How to Breakdown a Script

*DISCLAIMER: This post is specifically for short film scripts  

So, you have a finished script and you’re ready to make it into a film. Well, a script breakdown is the first step towards an effective pre-production. By breaking down a script, you can see every little element of the film and can start creating a plan shoot.

While it might seem like a daunting task to look at a script in such a technical way, a script breakdown is a necessary step to ensure that the production stays organized and the script is understood on a deeper level.

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After six short films, we are ready to share with you how to breakdown a script.

Step 1: Number Your Scenes

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Start off by going through the script and numbering each scene header. Most screenwriting softwares can do that for you but you can always write it yourself.

After you number each scene, you might want to combine two scenes into one number if the scenes are real short. Even though this is the standard way to number scenes, this is your film and you have the power to divide the scenes up however you want.

Step 2: Time and Divisions

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Next, you’ll need to divide each scene into 8ths (1/8). Why is this important? Well, the rule of thumb is that 1 script page equals roughly 1 minute of screen time (of course this varies due to special effects, stunts and dramatic action/dialogue).  To determine how long each scene is, you will want to break it down into 8ths. So, mark the page into 1/8th portions following the pattern, 1/8, 2/8, 3/8 and so on.

Once a script is divided into 8ths, each 8th equals 1 inch of the page. This is important because it helps determine the length of a scene. For example, if a scene is 6/8ths, that translates into 6 inches out of 1 full script page. In screen time, that is estimated to be a little over half a minute.

If you are uncertain about doing this by hand, there are softwares such as Final Draft that can format the script for you. As long as you understand the concept of the 1/8th division, you’re good.

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Tips for breaking down in 1/8ths:

a. Identify the first scene
b. Draw a line where it ends and assign it a number
c. Mark 1/8th of a page indicating how much of the page it takes up

Step 3: Markers and Highlighters

Time to really deconstruct your script. This is where you get to mark elements of the scene and create a color code. This is the color code we use:

Orange: Cast
Purple: Stunts
Yellow: Extras
Pink: Props
Green: Sound Effects/Music
Underline: Wardrobe
Asterisk*: Make-up/Hair

Your script should be very colorful like this:

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Step 4: Breakdown Sheets and Notes

A breakdown sheet is a special list of information for each scene of the film. This information lets you explore every detail that occurs in each scene.

Each sheet should contain the following information:

  • Scene Name and Number
  • Location Name and Number
  • Number of Breakdown Sheet
  • Page Count (This is where the page 8ths comes in)
  • Day or Night
  • Interior or Exterior
  • Characters Names and Numbers
  • Number of Extras
  • Special Notes: Animals, Vehicles, Music, Effects or Special Equipment

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The next step is to take the marked elements of the script and write them down on the breakdown sheet. These are necessary when it comes to scheduling. Once you schedule which scenes to film, the breakdown sheet will tell you exactly what you need and what elements to plan for like stunts, props, and extras. It’s going to look like this:

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Now, you have a really colorful and marked script along with a few sheets of scene breakdowns. With this information, you will be well equipped for scheduling and are on your way to an organized production.

 

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