As promised, an attempt to answer the question: "WTF is a script breakdown?".
Let's start by going back a little bit and look at REUNION's own sordid history. It begins with a script, a spec script if we're being truthful. A spec script is a script written on speculation -- speculation that it might be bought and subsequently produced. This is different than a script that is written after the writer has been hired by a producer to write a script. Why? Because a spec is written prior to any money changing hands, because the writer has an idea he wants to pursue. He's doing so without any guarantee said script will ever make money or be produced. Spec scripts have their own formatting style, devoid of camera moves and mentions of angles -- anything that would detract from the ease of reading the script.
When do camera moves and angles enter the picture? In a shooting script, which is a script written for a production. Once we made the decision that we would produce REUNION ourselves, my first act was to convert the spec script into a shooting script. The shooting script is much less fun to read because it's, quite frankly, more awkward to read. Compare the two:
INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY
A PRETENTIOUS WRITER sits at his Macbook Pro and types a stupid blog entry.
fly across the keyboard.
squints as he struggles to form coherent sentences.
And now, SHOOTING SCRIPT formatting:
INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY
ANGLE ON: A PRETENTIOUS WRITER sits at his MACBOOK PRO and types a stupid blog entry.
CLOSE-UP: His FINGERS fly across the keyboard.
EXTREME CLOSE-UP: The WRITER's EYES squint as he struggles to form coherent sentences.
It's just not as easy to read a shooting script because, by calling attention to camera angles and close-ups, we're taken out of the story we're trying to read. The spec formatting is more elegant because we can call attention to the writer's fingers flying across the keyboard in a way that doesn't interrupt our reading rhythm.
Why shooting scripts? Because by the time a script is turned into a shooting script, it's going into production. Things like camera angles and close-ups become more important because now the script is becoming a true blueprint for a production. Another difference between shooting scripts is that scenes are numbered, ready for breakdown.
So what about breakdowns?
Breaking down a script is essential for budgeting, casting, scheduling, etc.
A script breakdown requires going through your shooting script scene-by-scene and highlighting each element required for the scene (each type of element has its own color-code).
In the example we used above I would highlight the coffee shop in the color appropriate for LOCATIONS. I would highlight the writer in the color for CHARACTERS. The Macbook Pro in the color for PROPS. If the interior of the coffee shop is described in more detail we would highlight those descriptions in the color for SET DRESSING.
As you can see, we are highlighting all the elements that will be needed to actually shoot that scene. We now know we need to cast an actor as the pretentious writer. We know our location scout needs to find us a coffee shop -- or our construction crew needs to build us a coffee shop set. The prop department needs to furnish us with a Macbook Pro. And Apple must be contacted so we can find out if they'll even allow us to show a Macbook Pro in our movie.
This is done for every scene in the script. If there is another scene later in the script that also uses the same elements (coffee shop, writer, Macbook Pro), it will make sense to schedule the shooting of those scenes for the same day.
Once the script breakdown is complete, you can use it to make reports detailing everything from what actors will need to be hired to what props must be tracked down (or made). As you can see, this will make budgeting and scheduling much easier.
This is a simplified explanation because I don't have all day -- I HAVE MY OWN SCRIPT BREAKDOWN I AM AVOIDING AT THIS VERY MOMENT!
For more information about script formatting check out Dave Trottier's The Screenwriter's Bible. It's essential reading.
For more on script breakdowns checkout: