Breakdown your script the right way.

How To Create Script Breakdowns The Right Way

What is a breakdown, and what is the best way of creating one?

In order to begin filming, you need an overview list of all the things you will need in order to accomplish what you want to see on screen. These lists are called breakdowns.

All of the key resources required in front of and behind the camera will be 'broken down' for each individual scene.

The categories listed in the breakdown are divided loosely into specialist departments. Breakdowns are drawn up on the basis of the current version of the script and kept up-to-date with any script changes.

It sounds pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, it's not so easy. Before you get to work, it's worth taking a closer look at how breakdowns come together.

1. Reading The Script

First Read-Through

The starting point is a detailed reading of the script – the first of multiple readings. The first impression is valuable for every worker on a production: What kind of story is it? What is the pace? What kind of atmosphere is created? How do I picture everything in my head? This initial impression cannot be repeated.

Let Information Sink In

You should not immediately begin to transfer information to your breakdown at this point. It's better to let the script sink in first. In addition, you will notice that some questions and ambiguities that arise during the first reading are clarified in the overall context. So be patient. If you go step by step, your work will be more efficient.

Do a first read-through of the script before starting the breakdown.
Do a first read-through of the script before starting the breakdown.

2. Marking The Resources

Color-Code Information

In the second reading, you mark all the information and resources described in the script. To distinguish the various categories from one another, you can use different colors for them: one color for roles, a second color for cars, a third for props etc. A software like Yamdu can support you with its script tagging tool, which allows you to tag the script to create a digital breakdown.

Gradual Process

It doesn't make sense to completely break down the script and add everything in one go, so distribute it over several readings and focus on different categories. The advantage of this is that you work on the screenplay more carefully and internalize it better.

When marking, you will notice that you have to figure out some information and resources from the context: for example, a role is not mentioned in the directions and dialogues, but the character is still present in the scene. In these cases, make a note of the role on the script page so that you don't forget to transfer the information in the next step.

Highlight or color-code the type of resource required for each shoot.
Highlight or color-code the type of resource required for each shoot.

3. Transferring The Information

Be Accurate, Not Overelaborate

If you have used software like Yamdu's script tagging tool, your work is done. If not, you now have the step that will take up most of your time. All information and resources must be transferred to the breakdown, as they have been in Yamdu. When naming things, it is important that everything is clearly assigned - 'Car' is vague, 'Susanne's Car' is better. However, adjectives or extravagant descriptions are unnecessary in most cases.

Even if the color of the car might be mentioned in the script, it is unimportant in the breakdown - how the car looks in detail, the model and the color, will be discussed separately by the director and the production design department. The only thing that's important for your work is that a car is on set on the day of shooting, because it was included in your breakdown.

Distinguish Between Types

Breaking down scripts is more than 'just' transferring script information to spreadsheets. Depending on what you are attempting to achieve in development or pre-production, breakdowns can be broken into two distinctive types: the type of breakdown already described - concerned with collecting all the elements necessary in each scene - and a budget breakdown, focused on the costs involved for each of those elements. Both are associated with their own challenges.

Identify factors such as lighting, talents, costumes, etc. required for the scene.
Identify factors such as lighting, talents, costumes, etc. required for the scene.

4. Budget Breakdowns

Consider Finances

Budget breakdowns are created during the financing phase with the aim of getting an overview of the financial resources needed for filming. These breakdowns are for estimating the cost of a project and should contain all cost-relevant items. As there is no director involved at this early stage, you will need to find answers to the questions the script poses by yourself. Is a character (and therefore an actor you will be paying for) in a scene where they are not expressly included in the script? You will have to decide.

What Are The Options?

And it gets even more complex. A script gives us tasks for which we have to come up with technical solutions. Let's say a scene describes a car crash. How can this be shot? One possible solution would be to do a stunt breakdown. You would consider everything needed for this stunt: Which stunt people would you need? Must the road be closed off? Is a second camera or special equipment needed?

It is possible too that the accident could also be enacted using computer-generated imagery (CGI). In this case, you would add that to the breakdown and also note a VFX supervisor as a set supervisor, who ensures that the digital images can be inserted seamlessly in post-production. The breakdowns in both cases differ enormously. Which solution is better? You will have to consider the financial possibilities of the project and the way the scene is described. It may take a lot of shooting experience to be able to estimate such solutions effectively.

Estimate the cost of a project and get an overview of the financial resources.
Estimate the cost of a project and get an overview of the financial resources.

5. Breakdown Sheets On Set

Factor In Locations

In the preparation phase before filming, the first assistant director (or 1st A.D.) created a breakdown for the purpose of providing an overview of all of the resources required for filming. It is the breakdown, more so than the script, which serves as the basis for the work of all the departments. Although the script is the starting point, the implementation of the breakdown may differ from or complement it. A filming location, for example, can suggest possibilities that the scriptwriter has not imagined or inspire new production ideas from the creative team.

Don't Forget Anything

Just because you have created breakdown sheets doesn't mean that your work is done. It is important to keep an overview of the production at all times so as not to miss any little things: A forgotten prop or a missing actor can endanger a whole day of shooting. Unlike budget breakdowns however, things are not dependent on your own interpretation of the script for this type of breakdown. Instead, solutions to the problems that the script presents are figured out to take the project from a vision to a reality.

To see how you can create breakdowns the smart way, check out Yamdu today.