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How to Write a Movie Script: The Basics of This Storytelling Craft

How to Write a Movie Script: The Basics of This Storytelling Craft

Every Screenwriter asks the question of how to write a movie script at some point in their careers. Because the truth is that there is no one tried-and-true formula that will work every time for every Writer. Yes, there is a specific format for screenplays, as we will discuss. And yes, there’s even a three-act structure that most script experts recommend following when writing a screenplay. But how to write a movie script also involves individual voice, imagination, and innovation, which is why even the most practiced Screenwriters may question themselves from time to time.

The good news is that by learning the basics of this storytelling craft, such as format and story structure, an aspiring Screenwriter can immediately put themselves in a better position to get their work noticed and career ignited. And that’s exactly what we will explain how to do!

In our discussion of how to write a movie script, we’ll cover:

  • Knowing the difference between a movie script and other storytelling mediums
  • Movie script formatting
  • Three act structure
  • Creating conflict

Movie Script vs. Other Storytelling Mediums

But first, what exactly is a movie script?[1] Plenty of people have heard the term thrown around in conversation, but why do screenplays exist? Especially when so many films are made from existing intellectual property such as graphic novels, books, and even newspaper articles, why aren’t those storytelling mediums used for making a movie?

Well, let’s take a look at one of the most successful adaptations in cinema—that of the Harry Potter books. As a whole, the series clocks in just under 20 hours of viewing time. Consider then just how long the films would be if the source material, which between all the books is approximately 4,000 pages, had been used instead of a script that hovers around 120 pages per movie. How to write a movie script is critical, as in many cases the source material needs to be condensed to fit the length of a film.[2] Alternately, a 500-word newspaper article might make a great jumping-off point for a film, but it’s hardly enough material to sustain a two-hour movie. However, that’s when the talent of a Screenwriter can be utilized by fleshing out that article and making it an interesting story for the screen.

But even in the absence of source material, a screenplay is fundamental to the filmmaking process. Just as Architects require blueprints for the construction of a building, so too do filmmakers need scripts to create a film. As we’re about to dive into, a movie script entails very specific formatting that can not only describe for a reader what is happening in the story but also reveal to a Director, Cinematographer or other entertainment professional the key elements necessary for it to be made into a movie.

At its core, a three-act structure provides the foundation for a writer to create a story filled with conflict that keeps the reader or viewer intrigued, as well as giving the characters within the story the chance to make decisions or be on the receiving end of others’ actions that inform their character growth for better or for worse.

Movie Script Formatting & Its Importance

A movie script is unlike any other type of storytelling format, as it is meant to be both understood via the written word and ultimately translated into the visual and audio medium of film. For those reasons, the way in which a screenplay is written is extremely specific with clearly defined elements, such as scene headings, action lines, and dialogue.[3] These are just a few of the most common script elements, but make no mistake, anyone intent on becoming a Screenwriter should take the time and energy to learn thoroughly what each element is and how it should be used in a screenplay. For now, it’s important to simply take note that these elements constitute the foundation of how to write a movie script.

A brief explanation of why these elements are necessary breaks down to this: Each succinctly tells the reader what is happening in a particular scene, and for the filmmakers who intend to turn the screenplay into a movie, what they need to assemble to make it happen. For instance, an opening scene heading can let a reader or filmmaker know that they’re at the Corleone compound as opposed to anywhere else fictionalized or in real life. The following action line might then indicate that there’s a conversation taking place between Vito Corleone and another man. Finally, the initial line of dialogue, “I believe in America,” sets up in a significant way one of the major themes of the story and film.

For a Screenwriter, having depth of understanding as it regards screenplay formatting serves two purposes. First, as mentioned above, correct formatting allows anyone reading or working from the screenplay to understand the story and how it can transition to the screen.[4] Says Screenwriter Sara Strange, “The Writer’s main goal is to create a fluid reading experience. When you veer too far from proper/expected format, you create roadblocks/speed bumps for the reader that distract them from what’s truly important: the story.”

Second, though this may be considered a less tangible benefit, it demonstrates to others that the Screenwriter is of a professional caliber and knows how to write for the medium. For example, if a Manager, Agent, Producer or Executive comes across a script full of confusing scene headings, wordy action lines or dialogue attributed to the wrong character—it happens!—it can be the difference between wanting to move forward with the Writer or script and passing on it no matter how great the story. In short, Writers should understand the importance of a good first impression, and solid script formatting can go a long way towards it.

As Screenwriter Courtney Suttle emphasizes, “Every Studio Exec, Agent, Literary Manager, Script Reader, Producer, Director, etc. has hundreds of scripts sitting on their desk at any given time and they are looking for any excuse to make that pile smaller. Improper, sloppy formatting provides an immediate excuse to toss the script directly into the pass pile. Don’t be that Writer.”

While it can initially feel overwhelming to the Writer just starting out, the craft of screenplay writing can be so much more than a head-scratching proposition. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to connect with audiences around the globe and make them laugh, cry, shriek or even reconsider their deep-seated beliefs through a captivating story.

