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Script breakdown

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

First page of a script for a pornographic film, showing set elements, costumes and a brief character breakdown
First page of a script for a pornographic film, showing set elements, costumes and a brief character breakdown

A script breakdown is an intermediate step in the production of a play, film, comic book, or any other work that is originally planned using a script.

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  • ✪ Script Breakdown 101
  • ✪ How to Break Down a Movie Script
  • ✪ How to Break Down Your Script | The Film Look


Hi my name is Andrew Spieler, and I was the first assistant director for RocketJump: The Show on Hulu. And we're going to talk a bit today about how to break down a script. [RAPID FIRE GUN SHOTS] [HORSE GALLOP & NEIGHING] This approach is something that is typically done by the 1st AD, But I'll tell ya... if you're a director, and you wanna be a good director? This is something you should do, too. It really applies to the creative process, and to understanding what's on the page, versus what's in your head, and how to properly communicate that with all of your departments to really make the most of your directorial skills on the day. By the end of it, you will really know your script, inside and out and every good director and every good 1st AD should know that way in advance. The most important part about breaking down a script, is essentially being organized. As you can see on the table here, for educational purposes, we have mapped out our elements of a script to a color. And we pulled these off of a software called "Final Draft," which is sort of a standardized screenwriting software that comes with an additional piece of software called "Final Draft Tagger." Tagger is essentially a way to go in and do what we're about to do, physically, in a software sense. You can feel free to use whatever colors you want when you're breaking down your script, as long as you've assigned a value for them, and you know what that value is. So just real quick-- these are some of the elements that you're gonna be looking for that most of the time you're gonna find in any kind of a script. Obviously if you're doing a special genre script that has an element that's not on this table, you just add it, and assign a color to it. You may not need some of these, and that's fine. But it's good to sort of have a sense of what you're looking for initially as you go through. And we're gonna use "High Plains Drifter" as you may remember from the show, as the example today. [INTENSE ACTION MUSIC RISES] So, we'll start breaking this thing down.... Alright. Let's get into it. So, scene one. Once you jump in here, you've got your scene heading, you've got your action description, and then you've got all of your dialogue and description in between dialogue here... and as you can see, scene one starts on page one, and ends on page two. And you determine how long a scene is by breaking it up into what we call "eighths." Now, eighths are essentially eighths of a page. Where you take the ruler, and as you're going through, into about 8 lines... ... so that's about what it would look like. So the reason we use eighths is because it gives us just that much more detail and specificity on how long a scene is, according to the page. Because if you just did a page and a half, that would be a scene larger than what the script really calls for. So to be able to say this is a page and two eighths allows us to know that it's a little more than a page, but its not huge. And as you can see here, the last two eighths are just an extra line of dialogue. So, really, it's a scene that would last for about a page or so. And as you go on, you'll sort of get used to this. Your eye will become trained to looking at a script, and quickly saying, "Oh, this scene is two pages and three eighths," Or, "Oh, this is a four page and one eighths scene." That kinda thing. But these page numbers and the page count are very important and you want to keep a log of them for each one of the scenes. on your side notes paper. So now, this is where the color comes in. So you'll see here, we have our first character introduced in the first line of action. "Sally Westfield." So, we'll grab our Cast Member's line here... and what we'll do is we'll go ahead and underline "Sally Westfield" with blue. Ok, so we have a "bar of a western saloon." So right away, I know that that means that we're gonna have some serious set dressing that's gonna be time-period based. So I'm gonna go ahead and take my green set dressing pen, and underline "bar of a western saloon." Because I know that a bar needs bottles, and glasses, and barstools.... and they might also need bar patrons. So, yet again, I'm gonna take my Extras marker and I'm gonna go ahead and underline that light green with the dark green, to remind me that I need to ask and see if we need to also have extras in this bar. And then, there is another character here, called "the Bartender." "The Bartender pours her another." So it's not a specific prop, but it's clear that the bartender is going to be pouring something into Sally's Glass. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna take "Props"... and I'm gonna go ahead and just underscore "pours... another." As far as props go, props are anything that any of the characters interact with physically. So, there, I'm gonna make a little note and say, "Okay, the bartender needs a bottle, and Sally needs some kind of a glass." And we also want to define what kind of glass, and how many time are we gonna pour, and do we need resets? And is she gonna drink this glass? And if she does, what's gonna be the fluid in the glass? So as you can see, it goes down to a very finite level of information that you need to get to, and almost sort of decode what's on the page. So right away, here's only 1/8th of a page, and we've already discovered that there's quite a bit of elements and stuff that we need to discuss and talk about, and figure out in more detail. "BARTENDER: 'Say Sheriff, ain't you got a race comin' up?' " "Sally looks up, angry. SALLY: 'Not any more.' " "Sally SLAMS back her scotch." So... "SLAMS back her scotch." "SLAMS" is in all caps. And "slams" could mean a sound, or it could just be the action of what she's doing. So what I'm gonna do is go ahead and note that as potential sound... That we gonna see her take her drink, slam it back, and slam it back on the table. And, her scotch. So that's also a prop, because she's clearly gonna be drinking it. "She reaches into her pocket for a flask, and take a pull from it." Costumes! Orange. So, her pocket. It means whatever she's wearing needs to have a pocket for the flask to slide into. Now, these may seem very detailed oriented, but these are the kinda things that, when you sit down to talk to a director about, they might say "Oh they don't need a pocket, she can just pull it out of anywhere..." "...And I'd rather her not actually have pockets." So that was really more of something that the writer came up with but not something that the director is gonna actually use. So then you wanna make sure you go communicate that with Costumes, and then Costumes goes, "Oh, good, cuz I was gonna get a thing with like, 8 pockets on it, but if he doesn't want pockets, I won't do pockets!" So little hints like that are very important. You obviously have another prop that's a flask. Which we find out later the flask takes a bullet, and saves Sally's life, so you know you're gonna need 