooting? It happens all of the time. Here’s what you need to do:

1) Enable Scene Numbering

Before locking your script you’ll need to add scene numbers. Why? Because a production runs off page and scene numbers. When you’re on set, talking to your Director of Photography (DP) about part of the script, you want to be able to say, “Look at scene eleven, for this I’m thinking…” To do this, you need scene numbers.

If you’re using Final Draft, go to Production > Scene Numbers.

In Fade In go to Production > Scene & Element Numbering > Check Show Numbering.

You’ll see the numbering appear typically on the left and right sides of your script page.

Bravo. But what happens if you need to make changes to a script once production starts?

2) Lock the Script

In an ideal world you’d finish your script and never make any more changes. This never happens.

When you lock a script, page numbers and scene numbers remain unchanged even if you add or remove content from the script.

Example, let’s say you want to add a new scene between scenes 3 & 4 in your completed script. The proper way to do this is add it and label the scene as 3A. This will also bump page one onto a new page called page 1A. Then all subsequent scenes and pages remain exactly the same.

If you added two new scenes between scenes 3 & 4 they would be 3A and 3B. You get it.

The good news is Final Draft and Fade In can handle this for you. Here’s how you lock a script in each:

In Final Draft go to Production > Lock Pages. You’ll see a small lock appear on the upper right of the script. Now your pages and scenes are locked. If you add a new scene heading in between two existing scenes, you’ll se that Final Draft doesn’t change the scene numbering – it leaves the new scene without a number. You can then click Production > Edit Scene and name it correctly.

In Fade In go to Production > Lock Page Numbers. This locks the pages. Next, to lock the scenes click on an actual scene heading in your script and go to Production > Lock Element Numbers. When you do this Fade In will auto-increment your new scenes for you with the corresponding letters.

3) Track Revisions

What happens if you change a scene that already exists? You need to tell Final Draft and Fade In to indicate this.

In Final Draft go to Production > Revision Mode. Everything you change or add will be marked with an asterisk. You can also manually do this by highlighting the text and going to Production > Mark Revised. To change page colors, this is done under Production > Revisions.

In Fade In go to Production > Revisions and choose the revision color. This will also place and asterisk and change the color of the text.

4) Script Revisions During Production

When changes are made to the script during production, everyone must be alerted to what has changed. To do this, you pass out page revisions that are color coded.

For example: If you were two days into shooting a film, and you made changes to page 5 of the script, that page would be reprinted on blue paper. If you made changes to page 5 again, it would be printed on pink. Then yellow. etc. Everyone in Hollywood knows the color order of revisions. Here they are:

White, Blue, Pink, Yellow, Green, Goldenrod, Buff, Salmon, Cherry

Some TV shows have adapted their own versions of the above. But this is the official list from the WGA.

Cool, that all makes sense. But how do you track it all? Final Draft and Fade In can do this for you.

Here are the steps to prepare your script for production:

It Happens to Everyone

No production ever has a script that isn’t tweaked while shooting. So even though it’s a little unnerving to lock your script, you just need to bite the bullet and do it! It’s not as difficult as it may seem.

How to Break Down a Script

So you’ve got a locked script — Congrats! Now it’s time to break down your script.

Why do we do this? It helps you plan and ensure every detail is addressed for the first day of production. You don’t want to show up on set only to realize a needed prop isn’t there, someone’s costume isn’t right, etc. Breaking down the script is literally taking every single part of the screenplay, and categorizing it into the departments responsible.

On a typical film production, the 1st AD (1st Assistant Director) is the one who has the honors. But in the land of independent film, it’s often the director executing the task.

1) Divide Your Pages into 8ths

Script pages are viewed in 1/8s. If you’re discussing a scene with a department head, you wouldn’t say it’s just over a page, you’d say it’s a page and 2/8s, or whatever.

One page of script typically translates into one minute of screen time, so dividing the pages into 8ths provides extra precision. Some people might even get a ruler out and divide pages up in one inch sections. That’s hard core — whatever works best for you. Just be aware of the process.

2) Grab The Highlighters

It’s time to print your script, grab the highlighters and identify all the things that need to be addressed by different departments. With a short film, you’re often all the departments, but this still helps you get everything planned out and done. Planning is one of your greatest tools to survive the chaos of production.

