Hello, and welcome to this new breakdown episode. Any good movie starts with a good script; that’s the basis. And as a cinematographer and director, it is your job to interpret the script on screen. To be a good director or cinematographer, you must know how to break down a script. This process is called Script breakdown; that is, do an in-depth analysis to identify and categorize the elements needed for the entire film. Including the styles, the look, the color, absolutely everything. Whether you like it or not, you must go through this process. So today, I decided to do a little script breakdown with, of course, the lighting, as always, so we can learn more about this process and be inspired. Hold on tight. Here we go!
To begin, we will analyze two scenes from Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, with Roger Deakins as cinematographer. Here’s the first line of the script:
We’re off to a good start there!
This is our first scene. For those who don’t know how to read a script or how it works, I already wrote an article for you. Click here and come back later. Let’s see how they interpreted it on screen, and then we will do our analysis.
Here they started with an establishing shot, often applied to the beginning of a scene to show the viewer where and when the scene is taking place. As we already know, in a script, a scene always starts with its description. Here it is;
INT. MEDITERRANEAN TURKISH COAST – APARTMENT – SUNSET
So we know the scene happens in an apartment on the Mediterranean Turkish coast during sunset. Then we have the action line, i.e., the brief description of the action. Here “James Bond has sex. Not gently.”
So if you have to do an outline, you should mention almost everything on the first take. Attention! Everyone has their way and approach to script decoupage. So here, for this establishing shot, there are pretty much all the elements; we have the curtains, the red lanterns, the roof, and Sea in the background. Once you see these elements, you know this scene is not happening in an apartment in new york. You see what I mean.
For the frame, they opted for reasonably elemental composition, the rule of thirds, which places the two subjects on the left side of the screen, less lit than the background, thus leaving a space on the right side of the frame for the liveliness of the scenery. Then we have the golden color, which perfectly complements the blue of the sea. It is imperative to combine all his information in one shot to let the viewer know where and when the scene is taking place. Moving on to the following scenes, still with Bond.
This scene is the continuation of the previous one. Here it is.
As the script mentioned, the two actors are now in bed. Roger Deakins chose a wide shot here to illustrate the scene. This shows the sets but especially the expressions of the two actors. “She reached out to caress his chest” with this wide shot; we might just see the actress doing the action without changing angles or anything. It is still simple but effective. That will make you save time on set. So for the deco, you have to mention it during the breakdown process with certainly an art director, Art Dep, or yourself if you are working on your short film. There we have oriental curtains, pillows, cushions, and sheets. All of this plays a decisive role in the understanding of the audience. Don’t overlook the small details. This is what makes the difference.
Let’s move on to the next scene with the details you like, the lighting.
This is the final result for the second line.
Again an establishing shot shows where the scene is happening. Here is M.’s house. Since the scene takes place during the night, we can see here the practical lights that illuminate the scene. With a wide shot, we could see the movements and gestures of the actress. Then we have this shot with the silhouette of Bond to give a little more tension and intrigue to the viewers.
To show her expressions when she realizes it’s Bond, we cut to a close-up. Here it is.
Suddenly she notices that it is Bonde; she’s surprised. She asked Bond a question and Bond answered by stepping closer. To illustrate this, they cut to a medium shot of Bond in silhouette. And as Bonde approaches, he becomes visible. All this to give an entrance worthy of a James Bond. Here it is.
Roger Deakins: “For the most part, I lit the set for M’s apartment using overhead ring lights and Tweenies. The hallway was lit using a single small ring light, and, as M, Judy Dench, entered the front room, I had her turn on two-floor lamps rather than the overhead light. Using floor lamps, I could position them to light M in the way I wanted but still allow her first view of Bond, leaning against the window of the next room, to be a silhouette against the lights in the street beyond. Sam had discussed the blocking of this scene before the set was designed, so it was built to accommodate how we intended to shoot. Incidentally, I shot the scene handheld as Sam wanted to give it an unsettled feel, something a little edgy.”
Roger Deakins: “I asked our set dresser, Anna Pinnock, to rig very light shear curtains on the windows. I wanted shears both to soften the lighting I knew I would be using outside the window, and they would allow me to shoot Bond in silhouette. We had shot the exterior using rain effects and, by simply spraying water on the window glass, this helped us when we came to match the ‘look’ of the exterior location work with the interior set. For the exterior of the window, in front of which we first see Bond, I used three direct and dimmed down 200-watt Inky lamps, each of which appears in the frame, as well as two Tweenies, which were bounced off a gold stipple reflector positioned below the window. We cut out some ‘windows’ in our dead-hung background cloth, which was painted to suggest the buildings across the street, and we hung shear curtains across these openings as well. When lit from behind, or with a practical lamp rigged on a table beyond the opening, it created depth and more interest within the frame.”
Roger Deakins: “I knew that the second half of the scene would take place with the two actors at either end of the dining room table, so it seemed like another opportunity for Judy to reveal Bond and light the scene by turning on the overhead chandelier. This chandelier, with an accompanying 2’ ring light that held 7 or 8 x 40-watt ‘golf ball’ globes, was on an adjustable chain so, when I wanted to get a little more light into each actor’s eyes, I could lower it down as they and the camera moved closer. The overall warmth of this scene is an effect of dimming down every light on the set, all of which are tungsten; however, as I wanted to maintain the orange tone of the sodium-lit exterior location work and contrast that with the practical sources inside, I added CTO and Straw gel to those lights outside the windows of the stage set.”
Wow, that’s a lot of information in a few minutes of reading. We’ll stop there today, but don’t worry; I’ll be back with the rest this Thursday, so stay tuned or follow me on Instagram.
If you want to learn a little more about screenwriting and all things writing, I recommend Blake Snyder’s bestseller, Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.
If you liked this episode, please share this article with your filmmaker friends. By doing so, you help us a lot for growth. See you soon for a new episode. It was Marco Robinson for Ci-Lovers, Tchaaaouuuu!