Week 8: Script Breakdown

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:24 PM by Priya Nayar   [ updated Apr 25, 2012, 6:30 PM ]
Breaking down the script or treatment is the first, and most critical step, in developing a preliminary production schedule and budget estimate, which are essential for funding and production. The breakdown and schedule that is created at this stage is not a final production schedule, since you may not have final locations, talent, or even a final script. But, to put it simply, you can't create a schedule without a breakdown, and can't develop a budget without both. So, this week, we begin breaking down the script or outline.

For a narrative project, you start with the script. For a documentary, you will need the detailed outline. And for a web project, it is essential here to have at least a site flow chart and wireframe of the pages so that you will know what will be necessary to make them work -- programming, design, database development, writing, etc. For an event or live production, you will need a detailed rundown.

Part 1: http://blip.tv/file/4975293
Part 2: http://blip.tv/file/4975307
Part 3: http://blip.tv/file/4975332
Part 4: http://blip.tv/file/4975337

Script Breakdown and Scheduling Lecture Notes

Attached Files:
  • File Script Breakdown and Scheduling.pptx (2.445 MB)
  • File Script Breakdown and Scheduling.pdf (17.591 MB)
  • File AUSTIN POWERS p1 markup.pdf (47.427 KB)
  • File AUSTIN POWERS p2 markup.pdf (52.26 KB)
I am attaching two versions of the PowerPoint presentation that I used in the onsite class as a guide for the discussion of Script Breakdown and Scheduling. However, in this version I have included extremely detailed notes which expand on the points in the slide presentation. Essentially, they are the content of the accompanying talk. So, here are versions as both a native PowerPoint file and a pdf printout which includes the slides and the notes. Take your pick.

The lecture references several pages from the original "Austin Powers" script as examples of how to break down a script. I realize that the images used in the slides are not very clear, so you will find these pages in a higher quality format as links to this as well.

Scheduling and Script Breakdown

Attached Files:
  • File BREAKDOWN SHEET.doc (57 KB)
  • File Blank Call Sheet.doc (87.5 KB)
  • File BREAKDOWN SHEET.pdf (9.835 KB)
  • File Scheduling Template.pdf (16.009 KB)
  • File Call Sheet.docx (24.863 KB)

Scheduling is the prerequisite to budgeting

This is only a brief review of what is necessary. Please make sure to go through the Script Breakdown and Scheduling Lecture notes, which provide a detailed description of the process. The script pages that are used as examples in the presentation are not clear, so I have also included higher quality versions of them to use as references. There are links to all the forms that are discussed as well so that you can use them in your own project.

  • You will need a  Script/treatment with enough detail to answer all questions asked by the budgeting process. 
    • producer must often talk with writer or director to clarify issues.
    • production managers (aka unit managers and line producers) are experts in budgeting and in managing production funds 
  • Script Breakdown
  • For feature film production, there is a formal “breakdown” process wherein the shooting script is “broken-down” into scenes (or even parts of scenes).
  • A breakdown includes pretty much everything that is mentioned, suggested, implied, or even remotely possible in the script.
  • The breakdown for a scene should include set or location, all characters, props, business, effects, costumes, extras, special makeup and effects, etc.
  • The breakdown should specify where everything came from, where it was before they had it and where it’s going when they’re done with it. You need to know who made it or where to get it, who is going to get it to the set and who takes it away after the scene is shot.
  •  It’k s impossible to know how much your film will cost, how long it will take to shoot, who works when, or what you need without a complete breakdown of every element.
  • What tools do you need to start breaking down a script? You don’t need anything high tech or complicated, just a box of color highlighters, a ruler and a couple of Sharpies. Use the highlighters to mark each element in the script. Some people don’t like to work with colors, but they make it way easier to spot elements when you’re scanning through the script.
    • Give each element a color. There are no specific rules here, unlike strip boards. It is your choice and probably depends at least in part on what’s in the box of highlighters that you bought.
    • Make a list on the cover page for reference In this script, sets are yellow, locations green and so on. When you run out of colors, use colored Sharpies to circle other elements. Bold strokes make it easier to see.
  • Here are some of the things you need to think about when breaking down a scene and developing a schedule. Not everything, of course, just some things. But it should give you an idea of the level of detail and granularity you need to do a good job of breakdown and scheduling. Review the script until you are sure that you have covered every detail that could possibly rise up to bite you. Then, for each scene, you list all the stated, implied, and even remotely possible “elements.”
    •  Cast
    •  Crew
    • Construction
    • Set dressing
    • Equipment
    • Locations
    • Studios
    • Special effects
    • Music
    • Sound
    • Rigging
    • Stunts
    • Drivers
    • Vehicles
    • 2nd unit
    • Travel
    • Pre-light
    • Stand-ins
    • Wardrobe
    • Props
    • Holidays
    • Hiatus
    • Meal penalties
    • Overtime
    • Shipping
    • Editorial
    • Voiceover
    • ???
  • Once the scenes have been numbered by whoever is detailed to do that – production manager, AD, producer – they should never be changed. This is especially true once breakdown and scheduling begin. The confusion that this would engender would be earthshaking. Think about it.
    • Yes, I know that the script will continue to mutate and evolve. There is a system to deal with that. If a page is added between 1 and 2, it MUST be called 1a. If a scene is added between 2 and 3, it must be called X2 so everyone knows it’s a new, inserted scene. 
    • Think about what would happen if that’s not done. The production department and crew use the script as reference to get everything they need ready for the day’s hoot. Now, in your mind, you can see the crew all prepared for scene 3 only to discover that it’s not the scene 3 they thought, but a newly inserted scene with different characters and maybe another location….
  • So, put yourself in the position of an AD. How would you number the scenes in your script? First, look at the way the scenes are already broken down in the script. Did the writer (or you, if you’re the writer) have it right?
    • Let’o s start with page 1 scene 1, the very beginning of your script.
      • Where does the action start in that first scene? Does it stay in the same location? Does the POV change significantly? Number this scene.
      • Get out your markers. Mark the 1st time each character appears with the proper color marker. Now, go back and indicate sets, props, effects, etc. Mark the 1st time each one appears with a highlighter.
      • Find the end of the scene. Remember, this is not necessarily where the writer broke the scene, but where you, as producer thinking like a director, think the action or scene changes. Go to the next one. Give it the next sequential number. Start again.
      • You get the idea. Go through the script and mark out everything in every scene. Break scenes logically, by location or set, time of day, different action, etc.
By class number 9, next week, you should have a fairly complete breakdown of everything that will be necessary for your production.