The Three Acts of Movie Script Story Structure

Beyond the more technical aspects of how to write a movie script, Writers must also always be striving towards creating the best story possible—and there are many ways to do it. We’ve already mentioned theme. There’s also character arc. Conflict. Emotional weight. Plot progression. All these elements and more can support an interesting and dynamic story, but all of them typically reveal themselves within the three-act structure.

Three-act structure. Again, it’s a term used quite often in the entertainment world, but why is it so important for a screenplay?[5] On how to approach the three-act structure, Suttle notes, “Keep it simple, as every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s your three-act formula. My job as a Writer is to provide the reader with the motivation to keep turning the page no matter which act they’re in.” But how exactly to keep the reader turning those pages?

Let’s use The Godfather again as an example. How interesting would it be if the story was just that a young man takes over the family business from his father? We go from point A to point B with no conflict, thematic value or character development. But imagine instead that the story was the following: A young man wanting to escape the violent lifestyle that has allowed his father to become a wealthy and influential mafia figure ends up taking it over from him after the father is on the receiving end of an attempted hit and his older brother the victim of a successful one. Now that’s a story! Not to mention the assassination of his first wife and the execution-style hits on his many rivals that set him up as the unopposed mafia head.

At its core, a three-act structure provides the foundation for a writer to create a story filled with conflict that keeps the reader or viewer intrigued, as well as giving the characters within the story the chance to make decisions or be on the receiving end of others’ actions that inform their character growth for better or for worse. Or as Strange succinctly explains, “I’m old school and like the general 1) put your character up a tree; 2) throw rocks at them; 3) get them out of the tree structure.”

As with script formatting, it’s essential that aspiring Screenwriters continue to nurture their expertise by learning all they can about three-act structure, including the rare instances in which they may break the rules! But the reason why three-act structure has such a stronghold in screenwriting is that it works. The first act provides the inciting incident which gives a reason as to why we’re following this story now and continues with the first major plot point. Moving into the second, the conflict should build, though the protagonist may experience the occasional “victory” along the way to keep the plot moving in a surprising and interesting way. With the second major plot point, we enter the third act, which is where the climax of the story will take place, as well as the resolution.

Scripts are often referred to as blueprints because the similarities between them are so strong. Within a blueprint, you might have designations for plumbing, electricity, insulation and more alongside the actual building plans. In the same way, a screenplay encompasses many elements, correct script formatting and three-act structure among them.

While it can initially feel overwhelming to the Writer just starting out, the craft of screenplay writing can be so much more than a head-scratching proposition. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to connect with audiences around the globe and make them laugh, cry, shriek or even reconsider their deep-seated beliefs through a captivating story. With passion, patience, and practice, the opportunity exists for all Writers to have the chance to enjoy this experience and further their craft of how to write a movie script.

References

    1. “What Is a Screenplay?” Screenwriting.io. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
    2. Haber, Joel (22 January 2018). “Script Classics: Adapting to the Adaptation Process.” Writer’s Digest. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
    3. Renee, V (24 September 2017). “Learn Script Formatting (& Why Screenplay Format Matters).” No Film School. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
    4. Miyamoto, Ken (23 July 2018). “Does Correct Screenplay Format REALLY Matter?” Screencraft. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
    5. Moura, Gabe (1 June 2014). “The Three-Act Structure.” The Elements of Cinema. Retrieved 15 November 2019.

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Best Free Screenwriting Software Options

Best Free Screenwriting Software Options

If you want to get a start in the film business without spending a dime, there is free screenwriting software to do just that! But don’t forget, getting your start means more than putting words on paper. Study the craft and learn how to tell a story first. But that’s why you’re here, right? You already have one rattling in your head and you want to put it in a script. Congratulations! Now you face the technical task of formatting your writing to the industry standard for screenplays. As you probably already know, formatting your script is crucial, not only for writing it but if you want to have it read by a professional and you want to have a career as a Screenwriter, it’s absolutely mandatory. Luckily, there is screenwriting software to help! But before you spend any money, take some programs for a test drive first. And beyond looking into software, make sure you learn the elements of a screenplay and formatting rules before you dive in.

Most screenwriting programs come with tools for organizing your ideas, mapping your stories, and keeping track of characters, among other things, while others offer full production suites for you to take your script through production. Some are cloud-based programs and others are downloadable. (In case you don’t know, cloud-based software is accessed online like Google Docs, so you need an Internet connection to use it.)

Our picks for the best free screenwriting software:

  • Trelby
  • Writer Duet
  • Page 2 Stage
  • DramaQueen
  • DubScript
  • Highland 2
  • Story Touch
  • Fade In
  • Causality

As you shop, assess your needs as a Writer. I, for example, prefer to do my prewriting away from the computer with a pen and paper, so I don’t use a lot of the in-program tools. I also like to unplug when I write, so I don’t like cloud-based programs. On the other hand, if I were collaborating with another Writer, I would opt for a cloud-based program, so it just depends on what you need for your project. Maybe you want a TV pilot template instead of a feature film template. Maybe you like to customize your windows. Find a tool that works for you. If you have no idea what you want, try them all!

