Of all the skills you need when learning how to make movies, breaking down a script will make things significantly easier. The script breakdown picks apart the script for the details the various departments will need. For the actual script breakdown, I’ll be using the format similar to the one found in this article.
What you’ll need:
- Copy of the script
- Highlighters, colored pencils, or some way to mark things in a variety of colors
- You may also want a ruler
For my example, I’m going to be using the Ocean’s 11 script.
The first thing you should do is read the entire script.
Step 2: break down the entire script using color coding.
The Hollywood standard for the color coding is as follows:
- Cast (only the first time they’re mentioned in a scene) – Red
- Extras (atmosphere – i.e. crowd) – Green
- Extras (silent bits) – yellow
- Stunts – Orange
- Special Effects – Blue
- Props – Purple
- Vehicles/animals – pink
- sound effects/music – brown
- wardrobe – circle
- makeup/hair – asterisks (***)
- special equipment – box
- production notes – underline
Again, this is the Hollywood standard. Not every film will have something for each category. For the independent filmmaker, you may not use this color code, and that’s okay. Just remember, there is a standard.
Once you’ve finished going through the whole script again, you can move on to the script breakdown sheets.
I used this format for the breakdown of these two scenes.
In the Production Company section, you’ll fill in your production company. For Ocean’s 11, the production company was Warner Bros. Production Title is Ocean’s 11. These will be the same across all breakdowns for this film.
Date Prepared is the date you’re creating this breakdown. These may vary and should change whenever you update a specific breakdown sheet. This will help you make sure everyone is using the most up to date information.
The rest of the header will depend on the scene. Here are the headers for the two scenes I’m using.
Moving on to the categories. For Cast and Extras, list each person or group of people where they go. The same goes for Props. Props are anything the characters touch in the scene.
In scene 112, Benedict, Reuben, and a reporter speak. The other reporters would still be listed under extras. Tess, Danny, and Linus, however, will be listed under cast, because they are characters elsewhere in the film what will specifically be cast.
In scene 178, only one goon speaks, but since they’re always called “goons”, I listed them under cast. I also specified the number, since the script does so.
For Voice Overs, list them as such: Danny (V.O.). This could be a narrator, phone call, or something like that. Sometimes, you may want the actor on set to read the line. Other times, you may just have a crew member reading the lines for the screen actor to respond to. Listing that the character is just in a voice-over allows for the producer, director, or assistant director the choice to bring the actor on set.
With the Wardrobe and the Makeup/Hair list everything and the character involved. For example, scene 178 will have Danny – watch and Goons – plainclothes. Also with these two sections, and sometimes props, the scene may come within the same timeframe within the story.
For Makeup/Hair, if a character has an injury, like the day before in the story timeline he gets punched in the face, list bruising.
Vehicles/Animals include all of these seen in scene. For animals like Bruiser in Legally Blonde, you may need to determine whether he would be considered an animal, cast, or listed in both. For specialized characters, there may be some special circumstances that will vary for your film.
For Stunts, keep the description as brief as possible while also telling who’s involved and what’s happening. Scene 178 has Bruiser punches Danny. This tells the stunt coordinator what sort of prep they need to make for the scene along with what sort of stunt doubles they may need.
For Special Effects, list anything like rain and fire. In scene 112, the Paradiso implodes. I listed this under Special Effects.
Sound Effects/Music includes anything not made on screen. If a character drops a plate, and it shatters, that doesn’t go in sound effects. If the plate shatters somewhere in the other room where we can’t see it, then it would be a sound effect.
In scene 178, there’s a knock on the door. We don’t see the person knocking, so this is listed under Sound Effects/Music.
Music would be something the characters hear on the radio or play from their phone. If you’re doing a musical, the musical numbers would be listed here as well.
Special Equipment will be anything outside standard filming equipment. If the scene calls for rain, snow, or fog, list anything you’ll need like rain rigs, snow machines, or fog machines.
Once you’ve finished the first pass, you’ll be adding things to it throughout pre-production. Here are my first pass breakdowns of scenes 112 and 178. With every script revision, review the script. Make changes to the breakdown to reflect changes, and create new breakdowns for new scenes.
Every time you make a change to a scene breakdown, be sure to change the date. As costumes are finalized, add any specifics. It’s important to keep everything up to date, so all the departments arrive to set with the proper equipment.
So, film school students, don’t skip this step in your films. Create good habits for yourselves so as you grow into tenacious filmmakers, you have a good foundation.