We want to remind you that, as you work on and refine your schedule and budget, you will also be preparing a set of accompanying documents including a formal Funding Proposal and a Production Package, which are detailed in this week's assignment. At the conclusion of the semester, you will be expected to turn in the complete production proposal in electronic form (pdf or Word document). 

Week 8 Assignments

Script Breakdown and Schedule 

The underlying goal of your completed scripts and treatments is getting to a detailed understanding of what you will need to shoot. Thus, you need to

(a) Identify each segment (a location, can include a number of different “set-ups”, even “scenes”),

(b) Determine the principal and secondary actors for each segment;

(c) Foresee the kind of “action” that will take place within each segment. It helps tremendously if you

(d) Estimate how much screen time you project each segment to have in the final edit of your project.

You will accomplish this by starting to break down your script and develop a schedule. By class number 9, next week, you should have a fairly complete breakdown of everything that will be necessary for your production. You can use breakdown sheets, legal pads, or software to accomplish this. If you are doing a documentary, you should have a clear idea of where you’re going to shoot, what you’re going to shoot, who you’re going to shoot, and who will be on your crew. At this time, this does not need to be a formal document, but it should have all the information that you need. You can use one of the scene breakdown forms, or, if you choose, scheduling software

This breakdown will be used to begin developing your schedule and, ultimately, the budget. We will begin discussing scheduling and budgeting next week.

The core competencies of the producer’s craft come together in the interrelated acts of scheduling and budgeting. Hence it is extremely important that you are able to successfully develop for your project both a rational schedule and its corresponding budget.

That process is now beginning as you use either software or a spreadsheet application to begin breaking down your script. This will necessarily be an iterative process, with multiple versions over the next few weeks. We know you will need to make many assumptions and quite a few rough estimates in setting up your project in the extremely concrete and precise terms of a schedule timeline and its related budget.

We want to remind you that, as you work on and refine your schedule and budget, you will also be preparing a set of accompanying documents including a formal Funding Proposal and a Production Package, which are detailed below.

In each of the last two classes of the semester, half the combined sections of The Producer’s Craft will make formal presentations for their respective projects. Each student will have 5 minutes. The first part of this will be the “pitch” -- 2 to 3 minutes of words and, possibly, of images or short clips. The remainder of the 5 minutes will be given over to Q&A with the instructors and the rest of the class.

At the conclusion of the semester, you will be expected to turn in a complete production proposal, preferably in electronic form (pdf or Word document). The Production Package for your individual project should include the following:

One Pager: This is a one page document that you can use as a leave-behind after making your pitch to a potential funder, or that you can provide to a potential funder to interest them in learning more about your project. Think of it as a cross between an advertisement and a proposal. As with a proposal, there is no specific format or style for a one-pager, but, at the least it should have the following information:

 Project Title

 Your name, phone, email address, snail mail address

 Length & genre (e.g. a half-hour comedy pilot)

 Premise/Project Description (two short paragraphs at most)

 Tone (sensibility, intent. Here is the place for a comparison to known works = "Sex in the City' meets 'Young Frankenstein' ". Draw parallels to something that is currently on TV or the Internet.)

 Target Audience (Why do you think your project is well suited to the audience.)