One of the things to look for in a scriptwriting program is one that is compatible with industry-standard software like Final Draft or Movie Magic. That way, if you have the opportunity to get the script into the hands of someone who can make it, you can export a file that can be imported into other industry standard programs used by various department heads. I will touch on this a little bit below.

So let’s look at the free screenwriting software currently available in 2019. Some of the sites I discovered are not secure, which I will note in my description.

Trelby

Trelby is available as a download and is designed for Windows and Linux. It offers writing and editing tools and many of its features are customizable. It also has story tracking and revision tracking tools, which allows you to compare drafts. It also offers many export options that include .pdf and Final Draft.

How Free is It?
It’s totally free. You can even contact the programmers and make suggestions on how it can be better.

Writer Duet

Writer Duet has a cloud-based and a downloadable version, but the download is only available with a subscription. The biggest selling point to this program is that it is designed for collaboration. You can work with writing partners on the same document at the same time. You can also fly solo with Writer Duet, which is what you will do with the free version, which is the bare bones program that has feature, TV pilot and stage play templates with basic writing and editing capabilities.

How Free is It?

Your first three scripts are free, regardless of the length. You can export as many .pdf files as you want with these three scripts, but once you start your fourth script, you will be asked to buy in for $11.99 a month. Once you unlock this “pro” version, you will have more features, like the collaboration tools, unlimited scripts, Final Draft export capability, version tracking, and other tools. However, it does not require that your writing partners are “pro” users, so it won’t inhibit collaboration if you are the only one to purchase it.

As you shop, assess your needs as a Writer. I, for example, prefer to do my prewriting away from the computer with a pen and paper, so I don’t use a lot of the in-program tools. I also like to unplug when I write, so I don’t like cloud-based programs. On the other hand, if I were collaborating with another Writer, I would opt for a cloud-based program, so it just depends on what you need for your project.

Page 2 Stage

Page 2 Stage is another program available only for Windows. It appears to have standard writing and editing capabilities, but the website does not specify export options. It does offer multiple languages, which is a plus for non-English Writers. One of the features it offers is called “Advanced Auto Cheat” in which you tell the program how many pages you want your script to be and it will make the script that length. This may sound like a good idea, but script pagination is a serious thing. It shouldn’t be cheated. If you are new to screenwriting, one page equals roughly one minute of screen time. In order to properly pace your film, you need to pay attention to page numbers. I wouldn’t cheat.

How Free is It?

It’s totally free, and like Trelby, it encourages program feedback. However, it comes from an unsecure website.

DramaQueen

Drama Queen is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. It is a download with a free option, which has basic writing and editing capabilities, as well as tools to write a novel. You are able to export several formats, including .pdf and Final Draft. Unfortunately, in the free version you are unable to track changes.

How Free is It?

There is a free version, however, it has limitations and comes from an unsecure website. They have two additional tiers with pricing ranging from $99 to $297, with upgrades costing $38 and $78. The differences are clearly mapped out here.

DubScript

For those of you using Chrome or who have an Android phone, Dubscript is your option. It has standard writing and editing capabilities, with a version tracker and other story tools. You can use it on your tablet, phone or Chromebook and it offers .pdf and Final Draft export capabilities.

How Free is It?
Free!

Highland 2

Highland 2 is a Mac-based suite of downloadable tools for both Screenwriters and Novelists and is a favorite among some professionals. It has many customizable features as well as tools to help you track changes and organize your thoughts. However, export seems to be limited to only .pdf or Highland files. They argue that Final Draft is not necessarily the industry standard and that most people read a .pdf when they read a script. However, reading a script is a fraction of the life of a script. If your script turns into a movie, it will need to be in either Final Draft or Screenwriter in order for the crew to use their programs, from budgeting to script breakdowns. For example, the popular Script Supervisor program ScriptE imports only Final Draft or Screenwriter files.

How Free is It?

There is a free option. Most of the bells and whistles (including an export without a watermark) are unlocked with the “pro” purchase option, but the cost is not indicated on their website.

One of the things to look for in a scriptwriting program is one that is compatible with industry-standard software like Final Draft or Movie Magic. That way, if you have the opportunity to get the script into the hands of someone who can make it, you can export a file that can be imported into other industry standard programs used by various department heads.

Story Touch

Story Touch is another downloadable program for Mac and Windows. It has basic writing and editing capabilities but also has a lot of tools to help you organize your thoughts and ideas. It does not specify the export options but the benefits of this program are the organization and analysis tools that it offers.

How Free is It?

There is a free option, with the “pro” version costing $270. The comparison of the two are here. This is another unsecure site.

