My main task these days is a preliminary script breakdown of Women's Studies. Less a director's task than a producer's, breaking down the script entails taking each individual scene (All 143 of them) and dividing each into categories based on elements within the scene. This breakdown will be used to decide everything from shot composition to design, continuity to scheduling. While vitally important to have done, breaking a script down has it's tedious aspects.
How does it work?
Let's look at an individual scene from the script:
32. EXT. IRIS'S PARENT'S HOUSE - DAY
Iris, carrying an unwieldy bag, meets Mary halfway up the walk. They hug, happy to see each other.
It's good to see you. You look great.
Thanks. You too.
I was going to say "hi" to your folks if that's okay.
They're real busy. Let's just go.
Iris hurries past Mary to the car where Beth and Zack wait.
It'll only take a minute.
Some other time maybe. We should leave.
Mary looks at the house, shrugs, then walks with Iris back to the car.
Looks simple, right? But once we start to get into individual elements, we see there's a lot going into this simple scene.
First, I'll start with location: EXT. IRIS'S PARENT'S HOUSE - DAY. "EXT." denotes an exterior, or outdoor, scene. "Iris's Parent's House" is the setting of the scene (Different from a location, which I'll get into in a minute.). DAY is the time of day of the scene. Most scripts only differentiate between "day" and "night." I've always be a "morning," "afternoon," "evening," and "night" guy, though for the breakdown, I only use "morning" and "evening" (or dawn and dusk) if it's very specific to the scene.
One of the reasons I picked this scene to use as an example is that it's a location we already have. "The Lake House" is my location tag for the "Iris's Parent's House" setting. There are other scenes that take place in this setting.
Another example of why the setting/location distinction is important, the campus exteriors and interiors are likely to be shot at two completely different locations. So, while there are two settings both labeled "Dormitory," they'll be shot at two separate locations. As you can see, later when I'm creating a schedule, this distinction becomes important.
Secondly, there are two cast members with dialogue in this scene, Mary and Iris. However, in a previous scene, we've established that Beth and Zack are waiting in the car, so they'll need to be on location as well. Technically, they're extras in the scene. However, since they're main characters, I categorize them as cast members rather than categorize them as extras. Again, when I start scheduling, this will become important as Zack and Beth are characters who will need to be on location multiple days.
Also, though it hasn't been decided at this point, costumes, hair, and make-up necessities will eventually be noted on the breakdown sheet as well. Having the cast members labeled let's us know that we'll have wardrobe and make-up for four cast members.
Next we note props. In the above scene, there are only two: Iris's unwieldy bag and Mary's car. Ah, but Mary's car isn't to be categorized as a prop. Rather, it's categorized as a vehicle. This is important since a car isn't something you can just shove in somebody's trunk. (Actually, for Women's Studies, the vehicle designation is more important in scenes which take place in a car. It lets us know that we'll need a trailer and a car rig for the camera.)
Thankfully, there are no special FX, stunts, weapons, or special equipment for this scene. Once Cinematographer Aaron Shirley and I decide how the shot is going to be composed, the camera equipment and crew needed for the scene will also be noted on the breakdown sheet. Then we'll take Aaron's storyboards and this breakdown sheet and create a daily schedule and call sheet for this scene. Since it's a one-day shoot, there will only be one call sheet and one breakdown sheet. If a scene spreads over two days (as many will), there would then be two separate breakdown sheets and eventually two separate call sheets.
On set, we'll have a line producer and/or Assistant Director (AD) who will be using these sheets to tell me and everybody else what we're working on that day and what to prepare for the next day. However, by preparing the breakdown myself, I'll hopefully have a good idea what's happening even before the AD tells me which will keep things moving. Remember this is independent film, and every second counts.