There is no official color chart, so you can come up with your own. Just identify each color on a main sheet of paper and attach that to your script so you remember what you did. Here are some common things you’ll identify in your break down:

  • Cast Members
  • Costuming
  • Props
  • Stunts (anything other than walking is a stunt)
  • Animal Wrangler
  • Set Dressing
  • Extras
  • Special FX
  • Make Up
  • Locations

Once you decide on the appropriate categories for your script, assign color values to each and then go through your screenplay line by line and identify each part. For example, if you assign purple to Costuming, then every part of the script that requires costuming to be involved, you need to underline with the purple highlighter.

*Note: Some parts you’ll be underlining with more than one color. That’s normal.

3) Fill Out Breakdown Sheets

The final step is to fill out a script breakdown sheet for each scene.

On the sheet you’ll list the scene number, location and other important items identified in step 2. I’ve attached a script breakdown sheet PDF that’ll get you going.

4) Inform Department Heads

Now you can distribute the breakdown sheets to appropriate department heads so everyone does what they need to do during pre-production. The breakdown sheets also assist during production to ensure that all people, props, costuming and production design are ready for the shoot.

So that’s it! Now you know how to break down a script, which is a crucial pre-production task that will save you a lot of stress once production hits.

What is a Shot List?

After a screenwriter is done writing the script, who do you think sees the movie first?

The Director.

Part of the director’s job during pre-production is to “see” the entire film ahead of time. By this I don’t mean some relaxed, dreamlike state on a beach sipping tropical drinks. It’s a meticulous task of visualizing every shot for every scene of the movie. This is done via story boards and a shot list.

A director must visualize the entire film ahead of time. It’s meticulous shot by shot planning.

Stick in one of your favorite films, watch the first 5 minutes and count every time the camera cuts to a different shot. A prepared director sees all of this before anyone’s holding a camera.

So you’re a one-man crew? You still need to plan your shots. Waiting until you’re on set will cause you to end up with a film that isn’t what it could have been.

As Louis Pasteur said: “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

Example Shot List

Below is a sample shot list from the short film RECKONING:

Part of a shot list for the film RECKONING from Theater Eleven Pictures.

How to Create a Shot List

There isn’t a single right way to record your shots. Some filmmakers use software like Studio Binder or Celtx. Personally, I prefer a spreadsheet that references every shot with an associated story board.

1) Scene Number

When you break down your script, each scene is given a number. This allows you to map things like your shot list back to the script even when there are changes.

2) Shot Number (Setups)

Every camera setup needs a new shot number. For example, you’re shooting a wide shot of someone and want to move to a medium close up. That’s a new camera setup. As are angle changes, etc. Start with number one and assign a number to each one of your shots for a particular scene. Scene 7 might only have 3 shots while scene 22 has 15. Personally, I use a decimal system. Scene 3 setup 5 would be labeled 3.5 on the corresponding story board.

Shot Description

Describe your vision for the shot. How are you affecting tone or character? What’s the purpose of this shot? Is there action in it? What is the intended emotional charge?

Shot Size

This describes what the camera sees as it relates to your subject.

WS (Wide Shot)
FS (Full Shot)
CS (Cowboy Shot)
MS (Medium Shot)
MCU (Medium Close Up)
CU (Close Up)
ECU (Extreme Close Up)
OTS (Over the Shoulder)
POV (Point of View)

Angle

The angle of the camera drastically effects the feel of the shot. What do you want the audience to feel in this particular scene and setup?

Eye Level
Low Angle
High Angle
Hip Level
Knee Level
Ground Level
Shoulder Level
Dutch Angle
Overhead
Aerial

Movement

Will this be a moving shot? A classic example is The Dark Knight when the Joker first enters the pent house party. He’s moving the entire time, and this would all be noted on the shot list.

Pan
Whip-Pan
Tilt
Whip-Tilt
Dolly
Truck
Pedestal
Zoom

Equipment & Lens

If this is a static shot you’ll have the camera on sticks (stand). If it’s a tracking shot, are you using a gimbal or dolly? You’ll also want to be specific about the lens. Do you want a wide 24mm lens, or a 50mm for a more normal field of view? These creative choices affect your story, and require a lot of forethought. Remember, the most you prepare ahead of time, the more freedom you have to be creative during production.

Location

Is this an interior (INT) or exterior (EXT) shot?

Subject

Who or what is the subject of the shot?

The Work Pays Off

You’re no longer wondering what a shot list is, and hopefully you see how it can help you prepare for your shoot!

I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to take time and see your film in your head before you ever start shooting. A great way to get ideas is to spin up some of your favorite films and watch them without sound. This will force you to study camera movements and learn from pro filmmakers.

Have fun with this! And remember, you’re not pouring cement. You can change this during production. But the work you put in now will pay off big time later.

Write & Direct