Fade In

Fade In is my favorite. It can be used with Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPad – you name it. I took this program on a test drive and purchased it when I needed to make an export without a watermark. I find it to be intuitive and it has all the tools I need, from writing and editing to version tracking and exporting in Final Draft. It also offers real-time collaboration tools. It’s the best of all worlds. It is a favorite among many film professionals and is inching toward being an industry standard.

How Free is It?

They have a free trial version that exports with a watermark and is missing a few bells and whistles. The “pro” version is only $79. That’s it!

Causality

Causality is another program worth exploring. Though they have a free option, it’s only good for ten pages, so in my opinion, that doesn’t count. But it does have some amazing tools, so I will mention it here, anyway. It is very user-friendly and you can purchase it yearly for $71.88 or purchase a permanent license for $279. Though I do all of my pre-writing by hand, Causality piqued my interest with its rewriting tools that make moving scenes around a breeze.

How Free is It?

Your first ten pages are free, so if you are writing a short, I’d try it.

Summing It Up

As you explore free screenwriting software, you will see that the basic functions of each program are similar. They keep things formatted as you write and edit and help you keep track of your pages and revisions. As I mentioned above, you must find what works for you and what is compatible with the rest of the industry, because after all, that script of yours should live beyond that .pdf output.

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How to Write a Treatment: The Basics of This Essential Screenwriting Tool

How to Write a Treatment: The Basics of This Essential Screenwriting Tool

How to write a treatment should be on every Screenwriter’s list of capabilities. But why? And more importantly, what exactly is a film treatment again? It’s a common—yet often unasked—question that many Writers have. Especially when “write a great script” are the go-to words of advice, how to write a treatment is a skill that frequently leaves Writers scratching their heads.

While having a stellar script should always be the priority, that doesn’t mean ignoring other materials that could both improve the outcome of the script and put it in a better position to be read by executives, Managers, Agents, and Producers. So what are we waiting for? Let’s dive into the world of writing treatments.

In our discussion of how to write a treatment, we’ll cover:

  • What a treatment is
  • Why treatments are necessary
  • Mapping out the story
  • Generating script interest
  • Creating the treatment

What Is a Treatment?

Before we get to how to write a treatment, it’s crucial to understand what it is.[1] In fact, a treatment has a lot in common with a script. For one, the goal with each is to tell a story. Two, like a screenplay, a treatment is written in present tense.

However, a significant difference between scripts and treatments is that the latter is written in prose. That’s right! It’s more similar in format to a short story than a screenplay. So even if it has taken a Writer months or years to master the fine art of writing a script with all the unique elements that go along with it like scene headings, action lines, and dialogue, that pretty much goes out the door when writing a treatment. That being said, it’s still just as important to make sure the person reading the treatment receives strong introductions to each major character, as well as the significant plot points.

Why Are Treatments Necessary?

The task of how to write a treatment often comes with confusion and questions because some Writers don’t understand the why behind it. After all, if they have a solid script, what’s the point of a treatment?

Mapping Out the Story

First of all, a treatment can be an incredibly useful tool in assessing story.[2] If a Writer can’t put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and describe the script’s characters and explain its story trajectory in prose form, odds are they won’t do much better in screenplay format. So in many regards, a treatment can be used as a training ground for making sure the story is structurally sound. In short, does it read well? Is it compelling? Unexpected? All these elements should be part of a strong treatment.

Screenwriter Heidi Hornbacher notes, “The biggest benefit of writing a treatment is that it’s essentially me creating a roadmap for the project. It helps me sort out all the details and it forces me to do background work that always proves valuable once I start writing drafts of the script. So it’s good for me. Then, because I’ve thought through all this stuff, it’s much easier to articulate my vision to others like Producers or people who might be able to help make the project happen… I can talk about the look and feel of the world, the tone, the themes, anything like that. So a treatment helps keep me on track and sort out my creative process. AND it helps me articulate the details of the project so I can get other key folks as excited as I am about it.”

Of course, it’s possible that no one may ever ask for the treatment, but being prepared to provide one could mean the difference between getting an industry VIP willing to learn more about the story or simply saying, “No thanks.”

But why can’t a Writer just use an outline to achieve the same objectives? The truth is that they can. Both a treatment and outline provide a more in-depth fleshing out of a script that likely will provide a clearer path to a great script in comparison to note cards or a beat sheet. But where a treatment might provide an advantage over an outline is again in story flow. An outline often is written out scene by scene, which can be incredibly helpful. But a treatment is a tool that essentially ties those scenes together and reveals whether they seamlessly move from one to the next.

Says Screenwriter Andrea Smith Peek, “Writing a treatment helps me figure out story and character choices in a more manageable, smaller format. In treatment form, it’s easier to see how the whole story comes together, solve potential story problems, and get a feel for the emotional arc of the story. Not to mention, it’s easier to make changes to a treatment compared to a full script. The best thing about writing a treatment is when I finally get to actual script pages the dialogue flows because I know my characters’ wants, plans, and obstacles.”

