Breaking Down the Script

Occasionally, production managers are hired during preproduction for the sole purpose of scheduling and budgeting. For producers and directors who have limited familiarity with the details of budgeting and scheduling, this can be a wise course of action. Thorough scheduling is essential to an efficient film production, and breaking the script down into practical production requirements is your first priority.

Breaking down a script means separating it into its component elements such as casting, sets, schedules, and so on. This involves several steps, and is essential to organizing all of your script's elements into a logical production order. A screenplay is broken down by formatting the script, lining it, and then creating breakdown sheets. These sheets are used to create production strip boards that can be arranged and rearranged to create a shooting schedule. These practices are generally recognized in the film industry as the most efficient process for simplifying and visualizing the production order of a shooting schedule.

Script Formatting

In order to properly break down a script, it's important that the script be written in standard screenplay format. This is an industry-wide format that experienced professionals universally recognize and understand and that results in approximately one minute of screen time per page. The screenplay format is set in double-spaced twelve-point Courier typeface with margins set at one and one-half inches on the left and right. Although each script page may amount to more or less screen time depending on the dialogue and action, the average of the total pages should be close to one minute apiece.

When lining the script, be cautious about using colored highlighters directly over the text. Yellow highlighting often fades over time, and darker highlight colors can make the copy difficult to read and impossible to legibly fax or photocopy. Underlining text will eliminate the problem.

Lining the Script

Lining the script is the process of color-coding essential elements of the screenplay using colored pencils, felt pens, crayons, or highlighters. The same color should consistently represent a single category of the screenplay. These categories can include the following:

  • Sets/locations

  • Cast

  • Extras

  • Wardrobe

  • Makeup and hair

  • Special effects

  • Stunts

  • Props

  • Vehicles

  • Animals

  • Sound effects

  • Special equipment

Breakdown Sheets

Breakdown sheets are individual pages that have a header space for filling in the scene number, script page, set or location, whether it is a daytime or nighttime shoot, whether it is an exterior or interior shot, and a scene synopsis for every scene of your film. These sheets provide all of the necessary production requirements for every scene.

Breakdown sheets contain all of the production elements shown in separately drawn boxes. The color-coded text in the lined script provides a quick visual reference for entering the necessary information into each box.

Production Strip Boards

Traditionally, the production strip board is an oversized panel that uses vertical slots for holding individual strips of production information taken from corresponding breakdown sheets. These strips essentially become a jigsaw puzzle of production data that can be arranged into practical production sequences. Each of the production strips should contain the following information:

  • Scene number

  • Scene name

  • Breakdown sheet number

  • Location

  • Day/night

  • Interior/exterior

  • Characters

  • Extras

  • Vehicles

  • Special equipment

  • Production notes

By grouping elements such as locations, required cast, or day or night shooting, the strip board creates a simplified visual blueprint of the production requirements of each scene. This is an essential tool for producing an efficient shooting schedule. By their very nature, strip boards are designed to be flexible and easily rearranged, and are usually adjusted on a daily basis to accommodate the inevitable ups and downs of production.

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