Breaking down a script is the process of analyzing and combing through each page, looking for elements that are important for scheduling, budgeting, and pretty much anything else that you’ll need to prepare for the project. All departments do a breakdown of the script. This process is particularly important for the makeup department and is essential toward your process of analyzing, developing, and designing makeup. The better you know and understand the script, the better prepared you are for conversations with the Director, DP, Producers, and other department heads.
When breaking down your script, you will build a list of characters, scripted notes on the characters (how they look and dress), makeup effects, and any location or environments that will affect the makeup. This information will influence the design and needs of the Makeup Department, including budgeting.
Script breakdowns are your chance to understand how the story moves, to get an understanding of everything that has to happen to the characters, how many “script days,” which scenes are day, which scenes are night, and if there are any environmental factors (such as rain). Script breakdowns will also help you make decisions on how to achieve and maintain the makeup looks. Whenever possible, have your script breakdown checked against the Script Supervisor’s breakdown—this is typically given to all departments and is the definitive breakdown of the script. You’ll want to make your own breakdown instead of solely using the Script Supervisor’s version since this version will have elements documented for all production needs, including those outside of your department.
Here is my personal approach to breaking down a script for makeup and special effects requirements. You can use this same method to do a script breakdown for any department.
1. Start by reading through the script without taking notes.Your first read through should be purely for enjoyment. Take this time to understand the story and envision the characters.
2. Read through the script a second time. This time, list all characters and make character notes along with any script descriptions of their looks or special effects requirements.
Example: Joyce was waiting at the door. She looked old for her age and slightly plump. She has frizzy hair and wears black-rimmed glasses.
Question: What’s Joyce age in the story? Will we need to do a subtle old age makeup or will it be more dramatic? Is there a hair department or will you handle hair? Many times, on small budget productions, the makeup artist will be responsible for both hair and makeup.
3. Pay close attention to scene directions as well. Sometimes a character will perform an action that may require makeup even though makeup was not specifically mentioned.
Example: The camera follows a female jogger running through the woods. With her car now in sight, she slows down and began walking.
Question: Has she been running for a while? Will she require sweat on her face and/or clothing?
*If you plan to use products on the costumes (ie fake blood or fake sweat) make sure you coordinate with the wardrobe department. If there is no wardrobe department, make sure you have permission from the garment’s owner before altering it with makeup.
4. Finally, list all makeup effects or looks that need to play in continuous scenes. Make notes on how long an effect or look works. This is your makeup continuity. You’re going to want to make specific notes regarding makeup effects or looks for continuous scenes. Often times, scenes are not shot in chronological order so keeping continuity is important for a cohesive film.
Example: Fred is hit in SC 3. His cheek is bruised.
Question: How many scenes does the bruise work, and what is the progression or age of the bruising? When is the last time you see the bruise?
Following these simple steps will prepare you for filming and helps keep your department (makeup) organized and running smoothly.
What’s your process for breaking down a script? Do you use any clever tricks to make the process easier for you? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram @fefejohnsonMUA