 Creative Team (yourself, any other major player on team)

 Talent: (assuming they are big assets in your project)

 Production Plan (very simple: state of pre-production completion, when you'd be ready to shoot, how long the overall production will run.

 At bottom of page: Copyright notice (your name, copyright, 2010)

Proposal: This should be a tightly written, beautifully formatted, professionally presented document of 5 to 7 pages at most. The project title, a logo for the project or your company, your name, and relevant contact information should be on the front page. This should be written as a proposal to a potential buyer or funder, not as an academic paper.

Each proposal is different. There is no definitive format or style – no surprise here. You will need to shape your own proposal form to match the project itself. But, whatever format or style you finally choose; your proposal should have visual appeal. Take some time to design the layout for the document. You may want to consider including a logo for the project (even if just a simple display text for your title), a production company logo, illustrations, charts, photographs, sample frames. Eye candy is not a bad thing. The goal is make your proposal easy to read and memorable. Fair or not, your ability to produce the project may well be judged by the way the proposal is presented.

 Here is a check list of information your proposal should cover (although not necessarily in this order):


 Contact Info (name, address, email, phone)

 Log line

 Description / Executive Summary

 Goals & Rationale (why should this project be done)

 Type and Length of show


 Competitive Landscape

 Creative Team & Key Talent

 Production Plan (very general)

 Next step(s) in production and time frame for execution

 Production platform (DV, HD, IMAX, etc.)

 Shooting style, sets, special needs

 Important rights information including options on third party materials, if appropriate.

 Roll-out, Distribution & Marketing

Production Package: The “production package” includes the final versions of your six “working documents.” These will not necessarily be part of a proposal that you present to potential funding sources, but they indicate your preparedness to move forward, as well as the thoroughness with which you researched and developed your project.

These items are also an important component of the final grade in the course. Please combine into a single document, in the following order:

1. Script: This is your screenplay, treatment, beat outline, storyboards, and/or a combination of elements that represent the most comprehensive and detailed written document you've been able to fashion over the semester. Please include anticipated timings for the different sequences. At the head of the document, please include a note that summarizes how close to a final version you have reached in this pass and what plans you have, if any, for continued writing, revision, or polish. Obviously, for documentaries, the final “script” will not be available at this juncture.

2. Schedule: If possible, design the layout of your schedule so that it can print (or be easily viewed) as a single page. Your timeline based document can be created with software, a spreadsheet application or any other mode, including charts.

The schedule should show the relationship of Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production phases. Staffing lines at the bottom of the graphic presentation should include all key positions and the time in during which they are working on the project (either paid or “in kind”).

Use the schedule to indicate durations of specific elements of production, for example, the period during which you will be casting. The schedule should also delineate the key assumptions and production parameters you have used to derive your timings. Use days as the scheduling unit during periods when you are shooting and weeks for pre-production and post-production. If possible, find a way to graphically indicate the difference between boxes that show days and boxes that show weeks. You should not overlap the different editing periods: rough cut, fine cut, pix lock, color correct, "sweetening" of audio tracks, audio mix and duplication of tape/hard-drive elements you are obligated to deliver.

3. Creative Team: This is not just a list of people; provide job definitions for the key positions in your production. Be certain to provide your position with its title and the specific responsibilities you will have. Include brief bios for those who are already committed or you would like to attach to the project. Make sure to attach a biography and resume for yourself.

4. Intellectual Property Checklist: You must hand in a listing of all items you will need to "clear" in your production. This should include all title searches, options, music licensing, acquired stills, acquired footage (film or video), writing, appearance & location releases, music cue sheets, etc.

5. Budget(s): Please provide a short explanation (separate from the budgets) of the approach you have taken in developing the budget and whether you are handing in more than one budget. Your statement should include the key assumptions that you used to prepare the budget. This may reiterate some or all of the assumptions you used in developing the schedule, but could also include decisions about how rates were determined, “in-kind” contributions, etc. We welcome budgets that have been prepared using dedicated budgeting software but you may use any spreadsheet template or program you choose.

If you have prepared the budget using one of the Microsoft Excel templates that we have provided, format it for printing with all columns visible within the width of a single page. Of course the number of rows (production lines) will almost certainly require a number of pages.

There should be a summary page which includes subtotals for above-the-line, below-the-line, taxes, fringes, etc. The budget you submit should provide detail for each and every line in the budget.

6. Funding Strategy & Targets: Provide a short summary of your development strategy for the funding of your project. How much will you be able to undertake on your own? Are you “phasing” your project? Who are your stakeholders? What is the schedule for your fundraising efforts?

Try to identify 4 specific targets where you might get production financing. For the two best prospects, develop a profile of what each has done in the past that is similar to your project. Can you find out how much money they have spent on comparable undertakings? Identify for each of the four candidates a list of reasons they are potential stakeholders.

Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:25 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:25 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:28 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:28 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:27 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:28 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:28 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:27 PM
Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 6:25 PM