How to Format a Script Before Starting the Script Breakdown

By June 16, 2016Blog, Featured

Darya Danesh is the co-founder of StudioBinder, a leading film production software company that helps production companies manage their crew, schedules and call sheets. With over 10 years of experience as a Producer, LP & UPM, Darya has worked on large projects including PBS, Direct TV, Syfy, Animal Planet, Fox, YouTube, Sony, Atlantic, Island Def Jam, Gaiam & BMW.

So your script is done, and you are about to begin the script breakdown process for production. In order for the script to import correctly into scheduling software, you must review the script for formatting errors. In this article, we’ll review some of the most common culprits.

Why You May Need to Reformat Your Script

A script breakdown is when a producer or 1st AD imports a script into scheduling software. During this process, the elements of a scene — characters, locations, key props, stunt, vehicles, sound effects, etc. — are identified in what is called a script breakdown sheet.

Since few screenwriters are producers, and even fewer have experience as a 1st AD, they don’t understand the work that goes into a script breakdown. As a result, scene elements are rarely tagged (so they must be inputted manually), scene numbers may be missing, and formatting errors abound. Inconsistencies in character names, locations, and time of day can cause some of the biggest issues when importing. It’s best to avoid the issues altogether by making sure that the script is first, and foremost, formatted correctly.

To start, you’ll need to have a script in its source format with whatever screenwriting software you use. If all you have is a PDF, you can use WriterDuet for free to convert it to your screenwriting software of choice.

Read the Script to Make Better Decisions in Your Script Breakdown

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Actually read the script. Start to finish. Once you begin the script breakdown you won’t be able to experience the script from an audience member’s perspective again. Leave your pencil and pens aside so you can focus on the characters and story.

Since budgets usually have their way, you’ll inevitably need to identify which scenes should be trimmed, consolidated, or removed. Understanding the narrative themes, character arcs, and controlling ideas will help you prioritize the shooting schedule without compromising the story.

Ensure Location Titles Are Consistent

In order to generate an accurate script breakdown sheet or stripboard of scenes, you need to scan the script for any formatting errors. First up, look for inconsistencies or oversights with location labels in the slug lines.

For example, if Mary and John live together, then “INT. MARY’S HOUSE” and “EXT. JOHN’S HOUSE” would be the same location. You will need to choose one or switch them to “MARY & JOHN’S HOUSE.”

If you don’t do this, scheduling software will assume the same location is two different locations.

Script-Breakdown-Location-Consistency-StudioBinder

Pro Tip:

In order to avoid rework, before you make any formatting changes to the script, request that no further writing changes are made to the script until your reformatting work is complete, and you deliver a new script file for them to work within.

Make Sure Character Names Are Consistent

Before generating a character breakdown for the project, double-check that the character names are uniform throughout the script. For example, if John is Bill’s son, then John should always be identified as JOHN and not listed anywhere as BILL’s SON.

This is most common with family relationships, boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, etc.

Revert Scene Slugs to Just “DAY” or “NIGHT”

When breaking down a location, day and night scenes are grouped to provide an idea of how long you’ll be shooting there. As a result, all quirky time-of-day formatting (i.e. CONTINUOUS, LATER THAT MORNING, AFTERNOON, LATE NIGHT, etc.) should be replaced with only DAY or NIGHT.

If necessary, a time-of-day modifier, such as “DAWN,” “DUSK,” and “LATER,” may be added in parentheses.

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Break Up Any Scenes That Start with “INT / EXT”

To get an accurate scene and location count, all scene headings labeled as “INT/EXT” (or vice versa) should be broken up as either INT or EXT.

For example, if we start a scene as an INT, then, at some point, the character walks outside, create a new scene with the scene heading EXT. The same is also true of interior moves within a single location (i.e. a character walks from the KITCHEN to the LIVING ROOM).

Keep INT/EXT for Tracking Shots

It is acceptable to use “INT/EXT” when you have a single, continuous tracking shot that moves between an interior/exterior. Emphasize this by appending the word “TRACKING” after the time-of-day.

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What about picture vehicles on-location?

If you desire, you may leave “INT/EXT” when you’re shooting within a vehicle. Just make sure to append the word “TRAVELING” after the time-of-day.

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Generate Scene Numbers

If your script does not have have scene numbers applied yet, you’ll need to use your script writing software to generate them.

A new scene occurs whenever a location in the script changes. As mentioned earlier in this post, if the scene goes from outside to inside, or one room to another, you must treat these as different scenes.

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Wrapping Up

There are many steps and styles to breaking down a script, and we are just scratching the surface. Once you’ve formatted the script, the next step is to mark the script’s scene elements and generate scene breakdown sheets.

Have any tips you want to share? Please add in comments.


This blog was originally posted on studiobinder.com. StudioBinder a leading film production software company that helps production companies manage their crew, schedules and call sheets. Learn more about StudioBinder by following them on with @studiobinder on Twitter and Facebook.