Breaking Down A Script
Breaking down a script is simply the process of reading it closely and making a list of all the things you should consider when trying to shoot.
When I was a producer’s assistant I would often have to break down scripts. I bought a pack of as many different highlighters as I could find and assigned each highlighter a different department.
Then I would go through the script highlighting each department's responsibility.
How many characters are there?
Are there special effects?
Are there specific props needed, or a camera move that might require a crane?
Can we bring a crane to that location? Or will it break the floor of the 500-year-old church that the scene takes place in?
It’s a logistical puzzle- a clock with moving parts where each piece affects another.
Let’s look at an example.
Pretty short right? But let’s unpack it.
CAST - There are three characters mentioned, but there only seem to be two actually in the scene.
LOCATION - THE EVIL INC LAB. Are we going to try to build that, or will we find a real lab and shoot there? The choice will determine if this will be the responsibility of the Set Designer or the Locations department.
SET DEC- The jars with strange liquids, down to the metal table will be the job of the Set Decorators.
PROPS - The Jar with a brain inside? That’s being used by the actors- so it’s a prop. The prop master will probably work with the Special Effects team on this one.
COSTUMES- We know there are two characters- but what are they going to wear? Are they both in lab coats, or does the doctor’s assistant look a little dirtier, maybe he’s wearing street clothes. Is the lab well-lit and fit for real science? Or is it dark and spooky because the doctor is up to no good?
CAMERA - Finally let’s look at the last line- we see a mention that the camera is going to PEDESTAL, that’s a specific camera move where the camera rises straight up as if it is being carried away by a balloon. It might be very hard to find a Lab location with a skylight. This might push the production towards building a set on the stage. Or the problem can be solved in another way- we start by having the camera rise-up for real on set with a crane, and then have the visual effects team take over- creating an animation that will make it look like we’re floating out the skylight into the city itself.
Now you’re starting to see some of the planning that goes into taking something from page to screen.
This is just a quick look- what other production considerations do you think we’d have to make?
This was written for my Page to Screen workshop at the 2017 Fanfaire Comicon in New York City.