Generating Script Interest

Some Writers wonder about how to get that script into the hands of someone like an executive or agent. But they should also be asking themselves how to get that [3] Because the truth is that some decision-makers may not want to read an entire script. Sure, they can—and often do—stop at the first 10 pages of a screenplay if they’re not connecting to the material, but that still leaves them without knowing the full story. So instead, some executives, Agents, Managers, and Producers might prefer to read a treatment.

In those cases, it typically won’t be a 50-page treatment that they’ll be wanting to read, which is why Writers should have on hand a version that’s about 10 pages or less. Of course, it’s possible that no one may ever ask for the treatment, but being prepared to provide one could mean the difference between getting an industry VIP willing to learn more about the story or simply saying, “No thanks.”

Another reason Writers should know how to write a treatment is so they’re ready to submit it for contests and fellowships. Especially over the last several years, competitions of all kinds have become a popular way for Screenwriters to get their work noticed. For some, all that’s required is the script itself. But for others, they mandate having a treatment of the story in addition to the screenplay. So having a treatment prepped ahead of time can mean a smoother submission experience.

When it comes to treatments, “always be prepared” is a handy motto to keep in mind. Because every Screenwriter wants to put out the strongest script possible, and knowing how to write a treatment can help them towards that goal.

How Does a Writer Go About Creating a Treatment?

Finally… How to write a treatment. Just like any other type of writing, it’s entirely possible that someone may simply want to take a seat at their computer and begin. But as with a screenplay, a little preparation never hurts.[4]

That’s why some Writers may decide to start with note cards, beat sheets or even an outline before writing their treatment. In the same vein, these tools can provide a useful roadmap as a Writer creates their treatment and make the overall process an easier one.

Also, these tools can actually help Writers focus on the “bigger picture.” Unless the intent of the treatment is for the Writer’s eyes only as they eventually make the leap to their script, it doesn’t necessarily need to have every minor character and side plot explained. As mentioned earlier, many times treatments are provided in lieu of a script so that the person on the receiving end can spend less time reading it. Therefore, having a concise list like a beat sheet or even a condensed outline can be a strength in making sure that the treatment sticks to only the major characters and significant story arcs within the three-act structure.

One disclaimer: Like a script, each new character who is introduced into the treatment should have their name capitalized at first mention. This lets the reader take note of their introduction and more easily track them in the story. Otherwise, Writers should craft the treatment in conventional prose form as if they are writing a story. Writers should also include the (eventual) script title and logline, as well as their contact information.

Once finished, the next steps follow a similar trajectory to a script. Some Writers may choose to put the treatment away for a few days or weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes. Some may put it away for a while, make revisions and then send it out for feedback to a few trusted colleagues. There’s no one way to polish a treatment outside of recognizing that a first draft should never be the draft sent out for submission.

Screenwriter Steven Vivell emphasizes the importance of working and reworking a treatment, “You want the story you love the most… This means exploring and eliminating lots of options. You might waste your time writing a script that doesn’t have enough to sustain the story and characters. Then you’ll go back to the drawing board anyway. It’s better to do that preparatory work first and save yourself a lot of time and effort. Some Writers fear this because story plans or character biographies might feel technical and mundane, like writing an official report. But it’s an extremely creative and critical part of the process, and adopting a creative mindset for this may help. It’s also fun, because you can dream up anything without committing to anything (yet). Also, none of this is permanently set in stone. The treatment can and will change once you start writing the script. You must be open to change during the writing process, as you’ll discover new things you like, and some things you planned won’t work out.”

When it comes to treatments, “always be prepared” is a handy motto to keep in mind. Because every Screenwriter wants to put out the strongest script possible, and knowing how to write a treatment can help them towards that goal. At the end of the day, not only can a polished treatment support those efforts, but also—and perhaps more importantly—it can provide a Writer with confidence so that when opportunity knocks, they’ll be ready to open the door.

References

  1. McGrail, Lauren. “What Is a Film Treatment, and When Do You Need One?” Lights Film School. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  2. Grover, Micki. “What is a Film Treatment, and Why Do I Need One?” Writers Store. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  3. “How to Write a Screenplay Treatment That Gets More Requests.” Script Reader Pro (2 June 2015). Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  4. Hellerman, Jason (23 October 2018). “How to Write a Treatment (with Film Treatment Examples).” No Film School. Retrieved 24 October 2019.

Writing a Script: The Fundamentals for Creating a Compelling Story

Writing a Script: The Fundamentals for Creating a Compelling Story

When boiled down to basics, writing a script is nothing more than putting enough words on paper — or a computer screen — to create a screenplay that’s 100 pages, give or take. But like any creative endeavor, it’s rarely that simple.

Especially for Screenwriters just starting out, it’s important to recognize all the many steps that precede the glorious moment of writing “FADE OUT.” Because it’s these steps that will make it possible to not only finish a script but also create a story gripping enough for others to take notice and want to see it on the big screen.

