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How to do a Script Breakdown
screenplay page 1
Surprisingly, I find that there’s not much information on breaking down a script. This is one of those skills that is a must if you want to direct or produce. Here’s the way that I do it as of today although I’m always looking for ways to streamline the breakdown. The image above comes from the last thing I directed which is a pilot for a webseries which you can use a reference.
First, make sure your script is not double sided. The right hand of the page should have the script while the left hand should be empty. What you need to do now is photocopy the page on the right hand side onto the lefthand side 50% smaller, it should only take up a quarter the page. This will allow you to take notes and create sketches.
Line the Script
Next, take a ruler and pencil and draw a line between every scene. You might find yourself creating new scenes because a character walks from one room to another or for some other reason. If you look at the script page above, you’ll notice that the very first scene is a montage for the “opening credits” and then goes on for 16 scenes. While not broken down in the script scene by scene, when you line it you know exactly how many scenes are there.
Now you have to assign page counts to each scene. To do this, each page must be broken down into 1/8ths excluding the top and bottom margins. My favorite way of going about this is to create a template on a letter sized page. You could eyeball it using the hole punches as the top and bottom holes generally line up with the top and bottom margins. So in between the holes is 1/4 of a page (or 2/8′s of a page, as filmmakers seem to love eighths) and in between that is 1/8 of a page.
This is where your script starts to get a bit more color in it’s cheeks. So to speak. For every scene slugline you’ll want to differentiate between interior, exterior, daylight and nighttime. Here’s the color scheme I use:
- INT. DAY = Highlight Yellow
- INT. NIGHT = Highlight Pink
- EXT. DAY = White (no highlight)
- EXT. NIGHT = Highlight Purple
- DAWN/DUSK = Highlight Orange.
After that, you’ll want to color code your characters, SFX, props, costume, etc. I usually run out highlighter colors after coloring characters and props so I move onto underlining using different marker colors. Again, here’s what I use:
- Characters = Underline Red
- Props = Underline Purple
- Stunts = Underline Orange
- Vehicle/Animals = Underline Blue
- Special Equipment = Draw a box
- Extras = Highlight Green
- Wardrobe = Circle
- Special Effects = Highlight Blue
- Make-up/Hair = Mark with an asterisk
- Sound Effects/Music = Underline in brown
If the project is short enough, I’ll change up the colors to just highlighters as the script probably won’t contain most of these categories in it.
Breaking Down the Shots
On the left hand page, with your %50 reduced script, you can now start breaking down the script into shots. To do this, you draw a line vertically down the page and letter it. For instance, in scene 2, your master shot will be a vertical line for the entire scene and labelled “A”. In the space around the reduced script, I note that 2A is “FS – Master shot”, FS meaning “full shot”. Then you draw vertical lines where you want those specific shots you have in your head and this gives you an easy visual reference of where the holes in your coverage are.
So now that you’re done your script should look something like this:
And there you are, one systematically broken down script! How do you break down your scripts, let us know in the comments!