Planning Ahead


One of the first things you need to do as you begin pre-production is to breakdown.

No, not you! The script.

Your screenplay needs to be broken down. That means reducing the script to those elements that will effect production.

In other words, if you have 2 people at a kitchen table discussing unicorns, you have a fairly simple scene to shoot. If however, a unicorn runs through the room, well, the scene just became infinitely more complex. You want to find all of the various things that are going to have to be bought, hired, rented, found or made. By breaking down a script, you’ll get an idea of what will be needed for each scene and how complex the shooting process will be.

The first thing you need to do in breaking down a script is to locate each and every slug line. Slug lines mark the beginning of a scene. These lines, written all in capital letters, contain 3 pieces of information: whether the scene is interior (INT) or exterior (EXT), where it takes place and the relative time of day.

For example, a typical slug line might read: INT. JOE’S BAR — NIGHT. Hopefully, the writer followed proper script format and capitalized everything in the slug lines because that will make them much easier to locate.

Next, grab a ruler. Position it just above the slug line and draw a line all the way across the page. This makes it even easier to find the start of each scene.

The writer shouldn’t have added a scene number, so once you locate each slug line, go ahead and number them in consecutive order. Once scene numbers are assigned, they’re never changed.

If you delete a scene, just keep that number and mark it “Omitted.” If you add a scene, mark it with the previous scene’s number, but add the letter “A”. For example, a scene inserted between scenes 16 and 17 would become 16A.

Now comes the hard part. Each scene is measured by how much of the page or pages it runs. This page count is invaluable in planning a production.

Most directors and their crews can handle a certain number of pages a day. Some big budget Hollywood production, especially ones that are stunt or special effects intensive, may do only 1/2 page per day. On the other had, I’ve seen independent crews do 14 pages in a day.

By the way, I’ve never seen a crew do 14 pages in a day and stay sane.

So measure how long each scene is in inches. Measure from the top of the slug line where you drew the line to the next slug line. Skip the bottom and top margins of the page. Take the number of inches and convert it to 1/8.

One inch scenes are 1/8 of a page. Ten inches of scene equals 1 2/8 of a page (10/8). It’s easier to convert anything over 8/8 into whole pages and fractions because when you get into longer scenes, it can get very confusing (43/8?).

Even if a scene is very short, mark it 1/8 of a page. Write this number in the right margin close to the slugline. Circle it. Before your production is finished, this number will be used over and over.

That’s just the start of the breakdown. By now, you know the relative length of each scene. You can begin planning how many pages to shoot in a day and get a good idea of the workload for each day.

And of course, begin planning your own breakdown.

Sharon Wyly

Sharon Wyly is a line producer/UPM based in Orlando, Florida, with over 10 years of experience in low budget independent features.

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