The following breaks down some of the most common elements and actions that go into writing a script that resonates beyond the imagination of the Writer and gains enough traction to get made into a film:

  1. Genre
  2. Setting
  3. Central Conflict
  4. Protagonist
  5. Antagonist
  6. Support Docs
  7. First Draft
  8. Revisions

Choosing Story Elements

Writing a script is much like baking a cake or building a piece of furniture. Every single element has to be carefully selected so that it fits perfectly into the greater and more cohesive whole. So before sitting down to craft that masterpiece screenplay, every Writer must know exactly what they want to go into it.

Genre

Part of what makes writing a script fun is that a Writer can do whatever they want — create new worlds, defy the laws of physics, rewrite history or forecast their personal vision of the future. But before all that imagining happens, a Writer should consider the genre they want to write in.

Genre simply means category of story, such as comedy, drama, horror, science fiction, adventure, fantasy and so on.[1] Nowadays some of those lines have blurred, hence the term “dramedy,” but picking a genre is important for several reasons. One, it’s a quick and easy way to explain to others the general feel of the script. And two, working under the constraints of a genre can actually spark greater ingenuity. Consider the film Scream. What made it stand out from its horror movie predecessors was its meta-like quality of acknowledging within the world of the film the conventional tropes of the genre.

Who or what is butting heads against someone or something else? Doesn’t matter if it’s a couple on the brink of divorce or a planet on the brink of destruction. As long as the conflict is organic, exciting and at times unpredictable to keep audiences on the edges of their seats, it can make for a story that people want more of.

Setting

When writing a script, setting is often determined by genre. For instance, a fair number of westerns are set in the American West of the 1800s. More than one horror film takes place in a deserted house or secluded cabin.

Says Screenwriter Kayla Baken of how her genre preference informs setting, “My genre of choice is comedy. When I write a script, I always treat the setting in whatever world I’ve created like its own character — whether it’s a real place or a fictional one. I find that setting is a great source of comedy.”

But even when setting isn’t necessarily dictated by genre, a writer should give consideration to where their story is going to take place, as in many regards, setting can set the tone for the film. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rocky, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Hangover… New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas. Imagine these films not set in these locations. It could have been done, but they all would have been immeasurably different films.

Central Conflict

Okay, it’s time to get to the heart of every great script — its conflict.[2] Who or what is butting heads against someone or something else? Doesn’t matter if it’s a couple on the brink of divorce or a planet on the brink of destruction. As long as the conflict is organic, exciting and at times unpredictable to keep audiences on the edges of their seats, it can make for a story that people want more of.

Protagonist

While conflict can source from events such as an earthquake or alien invasion, many Writers understand that an audience needs someone to identify with as they follow that conflict from inciting incident to climax to resolution. Enter the protagonist.[3] The protagonist, while by no means perfect, is typically the person who the audience can see themselves as. And this can happen no matter what qualities may set the protagonist apart from a conventional person. Think Forrest Gump, Laurie Strode or Sarah Connor. They all are far from the average individual, but still retain qualities that not only get the audience invested in their stories but also seeking their eventual victory whether that’s love, survival or saving the world.

Antagonist

Antagonists can be a lot of fun. But more important than fun, they’re mandatory when writing a script.[4] Even if a Writer decides that their antagonist is going to be abstract like a tornado or even a person’s own mind, it must be present to create and progress the conflict. Because the nature of antagonists is typically outrageous and larger than life, such as the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises or the shark in Jaws, there’s always the risk of the audience identifying more with the “bad guy” than the protagonist. That’s not necessarily detrimental to the script, but the Writer should make sure that the protagonist and antagonist are evenly matched to keep tension high and the conflict riveting.

On identifying with the protagonist and antagonist, Screenwriter Joe Wielosinski notes, “I relate to my protagonist and antagonist by putting myself in the character’s shoes. I’m a firm believer that each character drives the decision. Having fleshed-out characters helps me make the decisions for them.”

Some Writers prefer to get out their first draft and then forget about their script for a while, as time away can help them see their work in a new light once they come back to it. Regardless of for how long a Writer puts their work away, they should decide how they want to tackle revisions.

Crafting the Screenplay

Once these main aspects of a screenplay have been figured out, a Writer can move into the actual writing phase. But that doesn’t necessarily mean screenplay! In fact, it may prove wiser to start small, such as with a beat sheet or treatment, before diving into a 100-page script to ensure there’s a clear story path to follow.

Support Docs

Whether it’s an actual paper document or a phone’s digital GPS, most people need a map to get from their starting location to their final destination. The same goes for writing a script. Sure, some Writers might just wing it, but many prefer to create their own “maps” ahead of the script-writing phase so that they don’t get lost once they write “FADE IN.” These maps can be as brief as a one-sentence logline or a lengthier 60-70 page outline that details every scene and includes dialogue. For many Writers, it’s somewhere in between.

A beat sheet, which very simply describes the main actions that occur in the story — also known as plot points — is a popular choice for Writers. Some may instead prefer a treatment, which is typically a document of 10 pages or less that tells the story in present tense and prose form. Depending on the Writer, it can go longer. And then some decide to go with an outline.[5] Again, the length of this document depends solely on how detailed the Writer wants to be. Shorter doesn’t necessarily mean less helpful. It’s all about what will keep the Writer on track from opening scene to finale.