2 versions of that flask. A clean one, and one with a bullet in it. So again, later on as I'd go through the script, I'd be making a note saying we'd need to have two versions, and make sure that we have the right one on the day that we're shooting the scene. "Sally looks toward the saloon's doors." "We see HAYWORT, an obvious bad guy who kinda looks like an oil tycoon, flanked by, like, two of his cronies." So what I would do, is I would take the green... and I would highlight "two... cronies." But then as I go through the scene, I notice that one of those cronies has a line of dialogue. It says, "CRONY: Yeah, Sally! Misplace your horse? Hahaha!" Which means that now one of the cronies is background, and the other crony is an actual principal character. So I'll underline the Crony here that has the line of dialogue... and I will go back here... and I'll make a second marking with the blue, under the green... ...under "cronies," to remind myself to go in and discuss which crony is going to be a principal actor, and which one is background. Or if they are both principal actors, and the second crony just hasn't spoken yet. "Saloon doors..." So that would also be, most likely, a prop. And, a set dressing. Because it's gonna be inactive, but they might have saloon doors that swing, so... the actor's gonna be interacting with it, so, does that fall on set dressing, locations, or props? That's one of those things that you gotta go and check, and see who's going to be responsible for it and exactly what's going to be happening with those doors. "He produces a piece of paper, with 'Deed To The Town.' " ... Props. "The entire saloon laughs." Ok, so, this is again gonna be extras. We have to figure out how many saloon members there are, and "laughs" is gonna be sound. Exactly who's laughing and how many are laughing is actually an important detail that you want to ferret out. So, we're gonna jump ahead to a couple of different scenes that have some unique elements to them, just so you can get a sense of what else might be a stunt or a special effect. And there are plenty in High Plains Drifter, so... We're gonna take a look at those. In scene 4, "Sally opens the door to her house. raising her oil lantern." Obviously, a prop. "Sally sees her entire family has been shot, and are dead, facedown in their soups." Now, that may seem like a simple enough description, but there is actually a lot to be mined from this. How many people are in her family? If they are shot and dead, are we seeing blood? If they're face down in their soups, are their faces submerged in liquid? Which would actually be stunt. Especially if we have kids on set who need to put their face in water. And most AD's will tell you that a stunt is anything more than a walk. And maybe we're running someplace that's got gravelly stone, and it's actually harder to run than you realize... So, what I'm gonna do, is I'm gonna go ahead and put "face down in their soups" as a stunt, and I'm going to go ahead and take 'special effects,' and put that under "been shot" and "dead." Just in case there's any kind of blood gag, or special effects make up that we need to worry about. And usually what I do, too, is I'll also list 'make-up' with any kind of special effects make-up type work. Because you could have somebody who's been shot and is dead, and have them have a blood gag, which would technically be special effects, but if you want them to look dead and drained, that would be make-up. So therefore, you want to make sure you know who's doing what, and covering your bases during your breakdown, so you know that you need to define which department's gonna be handling what element. Here we have a calvary saber. It says, "Sally catches up to the female crony of Haywort's." "The two of them bump each other for a bit, until Haywort's crony produces a calvary saber, and swats at Sally with it." "Sally dodges to the side and holds on for dear life, barely clinging on to the side of her horse." "She opens the saddle bag and produces a whip." Now, not only is this a major stunt, but it also involves animals doing a stunt, and stunt riders, AND weapons. So, something we also don't have here, I believe, in the element breakdown, which I usually do make, is a list for prop weapons, or just weapons in general. Technically they would fall under props, but I usually categorize them into a special prop category, because on larger shoots, props are not gonna be responsible for any weapons or guns. It's going to be a 'weapons wrangler'. So in this case, I will use the black pen, and I'm gonna underline... "Calvary saber," and "whip." And I'm gonna put a star next to these. So that way I know when I'm going back through, that we really need to talk about the saber, and if it's gonna be rubber, or if it's gonna be real... or if it can be plastic. What it does, how it's being held, how it's coming out, if it's got any kind of a sharp edge to it... And then, same thing with the whip. How long is the whip? Does it really actually need to whip onto the saber, is that gonna be a special effect? Where is the whip gonna be on the horse? All these sort of questions have to come up and be answered before you step on set. Because, if you're figuring that out on set, it's already too late, and you're gonna burn a lot of time trying to come with how it's gonna work. If you're doing something, say like a feature or a short that has more than one 'story day' in it, you wanna go through and define for yourself at which scenes the story days start, and then where they end. And what you'll do is you'll have your story day list, and then you're gonna wanna go ahead and run it and cross check it with your other departments. So you wanna check with costumes, and you wanna check with make-up and see if they have different story days, or if they have multiple looks for a given character, within the same story day. "Die Hard" is a really good example of this. His white shirt that Bruce Willis wears at the start of the film to the end has multiple stages, and even though the whole film takes course over one night, the costume department had very particular looks of dirtiness and actually had different shirts that weren't white anymore, they were like, gray. So that as the character progressed, and the arc progressed, so did what he was wearing. Which gets to be the really fun part of storytelling... when you start using these elements to your advantage to convey story and character. So there is a level of creative liberty as you're doing this process. It's not all tedious, it's really thinking about what's happening in the scene, and, again, trying to read between the lines and make notes about it to bring up, to make sure that you've talked about it before you get there. So once you've done all of this, you will then move in to creating... something that looks a little more formal. And you can get these... you can download a breakdown sheet, and once you've inputted all this information into a computer, it will spit it out and give you a nice, clean text format and you can do it by department. It's a really great way to just sort of check and double check with all the departments to make sure that everybody's on the same page. Because... again, it always goes back to communication of crucial information. So I hope that this was helpful! There is no right or wrong way to go about how to break down a script, as long as you're thorough and detailed with it. And that's something that will lead into the scheduling process, which will be done in another video. Have fun, be safe, and, uh... ... good luck!


