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.

Filmmaking Seminar Los Angeles

For Los Angeles based fimmakers looking to take their show to business, I recommend checking out the next  Norman Berns workshop.  In this full-day, hands-on instruction, you will gain experience on the following:

MATCHING SCRIPT and BUDGET – SCHEDULING – BUDGETING

BUSINESS PLANS – PITCHING – FUNDRAISING

DEVELOPING THE DECK

MARKETING – DISTRIBUTION – SALES

Your day will begin with an overview of the basics. Then you’ll spend A FULL DAY working with YOUR script, YOUR schedule, YOUR plan, YOUR pitch. You’ll gain valuable insight needed to dissect the logic of a shooting schedule, review production budget cost savings and craft business plans to meet investors needs. And you’ll also discover how to allocate state film incentives correctly.

Oh. And as a highlight, I’m going to stop by and share some tips on how to market and sell your movie without the middleman. I’m told this one day event is filling up fast. So reserve your spot.

When: Monday, May 9th

Where: Showbiz Software Store

500 S. Sepulveda, Los Angeles

9am – 6pm

Sell Your Movie For Maximum Profit

If you’re already a seasoned feature filmmaker, take a moment and think back: Do you remember when the idea of making movies seemed like a far away dream?

Do you remember when you first got the idea for your movie? Do you remember Your first day of production? Do you remember your first screening and how well everyone loved your work?

That happened to me with my first feature. Like you, I thought our movie would get into Sundance, play well, build buzz and if we were really lucky, we had hoped the movie would garner us a 3 picture deal. But that didn’t happen.

Sure, we got some offers, but they were not “deals.” (A deal actually pays money!)

So instead of exchanging our movie for an empty promise, we decided to try selling our movie on the internet. Little did I know, this one decision has changed the course of my movie making life. That was five years ago…

And since that time, the internet as evolved. If you’re a filmmaker with a movie, you need to get it selling in all the popular internet marketplaces, including Amazon and iTunes.

You don’t need a middle-man to make this profitable. I am going to show you my internet marketing secrets…

You can check out my “How To Sell Your Movie” system by visiting the website here.

Filmmaking Software for your Filmmaking Stuff

For those of you seeking filmmaking software, Brubaker Unlimited LLC (the company that owns Filmmaking Stuff) is pleased to announce our aquisition of – www.FilmmakingSoftware.com.

When complete, this site will be your premier, global filmmaking software outlet.

In the months to come, the site will offer you all of the cutting edge filmmaking software applications you’re familiar with including EP, Movie Magic, Final Draft and about a gazillion other useful tools.

But in addition to the standard fare, we also hope to provide links to various filmmaking related iPhone and iPad applications.

At present, we are chatting with a few suppliers to see how to best utilize the site. But as we move forward, we will be sure to keep you posted on our progress.  As always, if there is a software application you seek, we welcome your feedback.

How To Break Down and Schedule Your No-Budget Movie

If you’re a first time feature filmmaker, you do not need a gazillion dollars to join the feature club. But you will need to learn how to replace money with ginormous creatively. And once your screenplay is complete, then the next step in the filmmaking process is your initial breakdown and schedule.

Breaking down the script means you go through your screenplay, number each scene and highlight each element, including locations, characters, props, make up, wardrobe, picture vehicles and special FX…

All of these things cost money. And 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.

I’ll chat about this some more later. For today, let’s focus on your initial schedule so you can eventually get to your budget.

Schedule Your Movie And Save

1.After you highlight each element, you’ll want to figure out when you want to shoot your movie and how long you plan to shoot.

2.You can determine this by choosing how many pages you want to shoot per day. Then you can decide if you want 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.

3.Everything in the script will impact your budget. There is software for this. Final Draft offers an add-on called Tagger. Tagger allows you to go through the script and pick out elements and highlight them in various colors. Once all elements are selected, you can eventually import this list into your budget and schedule software program.

4.After giving this your best effort, if you still feel stuck, seek expert advice.

5.Eventually, these elements will have a price in your initial budget. What is the price of each element? How much does your movie cost?

Many motion picture professionals make a living just breaking down, scheduling and budgeting movies. So it’s a pretty complicated and creative area. As a first time feature filmmaker, it save you many headaches if you partner with an seasoned 1st AD or Line Producer who could guide you through the process.

If this is not possible for you, I suggest reading every article on the subject as well as watching every YouTube video. This will teach you how to think like a cost conscious, responsible producer.

Regardless of your decision to complete your own breakdown or hire someone else for the job, the reason you’ll need an initial schedule is because this will give you a good starting point… You’ll utilize this information to figure out your budget. You’ll also be able to figure out if you need to cut an element or two, or not.

Cut Your Budget

Once you have your initial schedule, (and assuming this is your first feature), I suggest you create a budget for your movie in the neighborhood of $500K. Before you go crazy thinking this is a lot of money (or a little money), I want you to know you don’t actually have to spend $500K in hard cash to meet the needs of your budget.

In fact, once you determine you’ll make your movie at $500K, you are going to spend the next few weeks working backwards to see how much hard cash you can replace with sweat equity, discounts and favors from friends and family. Why $500K? Because if you actually have the elements budgeted, there is a good chance your movie will look better than if you budgeted for a mere $50K.

The reason for this is mostly psychological. By setting your budget at 500K, you’re going to start out with goal that forces you to get a higher production value than if you simply settled for pocket cash.

Later, with the application of tremendous creativity, it will be possible to reduce a $500K budget after discounts, free food, locations and salary adjustments quite significantly.

Do you have friends who own locations you can utilize for free? Do you have access to discounted equipment? Can you finish your movie faster than scheduled?

Do you have a friend with an edit suite?

Can you shoot some scenes outside during the day to reduce the need for extra lights? Can you find free food for your cast and crew? These are just some of the ways you can reduce that $500K budget.

One of my buddies was able to do this on the cheap. He had a location budgeted for $5K. However, after my buddy spoke with the owner of the location, the fee was reduced to zero. How? My buddy (a creative producer) agreed to shoot a promo for the owner’s business. Another filmmaker friend got free food for his entire shoot simply by asking.

The food supplier was thanked in the credits.

Deals like this happen. But it takes creativity to find opportunity. Here are some questions to ask:

How much money do I have?
How can I reduce expenses?
Can I get free food?
Who do I know who has the location I’m looking for?
How much money will I need?

The other reason you want to keep your first feature budget low is to allow greater opportunity for return. In the event you get a standard distribution deal (which is becoming more and more rare), your movie should look expensive.

If your budget is $500K and the movie looks like $500K, but you only spent $50K or $30K $15K in ultra-low-budget hard cash, and someone pays you back your budget, then you just made a crazy profit!

Nice work.

And in the event you do not get a standard distribution deal, then you’re not quite as deep in the financial hole as you otherwise would be.