States Baken, “Preparation is everything when I write a script. For me, this is where the real work is done… I start with a beat sheet and work my way up to a scene-by-scene outline so when it comes time to actually write my script, I’m essentially just adding dialogue.”

First Draft

Finally, it’s time to write a script! Given all the preparation a Writer does ahead of sitting down to write a screenplay, it might feel a bit overwhelming when the time comes to actually put pen to paper, so to speak. But now is not the time to get hung up on the details.[6]

In fact, the first draft phase of writing a script is really the time to just unleash the story and see what happens. All the elements have been carefully considered. One or more preparatory documents have been drafted to help along the way. Now it’s just time to write. No editing. No self-criticism. Just get those words on the page.

Why the lack of restraint? Because that will come in time. As the adage goes, “writing is rewriting.” The first draft is hardly the draft that will be sent out and used as a writing sample or even possible spec sale. The first draft is just essentially the skeleton of the script. The revisions will — and should — happen later.

Revisions

Some Writers prefer to get out their first draft and then forget about their script for a while, as time away can help them see their work in a new light once they come back to it. Regardless of for how long a Writer puts their work away, they should decide how they want to tackle revisions.[7] Some might very systematically go through the script multiple times, with each pass focusing on a different element, such as setting, character or dialogue. Others revise in a more holistic manner, preferring to edit whatever stands out to them as they go along in the script. Again, there’s no right or wrong, just what works better for the Writer.

And let’s not forget feedback! Screenwriter Hussain Pirani explains, “I have a small circle of filmmakers and close friends who are happy to read early drafts of material… Once it goes through revisions from that group, there’s an outer circle (usually more Screenwriters and colleagues this time). And they will almost certainly have their own thoughts that could very well blow up all my hard work. So I will say, knowing your voice is crucial for moments like this that allow you to digest notes while staying true to your vision.”

With feedback will inevitably come more revisions until that voice and vision are clear to everyone, including the Writer! Though it takes time, focused energy and a good dose of self-reflection and humility, writing a script that rises to the top is well within the reach of every aspiring Screenwriter.

References

  1. “9 Popular Screenplay Genres: A Guide to Different Movie Genres.” Masterclass (2 July 2019). Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  2. “Script Classics: Conflict at the Core—Four Types of Conflict.” Writer’s Digest (2 April 2018). Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  3. “How to Write a Movie/Film.” Screenplay.Today. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  4. Hellerman, Jason (19 November 2018). “How Great Antagonist Examples Will Make Your Script a Page-Turner.” No Film School. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  5. “How to Write a Script Outline and Save Months of Rewrites.” Script Reader Pro (21 May 2019). Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  6. “Screenwriting First Draft Tips From Acclaimed Screenwriters.” The Script Lab (8 May 2019). Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  7. Renee, V (24 November 2016). “Struggling on Your Screenplay Rewrite? Try the ‘Coffee Filter’ Method.” No Film School. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
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How to Become a Director

How to Become a Director

There is no sure-fire path on how to become a Director. That’s the bad news and the good news. Unlike other professions, like a Lawyer or a Doctor, in which there is a prescribed education and examinations to follow, the path to becoming a Film Director is usually paved by the person who has set his or her mind on becoming a Director. You’ve heard the phrase there are many ways to skin a cat? Well, there are many ways to become a Director, because what works for one person, might not work for the other. On top of that, times are changing. Can you believe YouTube has only been around 14 years? The idea of putting video directly on the internet for everyone to see is fairly new and has opened up a new path for aspiring filmmakers to get noticed. You are diving in at a great time! But here’s the skinny. If you want to be a Director, you must have an entrepreneurial spirit.

There are many people like you who started their careers by looking for guidance. In the book Breaking In[1], which was written to give aspiring Directors some answers before the age of the internet, Roger Ebert, who wrote the forward, muses over the many successful filmmakers he interviewed over the years and what he learned from them. He said one question always put a spark in their eyes: “How did you get your start?” The two consistent things he saw in many of the answers were how the Directors talked about their loneliness and their resolve. That seems heavy but stick with me. Writing a screenplay is a lonely experience, and getting it made is a huge task. Nobody will understand how important it is to you, but you. That’s where the resolve comes in. As Ebert points out, “It is a career you have to make for yourself.”

It’s true. Whatever path you take, whether it’s film school or not, be ready to take the lead. To quote Ebert again, “Studios don’t send recruiters to campuses to hire young Directors. The film schools turn out hundreds of thousands of graduates a year, and if you want to make feature films, there are no jobs and no openings except the ones you make for yourself.” So I bet you’re wondering, but where do I start? Let’s look at a few things you can do to get you closer to your goal.

In our discussion of how to become a Director, we’ll cover:

    • The skills a Director needs
    • How to build a Director skill set
    • How to get a job as a Director
    • Getting yourself out there
    • How to actually become a Director

    What Skills Does a Director Need?

