Breaking down a script tells you what you need in place to shoot your movie. From actors to props, costuming and production design. The script break down is typically done by the 1st AD, but for many indie directors, the task is all on them.
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 didn’t arrive, etc.
Breaking down the script takes every single part of a screenplay, and categorizes each required item in order to assign to proper departments. 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.
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 into one inch sections. That’s hard core — whatever works best for you. Just be aware of the process.
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.
Here are common things you’ll identify in your break down:
There is no official color chart, so you can come up with your own. Just assign a color value to each specific item in your script. For example, if you assign GREEN to locations, then every part of the script that requires a specific location will need a green underline
*Note: Some parts you’ll be underlining with more than one color. That’s normal.
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.
Now you can distribute the breakdown sheets to appropriate department heads so everyone knows what they need to do during pre-production. The breakdown sheets also assist during production to ensure 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.