Film and Television

In film and television, a script breakdown is an analysis of a screenplay in which all of the production elements are reduced into lists. Within these lists, are in essence the foundation of creating a production board, which is fundamental in creating a production schedule and production budget of an entire production of any film or television program in pre production. This process is a very tedious and complex task, and is usually the responsibility of the Assistant Director or first or 1AD within the production staff of any given production company. However, many film directors, film producers and screenwriters have knowledge of breaking down a script.

In particular, literally breaking down the script is a very a thorough and detailed creative analysis of dramatic action in filmmaking, highlighting the reciprocal struggle, theme, and design elements of a screenplay. Which is to code the entire cast, extras, props, special effects, stunts, wranglers, picture cars,[1] wardrobe, make-up and hair stylists, special equipment and or cameras, ADR, Foley, film scores and soundtracks etc., which are all broken-down with different colored marker highlights within a shooting script.

After which, these highlights are then organized and broken-down into strips to organize the production schedule within the actual physical production board. This process is more easily done nowadays utilizing a computer than done manually, with features inside Final Draft called tagger, or utilizing tagging mode inside Movie Magic Screenwriter, another effective computer program.[2] This information can easily be imported over to Movie Magic Scheduling to create a digital production board, and then easily imported over to Movie Magic Budgeting to create the entire production budget. Most of the script and production computer software out there comes in both Microsoft and MacOS versions, and even though there is competing software on the market, these which are listed are considered to be an entertainment industry standard. This whole process of the script breakdown[3] however is not to be confused with character breakdowns utilized with casting calls, this is an entire different process with similar names, however administered by two entirely separate departments.[4]


In comic books, it is the process of determining how each action, character, and piece of dialogue described in the script will be placed visually on a page. In the studio system that dominated mass-market comic-book production from the 1940s through the 1970s, breakdowns were done by the penciller or by a separate breakdown artist, rarely by the scriptwriter; in some cases, breakdowns were done from a rough story outline before the dialogue was written (the "Marvel method"). Later comics writers such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, influenced by cinematic technique, began to include more layout details within their scripts. Cartoonists who both write and draw their own work sometimes begin with a script and do their own breakdowns, and sometimes work through drawings without a separate script.

See also


  1. ^ "Picture Car at Mathews Studio Equipment - Cine Gear Expo 2015". Instagram. June 2, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  2. ^ "How to Use EP Scheduling : How to Use Movie Magic Screenwriter in EP Scheduling". YouTube. Feb 10, 2008. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  3. ^ "Script breakdown, scheduling and budgeting -- Tutorial". YouTube. Nov 21, 2008. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  4. ^ "Casting Director's Checklist". New York Film Academy. Feb 10, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2017.

External links

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