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Breaking Down the Script By Tom Taylor I. Purpose and Function of the Script Breakdown The sum is always greater than the parts, but we must look closely at those component parts and their relationships in order to assess what will be involved in translating the words on paper into a cinematically visual story. A breakdown serves two main functions for the Production Designer: it helps reveal the technical structure as well as the aesthetic requirements of a script. The technical breakdown usually takes the form of a spreadsheet that strips away the story dialog and focuses on the underlying requirements of the physical action, relationships, and environments. It is a strategic tool that helps to create accurate budgeting and scheduling plans. The art director must be able to generate this tool, continually update and refine it, and know how to use it to avoid pitfalls and solve problems. The first purpose of a technical breakdown is to reveal important questions, the second is to help find solutions. The same breakdown is then used as the basis for constructing a proposed budget. It should be noted here that translating a breakdown into a budget and schedule and managing (or juggling) the ever-changing financial and political challenges deserves a whole chapter unto itself. Budgeting contingencies and other strategies for keeping on budget require close monitoring of the actual expenditures and collaboration with the accounting and construction departments. It may take some mid-course corrections to stay on target. Breaking down the script aesthetically is another thing altogether. Interpreting the breakdown must be done through the perspective of the Production Designer’s and Director’s artistic requirements as well. This is a part of the design process which evaluates the intangible aspects of a story: the atmosphere, the tone and mood of the piece, the color palette, the emotional qualities that the visual design should evoke. Beyond the given written descriptions, this is what the Production Designer brings TO the storytelling process. It is difficult to teach some things that can best be learned through experience and it takes a lot of experience to know what will work and what may not. It takes experience and talent to read between the lines and to suggest more effective alternatives for the settings or action. Many visual factors may be implied or suggested but not explicit in the writing. A breakdown should aid thinking through each visual element: how it will be created and fit together to result in the desired look . The fact that the script rarely stays static but is in continual revision, and that there are many other production factors determining the continually evolving schedule and budget needs, means a script breakdown is an important tool but not an absolute yardstick. The breakdown reveals the schematic structure of the scripted requirements, but it does not dictate them; we breakdown the script (hopefully not the other way around). II. The Elements and Structure of a Script Breakdown (see example) The Script Breakdown usually takes the form of a spreadsheet that itemizes the explicit and implied needs of every scene and its locale. The information should be digitally entered in a program that allows sorting the information in different ways: by scene number, by set number, by set name, whether location and stage set, night or day, visual effects scenes, etc. There is little value in sorting them by alphabetical order since the names of the sets often vary depending on who is doing the naming; sometimes the same set and scene may be referred to in several ways. Being able to examine at the same time information in different arrangements helps to reveal both problems and suggest solutions. The script breakdown usually itemizes categories something like this: Script order # Name of set Number of the set (for cost tracking) Scene number(s) Number of total pages of dialog in that set (or fractional pages) Time: Day or Night; story chronology Interior or Exterior scene Stage Set or Location Greens Work Backing (if required, custom or rental)


Special Requirements or Physical Effects (weather, breakaway pieces, stunts, crashes, gimbal plat., etc.) Visual FX (matte element, blue screen work, animation) Estimated Construction Actual cost


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