Script breakdown: The most critical step of pre-production

Have you ever thought about how a film script usually looks? How many details do the screenwriters provide in the text? Do they report every single element you see in the scene? Not really...

Script breakdown: The most critical step of pre-production

Have you ever thought about how a film script usually looks? How many details do the screenwriters provide in the text? Do they report every single element you see in the scene? Not really. Sometimes the scene can be described only briefly, with some phrases as simple as "Jane is at the party” – but after the filmmaking crew has worked on the script during pre-production, the full set dressing comes out. And an essential part of this work is breaking down the script. This is the key step in transferring the scene from the paper to the filming location, and in this article, we will review the details of the script breakdown process.

What is the script breakdown?

Breaking down the script is a thorough creative analysis of the script. It includes highlighting and listing all the elements mentioned in every scene of the script and required for shooting. Script breakdown is a crucial filmmaking process that is typically done by the 1st assistant director during the pre-production stage, but other crew members may work on it as well.

Why is script breakdown needed in filmmaking?

  • Script breakdown helps figure out the shooting requirements of each scene and inform each department what they need to prepare for shooting
  • Based on the script breakdown, a producer draws up a budget for the film
  • Script breakdown allows creating other necessary production documents, such as shooting schedule and call sheets

How is the script breakdown done?

The script is broken down scene by scene; after the breakdown of all scenes is finished, it is summarized into the full script breakdown.

First, each page of the scene is divided into 8 parts. Literally, just imagine taking a ruler and measuring out 8 equal parts of the page (if you are not so old-school and prefer using software, it usually marks the 1/8ths automatically). This is traditionally done to estimate each scene's length and how much of the shooting time it will take (one page of script is roughly equal to one minute of screen time).

After the 8ths are drawn, it is time to highlight every single element in the scene. Technically, what is needed is to identify every noun in the text and assign it to one of the categories, such as:

  • Location and set dressing
  • Characters and extras
  • Wardrobe and makeup
  • Special effects
  • Stunts and special equipment
  • Vehicles
  • Props
  • Sounds
  • Music
  • And more (depending on the elements present in the script)

When all the scene elements are identified, a script breakdown sheet is generated, containing a categorized list of all elements required in the scene. When the script breakdown sheets for all scenes are ready, it becomes clear which elements are needed for which scenes, department keys can see their responsibilities, and a shooting schedule can be created.

In this video, you can see an example of script breakdown and how the scenes filmed on its basis look:

How to break down the script?

An old-school way is to take a printed version of a script and many colorful highlighters. Each color stands for a specific category of elements – there is a standard color legend used in the film industry, but you can also create your own color-code. The trick is to read the scene carefully and highlight every mentioned element with the proper color. A script breakdown sheet is also printed out and filled in by hand after the scene breakdown is complete. This means a lot of writing, many paper copies, and lots of time spent on this work.

The good news is, we live in the 21st century and have computers working on us, which can undoubtedly help optimize the process. There are software products that may help you break down the script – from Excel tables to special programs such as Studiobinde. In these programs, you can upload your script, select categories, color-code the elements, and afterward, the software can generate the script breakdown sheet for you. This option is much more efficient but still time-consuming. Additionally, such software is often sensitive to formatting errors, so the script file must be carefully prepared to upload.

This video shows the process of breaking down the script using the Excel table:

Can script breakdown be even easier and faster? Oh yes. Remember? We live in the 21st century! The future is now, technologies develop at warp speed, and we already have artificial intelligence at our disposal for various tasks. It can help with the script breakdown, too! Filmustage is an AI-based tool that can do all the work for you and break down the script automatically in just a few seconds.

How is it possible? Filmustage is based on the artificial neural network trained to search for elements in the script text and distinguish the elements depending on the context.

All you need to do when working in Filmustage is upload your script in PDF or Final Draft format. The rest artificial intelligence will do for you: it generates the breakdown by marking all elements in the text and allocates them to proper categories. Of course, you can also customize the process by adding, changing or removing any elements you need. After that, the program will generate the script breakdown sheet which you can export in different formats. Sounds like magic, but this is real! Filmustage is very easy to use and can save you lots of time and money.

Script breakdown is one of the most important pre-production steps that determines all further stages of the filmmaking process. There is definitely more than just colorful marking of elements and creating the lists: breaking down the script helps the filmmaking team understand how they want every scene to look like. So why not save the time on routine technical things, allowing the machines to do the elements selection and listing, and spend it instead on the creative process?

As soon as the script breakdown is successfully done, the filmmaking process can move on to the next steps.

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