Nuts and Bolt$

The first step in assessing the feasibility of shooting an independent film is to do a breakdown and schedule the script. To do a breakdown requires that one thoroughly review a screenplay and make an accurate assessment of all its elements in order to begin to organize the necessary production details. Normally, this task is performed by either a producer or line-producer, but for me to get a preliminary idea of what I need (including whether or not I'll need a line-producer), I did the initial pass. The goal here is to streamline enough to end up with a smooth and cost-effective schedule. I began simply by going through the screenplay scene by scene and keeping track of how many times a location is used, when an actor (or dog) is used, and whether or not it is day or night. In addition to organizing scenes by their ingredients, I made note of how many pages each scene has. With this information, I then organized the scenes into days with the following considerations: actors, location, time of day, and number of pages. The number of pages one can film per day varies greatly from production to production. How fast things move is ultimately up to the director. For my own taste, I average about six pages a day with a small, light crew. That means that some days I may accomplish less, and other days much more depending on the type of scene and the way I want to cover it.

I demo'd a piece of production software called Showbiz Scheduling to help me organize these elements and cobble together a rough schedule. The software works well, as it imports your actual screenplay file and analyzes it thoroughly to give you a head start in the process.

After organizing everything, I found myself with an 18 day shooting schedule. That sounds about right. Having an idea of how many shooting days one requires is the first step in projecting a budget for the production. Furthermore, it is a terrific way to review your script's requirements. Sometimes after a thorough breakdown, schedule and budget, a filmmaker might find that some rewrites are in order. For instance, if a particular scene appears to be unnecessarily costly or time-consuming, the writer and/or director may rethink how essential that particular scene or scene element is to the story and ultimate product.

This process is much easier when you've already written a script with ingredients that you have access to. Don't just write what you know, write what you have. Our boy Robert Rodriguez had a turtle, a guitar case, and a Mexican town and he turned that into El Mariachi. Kevin Smith had a convenience store at his disposal and wrote Clerks around it. All that said, I still managed to write a few imaginative scenarios that have left me wondering how the hell I'll secure some of the locations. We'll see whether those bits stay in the picture!

With a schedule and a breakdown in hand, I can draw up a few different versions of a budget and then know exactly how much I have to raise and spend. The breakdown also forms the backbone of logistics to support the filmmaker through rewrites, pre-production, and post. Things will inevitably change along the way and the breakdown and schedule will be refined further. But this is where the nuts and bolts begin.