FILMMAKING: Pre-Production

How to Break Down a Script

| FILED under Pre-Production
QUICK SUMMARY ↬ 

Breaking down a script tells you what you need in place to shoot your movie. From actors to props, costuming and production design. It’s all covered by the 1st AD with a script break down.

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:

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.

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