How to Make a Movie: Part I, Writing

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The process for making a movie can be an arduous one. It involves a gigantic investment of time, energy, and effort, all culminating in something that’s not even guaranteed to be good. But in the end, there’s nothing more satisfying than putting hours upon hours of hard work into something and having it come out the way you wanted. The process is equal parts difficult and rewarding, and requires your absolute commitment from beginning to end to make it worth your while. Should you choose to go on this journey, we’re here to guide you along the process. First up: writing.

The first step in the creative process is often the most difficult. When it comes to making your own movie, writing the story that will drive the entire project is just that. Sure, anyone can learn to work a camera, set up sound equipment, or become a pro with editing software. But as a more fluid art form, writing can be hard to break down into a simple process. Luckily, we’re here to do just that for you. From conceiving the very first idea to the final page, consider this your guide on what’s arguably the hardest part of the moviemaking process.

Choose your screenplay software

Before you put down anything, investing in a screenplay software is key. The best ones will have the tools you need to construct a screenplay that, when laid out, is intuitive, easy to read, and on par with industry standards. Getting this done, you have a couple options: You can try the free software known as Celtx, or you can grab Final Draft. The main difference between going the free or money route is added features you may find are necessary down the road. With Final Draft, you’re definitely getting what you pay for, while Celtx is more of the bare bones variety. Either will get the job done, it’s merely a question of what you feel is necessary for you, personally.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Create a story outline

Once you have a writing platform in place, the next step is to know what story you’re telling. Assuming you have a basic idea in place, the best way to get started is to expand on that idea, asking yourself a series of questions. What’s my beginning, middle, and end? Who are my characters and what are their motivations? Is the story better served in a short or a feature film? For beginning filmmakers, we’d highly recommend starting out with a short story (usually translating to about 10-25 minutes of total runtime). This way things remain simple and succinct, allowing you to avoid an overly complex writing process.

Once you’ve determined the basic outline, it’s best to storyboard this into a workable format, always asking yourself: Can it be filmed? What will I have to do to put this on camera? You don’t want to write in a key plot point the story can’t be without only to find out later that you lack the resources or ability to actually film it. Keeping this in mind early on ensures that everything you put down will look just as good on film as it does in your head. Envision how each scene will look, and the next step of the process will be that much easier to accomplish.

This is where knowing specific details about your beginning, middle, and end becomes important. A well laid-out story goes a long way toward making sure everything you put down on paper informs that greater arc. Everything you write should inform how you want to start out, the major conflict points of your characters, and of course the conclusion where you wrap everything up.

Time to write

With your outline and story neatly laid out, you can really dig into the writing process now. But how do you ensure the basic idea and theme is something that will engage with an audience? Former advertiser Steven Pressfield cites a common trap beginning writers fall into that gets in the way of this, known as “Client’s Disease.”It’s the assumption that an idea you love is an idea other people will love simply because you’re passionate about it. It may seem like a hard thing to overcome, but Pressfield lays out three easy steps.

1) Reduce your message to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.

2) Make it fun. Or sexy or interesting or informative.

3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

His most useful advice to writers though comes in a simple reminder. “Nobody wants to read your shit. It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy.” Overcoming this requires developing a certain sense of empathy, as you ask yourself: How will my story make people who aren’t me feel? If you can get into the headspace of your intended audience, simplifying your story to engage and entertain them becomes second nature to you. Pressfield even emphasizes the importance of this outside of simply writing ad copy, noting the importance of any writer giving a reader or viewer “something worthy of the time and attention he’s giving you.” If you can ensure your story is worthwhile to the people you expect to show it to, you only stand to improve the scope of your writing.

With all this together, you should be well on your way to writing a screenplay you can be proud of. But the process isn’t quite over. Once you’ve finished your final draft, the filming and editing can finally begin. For Part II, we’ll teach you the ins and outs of how to get that brand new screenplay onto camera. Stay tuned!

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