Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

Script breakdown and film scheduling is essential for any serious filmmaker.

Let me share the following, fictional yet typical filmmaking email.

(I get these types of questions every couple weeks.)

Hi Jason –

I wrote this really awesome movie about space travel, time travel, the end of the world and I’m really looking to get it produced. The problem is, I don’t know how much it will cost. Can you tell me how much it will cost me to produce? Thanks!

To some, this type of email might seem a little silly.

script breakdown

I mean, how the heck can anybody take a movie concept out of thin air and decide how much the movie would cost to produce?

Truth be told, there are many factors to consider.

You have to find out if the filmmaker is planning to utilize CG or actual, physical sets. Will the filmmaker cast his next door neighbor or Will Smith? Will this movie be shot on film? On HD Video? Or some crazy mix of 3D?

And those questions only begin to scratch the surface. You still need to think about payroll services, production tax incentives, worker’s compensation… It’s enough to make your head explode. And all of these variables – every single one – influences the budget of any movie.

So these questions, plus about a gazillion other questions need to be answered before you can even think about creating a budget, writing a business plan or seeking investors to get the money. And the bigger question is this:

How do YOU decide how much your movie will cost to produce.

The starting point is taking time to complete your script breakdown and schedule your film.

Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

Don’t get overwhelmed. You can do it.

And let us be totally frank for a moment…

As a filmmaker, there will come a time in your life when making a feature film becomes a driving, burning desire!

Making your first feature is the rite of passage into the world of professional filmmaking.

Assuming you’ve become comfortable making short movies, then making your first feature will be just another step in an exciting career.

I am  assuming you’ve written, or you control the rights to a fantastic script that you would like to produce. So you next need to figure out just how much your movie will cost.

Script Breakdown

Your script breakdown begins with having a screenplay you are happy with.

Once the script is locked, any modification you make to the story or schedule, no matter how minor or major, will subsequently impact the budget.

My producer friend Forrest Murray always says the script, schedule and budget are the same document. You’ll need all three to make a movie… But in the process, if you change one document, you’re actually changing all three.

This is why your script breakdown is essential. Without it, you will have no idea what your movie will cost.

Action Steps: Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

I wanted to share a few tips on how to complete your movie script breakdown. Performing this task and then completing a film production schedule is necessary before you determine your budget.

Here are some some steps to help you break down your script.

1. Number Each Scene

Once you lock your screenplay, you should then go through the script and number each scene. You do this by placing a number next to each slug line. What is a slug line? It’s the little line that explains where each scene takes place.

It looks like this in the script:

INT. JASON’S OFFICE – DAY

Once you number each scene, you will want to actually measure the scene. Since screenplays are usually printed on paper eight inches tall, every scene is measured in 8th’s of the page.

You will go through each scene and measure the length.

The reason for this measurement has to do with the length of your movie.

For example, if we assume that each page written in proper screenplay format – Then we can also assume that each page equals at least one minute in screen time.

So if we come upon this scene:

INT. DINER – NIGHT

And let’s say this Diner scene measures 4/8th (or half the page) then you can guesstimate that the scene will be roughly 30 seconds long in screen time.

2. Highlight Each Element

In addition to knowing final screen time, this information will help you determine how long it will take to actually shoot the scene (and also which cast, crew, props and equipment is needed to shoot the scene), which will influence your schedule.

…And your schedule influences your budget. Again, your script, schedule and budget are related!

Speaking of elements, you will want to go through the script and highlight each element, for each scene. Some common elements include locations, characters, props, make up, wardrobe, picture vehicles and special FX…

All of these elements cost money.

You’re “breaking the elements out” so you can eventually put the elements in your budget.

3. Determine Shooting Schedule

Once complete, you will want to figure out when you want to shoot your movie and how long you plan to shoot. You can determine this by choosing how many pages you want to shoot per day. For example, you may decide to shoot 5 days on and 2 days off, or 6 days on and 1 day off. Or maybe you want to shoot your movie over a few weekends.

Keep in mind that unions have rules on how you schedule your movie.

In addition to time constraints, you will want to consider momentum. Filming your indie film over a series of weekends may seem convenient. But doing so can actually diminish the creative flow and can make it tough on cast and crew holding jobs outside of the production. Sometimes it makes sense to just marathon your movie schedule.

Get your movie done so you can get it to market as soon as possible.

Many motion picture professionals make a living just breaking down, scheduling and budgeting movies.

This should tell you it’s a pretty complicated and creative area.

As a first time feature filmmaker, it would be great to partner with an seasoned 1st AD or Line Producer who could guide you through the process. But because a lot of filmmakers do not have money until they actually raise the money, hiring a UPM or 1st AD is out of the question.

So this leaves only one alternative. You must complete your own script breakdown and film scheduling. In my opinion, there are two components to this process. You will need a script breakdown education as well as script breakdown software.

Luckily there are quite a few resources to help you.

And in full disclosure: I believe in the efficacy of the resources I’m about to share. But I do have affiliate agreements with both providers. This means they pay me to promote.  So make sure you conduct your own due-diligence prior to making any purchases, both here and everywhere on earth.

Script BreakdownScript Breakdown and Film Scheduling Online Course for Indie Filmmakers:

This online course offered by Industry veteran Peter Marshall answers the ever important question.

“How do I know if this shooting schedule is realistic?”

A lot of new filmmakers go into production on a film and find out a few days into production that their production schedule was completely screwed up. In some cases, these unfortunate filmmakers find out that the schedule was totally unrealistic.

As a result, the cast and crew ended up with tons of overtime pay, a bad attitude and YOU ended up running out of time and budget.

The goal is to avoid these headaches.

Peter worked for over 25 years in the industry.  He know (better than most) that a properly designed shooting schedule is crucial for your budgeting process.

If you would like to find out more about Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling course, click here.

Film Scheduling Software: LightSpeed eps.

One of the most exciting software programs to help you with your script breakdown is called LightSPEED eps.

In addition to being an awesome script breakdown and scheduling program, LightSPEED eps allows you to centralize your production information and provide secure access from your computer, wireless device, from anywhere in the world.

Watch this brief script breakdown video:

With this web-based production management software, you can provide your your production team with current information from anywhere in the world.

In practical terms, let’s say you are based in LA, but your First AD is based in NYC. You will now have the ability to oversee all aspects of your project. If something changes, you will be able to notify your staff of critical updates in real time!

After getting a face-to-face demo with the management team, I left the meeting convinced that LightSPEED represents the future of script breakdown and production management.

Because these guys are very indie filmmaker friendly, they have provided Filmmaking Stuff readers with a FREE trial for one user. If you would like to find out more about the LightSpeed EPS script breakdown and film scheduling software, click here.