STRUCTURE OF THE BREAKDOWN SHEET
The breakdown sheet is a condensed overview of the critical elements of a scene. This article will review the main sections so you understand what needs to be included.
Back in the day, this was literally one sheet of paper with boxes for different elements and one would handwrite details in each blank area. Each area was a different issue or department, for example; Wardrobe, Camera, Props, Set Dressing, &c. There were usually 8 sections. I have written hundreds of these by hand. It sucked looking back on doing that. This information was then transferred to thin strips of heavy paper and sleeved into plastic strips to be used as a massive fold-out stripboard holder. Well, it's not 1994 anymore and everything is done on the computer. Yay!
Nowadays, all the kids use some sort of computer program to do this work. Once you have made all your notes about the elements within each scene of the script, it is time to start entering the information into a scheduling application. There are a few on the market and the one you chose to use will be based on a few personal and professional factors. I use EP's Movie Magic Scheduling. Each application works similar enough to each other that if you don't use Movie Magic, you still should be able to follow along with the concepts discussed here.
The header information area is the first critical area you'll use. It is the basics of the scene derived from the slugline, a synopsis of the scene and page count. Simply enter the information as indicated. For the synopsis, read the scene and dialog. Get a sense of what the scene is about. For example, if it is a scene where a figure emerges from the desert and tells our hero character that he may not use his well, but the scene lasts three pages - you are not going to write a long drawn-out description of all the steps of action. What you could write is more simply, "English tries to get water from well, Sharif arrives." Be succinct.
There are different methods for noting a scene part. Some AD's will say "13 pt", and then have three parts. This can become confusing to the crew, especially when the sheet was duplicated and the synopsis was not changed per part. I like to say "13 p1" with a synopsis of that part, then "13 p2" with a synopsis to match. Whatever system you use, ensure it's clear to the rest of the crew. Also, please ignore the desire to put multiple scene numbers/parts on the Scene Field. The reason that field is so large is because some ADs like to have one breakdown sheet for a series of scenes that all have the same elements. That's cool, but if you have to move a part or scene - you'll end up breaking it off anyways. Give yourself the most flexibility now, so when you are in the thick of battle later you won't need to use your time then. Trust me, in the end - it's worth your time to break strips into details. Yes, it may make the one line a page or two longer. Oh well.
Depending on which application you are using to break down your script, there are a few other options.
What a great tool to help you guesstimate the length of your day! Traditionally, Page Count is used to give a broad-stroke idea of how much you are shooting in a given day. However, it's horribly inaccurate. Estimated Time allows for a little better prediction and precision. If you don't know how long a strip will take to shoot, leave it blank for now. Experience down the road will help with this function. Here are two examples of how Page Count may not work so well:
- A 1/8th of a page scene, "The cavalry charges over the hill, planes attack too. The town is soon in ruins under the overwhelming attack of the Allied Forces." That may take 5 days to shoot.
- A 3-page scene of nothing but dialog, with two people sitting at a table, could take five hours to shoot.
Provide information here on which unit will shoot this strip. Blank is usually first unit, but perhaps you have a second unit, aerial unit and/or underwater unit.
Here you can note that this strip is part of an overall sequence. This helps the crew keep things straight when dealing with continuity. It's good practice to use this when needed. If you don't find it helpful or needed, leaving it blank does not harm you.
Other than the header area, the Elements area is where the real meat of the Breakdown Sheet is. Here you'll list everything you need to make the scene happen. When I say 'everything', I mean everything. Whoa! Hold on... not the standard crew and all your standard equipment. You can presume that a fair amount of items will be there all the time on set - no need to note that you'll need Craft Service on set when shooting the scene. Rather, the elements you denote here are particular to the scene/part. Is your character carrying a gun? Is it a night scene and you'll need condors for the lights & a spare electric crew member? Do you have kids on the set and you'll need a teacher? Oh, the list goes on and on...
Think it through. In each category, list the elements you made note of during your script breakdown (you did that, right?). List all out all the elements. Be as complete as possible. It may not hurt to get the element lists from each department and put them in here. You may only be working on the prelim schedule now (thereby having no department heads yet), but you still want to try to detail this out as much as possible. When you get to the budget, you'll need to be able to look back and see what and how much of everything you'll need.
STORYBOARD / PICTURE AREA
This is in Movie Magic, not sure about other applications. I honestly don't have too much to say about this area. The title defines itself. This allows you to put pictures (not only storyboards) into the breakdown sheet. This can be useful for visually referencing the location, key props or other whatnots. Also note, pictures you enter here get transferred to others you send the file to. That's a cool plus.
There you go. Now you should be able to create a breakdown sheet for each scene (or scene part) in the script.