Paula Landry takes you through the steps of breaking down a script and demonstrates how to translate the screenplay format into technical format for use in scheduling and budgeting.
Are you super excited to budget and schedule your script? Or somebody else’s script? Well YEAHHHH! Of course. It's super fun!
Aside from the screenplay itself, the breakdown process is a fundamental building block that scheduling and budgeting rest upon. Here are the steps to breakdown your script in order to schedule and budget your film.
From Script To Breakdown
Breaking down a script translates the screenplay format into technical format for use in scheduling and budgeting. It’s a sequential process and the strength of the budget and schedule will only be as good as the breakdown.
The Steps Of The Script Breakdown Process
1. Read the Script
2. Identify resources on the script (on paper or using a computer)
- Working one Scene at a time
- Then identify each ELEMENT (Villain, Hero, Tan Sierra) in the script, adding it to their appropriate CATEGORY (Props, Vehicles, Cast). This can be done on a paper copy of the script, computer PDF of the script, or by Tagging with screenwriting software.
3. Transfer information onto a breakdown sheet – manually or using a scheduling program.
Do this in order of scenes, for every scene in the script.
First, Read The Script
Getting started with this process is fun—read the script. Just read, don’t analyze it, or mark it up. Read it like you’re watching it on a screen to see it in your mind’s eye. Experience the story as an audience member. Accept it as a whole—in every respect, give the writing your full attention. Question nothing.
Try to do it in one sitting if at all possible, like you’d go see a movie.
Check Screenplay Formatting
Once you’re finished, it’s time to do a formatting check. Why does that matter? Formatting is all about timing. If your screenplay is formatted correctly, then it will time out at about 1 minute = 1 page. Here are the basic formatting parameters:
The more you read scripts, the more you will get used to what a properly formatted screenplay looks like. Over time and repetition, your eyes will catch extra paragraph returns, improperly aligned screenplay elements, or margins that are wonky. I like to double check using my ruler just to be on the safe side.
Format Reflects Time
Or if you have the script as a Final Draft file, you can actually go in and check the formatting, margins, spacing and so forth. Under Tools in Final Draft, select FORMAT ASSISTANT, and the program will scan various elements, indicating elements that may seem incorrect, extra paragraph returns, etc.
To check the margins and general spacing, use the Final Draft Menu – DOCUMENT – Page Layout. Here is where a writer may have cheated a bit by inputting the wrong margins, or changing the line spacing to very loose, or tight. A writer may do that in order to cheat the length of the script. It’s fine for presentation purposes, but when it comes to breaking the script down, we need to face the facts of perfect formatting.
The page count should, in effect, reflect how long the movie will play. When a script is 150 pages long…. Well that’s often too long.
If you have the screenplay in Final Draft file – you can run a formatting check. To do that, in the the toolbar top row, there is a dropdown menu for Tools – click on formatting assistant to work your way through possible formatting issues. Sometimes extra paragraphs can sneak their way into a script, or elements can be formatted incorrectly.
Formatting perfect? Okay good, let’s get going breaking down the script – which means transforming the screenplay into a more technical format for use in scheduling and budgeting.
Scheduling And Breakdown Tools
The breakdown process will helps us to identify and pinpoint every resource - every element – inside the script, in order to categorize and quantify it. This process enables that those resources will be accounted for in schedule if appropriate, budgeted for, and ultimately make it into your shoot.
What’s an element? Anything in the screenplay that we see, and sometimes hear – aside from dialogue. Decide what tools you’re going to use to do this – software or paper, you can use either. Computer programs you can use include:
- Movie Magic Scheduling & Budgeting/ Entertainment Partners Scheduling & Budgeting Celtx (www.celtx.com) Gorilla Film Production Software Scenechronize Production Tools Studiobinder (www.studiobinder.com)
If you’re going the paper-route, you will need copies of breakdown sheets. You will need 1 sheet for every scene. That’s part of this process. You can print these out and fill them in by hand, or do a digital version of them online.
- One Scene at a time, identify various resources
- Allocate each ELEMENT (Magic Wand, Red Corvette, Barbara) in the script to their appropriate CATEGORY (Props, Vehicles, Cast). This can be done on a paper copy of the script, computer PDF of the script, or by Tagging with a screenwriting software like Final Draft Tagger.
So you’re reading the script. Identify the first scene – it begins at the first slugline…
EXT. HOUSE – DAY
...and continues to the next slugline (also known as scene heading).
INT. HOUSE – DAY
Draw a line just above the 2nd scene heading – you’ve marked the 1st scene.
Mark it with #1.
When working in a computer program, input the .SEX file of the script into your scheduling/breakdown program. (In Final Draft you can do this by the toolbar – FILE/EXPORT – export as .sex file.
In your scheduling software, input the .sex file. What’s great is that when you do this, the program will automatically identify each scene (providing your scene headings are properly formatted).
Within Each Scene, Allocate Elements Into the Proper Category
Using the tool you’ve chosen – whether software (or on paper), place each element into the correct category. For instance, in the first scene, BARBARA appears, she’s your main character– you’d identify her in the category as CAST. This will help us keep track of every single time she shows up in the script.
Make sure to note any questions or what seem to be errors, so you can speak with the writer, director or producer and get that figured out. **For example, if you notice somewhere along the way, the writer calls what seems to be the main character Barbara her Barb, Barbie or something else, but you’re pretty sure that’s the same person as Barbara, make sure to ask. If it’s true you’ll need to make the correction in the scheduling software so that you don’t have 3 cast members when it’s actually just 1.
You’re done with the scene when every resource has been properly identified in the correct category. So assign the blue truck into Vehicles, and the villain’s sword into props. And once you get through with the final scene, you’re done. Go through this process, scene by scene, it’s methodical type of process so don’t rush, if you feel like you’re getting impatient, take a break. Your careful attention will pay off. Along the way, Make sure to write down any questions you have – for the writer, director or producer. To clarify anything that is confusing or doesn’t make sense to you. Before you commence your schedule and budget, get those questions answered if at all possible.
You can manually markup your script by circling, underlining, items in your script and transfer the information onto a breakdown sheet using paper forms, or you can do it using one of the various scheduling programs.
Work methodically, one scene at a time, from the first to the last. In conclusion, you can easily learn and practice the steps to breakdown a script for your film, television show or video. If you don’t have a screenplay, but want to practice, download a script and get to work!
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Check out Paula's book, Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film: A Panic-Free Guide.