    A Director must be a good leader and a good communicator. She must understand the elements of story and be able to develop a vision from a script. She must be able to communicate this vision to her team and effectively lead them through the process it takes to put that vision onto the screen. But there is more to it than that.

    In his book, On Directing[2], John Badham refers to directing as “part art and part craft….” Art, of course, is often associated with talent, which he says is, “virtually impossible to teach, difficult to describe, but unmistakable when observed.” That said, the craft part, the anatomy of film – the shots, the design, the sound, can be learned. But what makes a Director stand out is her point of view. It is the Director’s job to interpret the script and add her “take” on it.

    Can that be learned? Perhaps. This is one of those things you won’t get at film school, so read, travel and talk to as many people as you can from as many places you can. When you have a worldview, you are more likely to approach stories in a different manner. That’s not to say you can’t pay homage to other great Directors, but like any artist, you must find your own voice.

    Filmmaking tools are more accessible than ever. Get your hands on a camera, or make friends with someone who has a camera and start telling visual stories. You can even use your phone. The more you make, the better you will get. You just have to get started.

    How Can I Build a Director’s Skill Set?

    You might be a natural leader and a go-getter. Good for you! But some people need a little more structure. For those folks, film school is one place to get started. Film school will give you a lot of practical skills and will help you develop a network of co-creators. Making a film by yourself is virtually impossible, so this is probably the best perk of film school.

    In most cases, film school forces you to experience the whole process of filmmaking and the students get to work on each other’s films in order to gain experience in a safe environment. You also have the benefit of Professors who will mentor you, so each step you make you have the advantage of feedback and support.

    But what if you are not the film school type? There are plenty of great Directors who did not go to film school. It’s not a must. There are certainly ways to learn the craft. There are webinars, podcasts, books, and most of all, practical experience. The key is passion.

    Consume whatever you can about the craft and watch as many movies as you can. Take them apart, figure them out and then start making them. Filmmaking tools are more accessible than ever. Get your hands on a camera, or make friends with someone who has a camera and start telling visual stories. You can even use your phone. The more you make, the better you will get. You just have to get started.

    How Do I Get a Job as a Director?

    Part of building a career as a Director is developing relationships. Now, this happens naturally in film school, but beyond that, you have to keep expanding your network. Getting on a professional set (and this goes for self-starters, too) is a great way to meet people.

    But how do you get that first job? You’ve heard about the entry-level Production Assistant (PA) gig, but how do you score one? They aren’t advertised in the classifieds.

    That’s because they are waiting for you to come to them. Getting that PA job isn’t as difficult as it seems. Make a resume and knock on doors. It’s all about timing and numbers. You show up on the right day, you got yourself a shot. You show up often enough, they know you’re serious and they will give you a shot.

    If you don’t live in Los Angles or New York, where most production companies are, most cities that have film production have a website that lists current productions with email addresses to send a resume. A word of advice: Don’t stalk anyone. Be polite, and let them know what you have to offer. You have value.

    It does help to know where you want to work. If you are interested in development and the corporate side, send your resume to the production company office. If you are interested in working on set, send your resume to the production office. If you are interested in post-production, send your resume to post-production houses. All of these places are where you meet people and learn. I myself targeted post-production because I knew that Editors worked with the footage. Becoming an Assistant Editor gave me the opportunity to see coverage day after day and I quickly learned the pieces it took to make a movie. Later I had to learn what it took to make those pieces, but I knew this is where I wanted to start.

    Ultimately, you will meet people who will help you out, whether it’s to get an Agent or a Manager, or to helm a film. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. You wouldn’t get married after a first date, would you?

    Getting Yourself Out There!

    Don’t just tell people you’re a Director. As I said above, get out there and direct! Get feedback and get better. When you think you have something good enough, put together a website, get a YouTube channel or a Vimeo account and share it with the world. Let people know you are serious and you are creating things regularly.

    What about a web series? Many artists are diving into this space because they aren’t waiting for opportunity to knock, they are creating their own opportunities. Think Broad City.

    The other way to get noticed is by submitting your work to film festivals. You don’t have to start with a feature. Start with a short. The submission fees add up so I would save the film festival route for that gem you really think is going to take you to the next level. Film festivals offer great networking opportunities and they also give you an audience for your film. Just watch out for scam festivals.

    But How Do I Actually Become a Director?

    I know the advice above focuses on acquiring skills and how to network and that feels a world away from being attached to a film as a Director. But here’s the thing: if you do all of the above and you are truly dedicated to your craft and have a unique point of view, someone will notice eventually. Ultimately, you will meet people who will help you out, whether it’s to get an Agent or a Manager or to helm a film. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. You wouldn’t get married after a first date, would you?

    Tips:

    • Say “yes” as often as you can on the job. Be a problem solver.
    • Don’t be too cool to get coffee. You’ll be too busy to get coffee one day, also.
    • Read trades like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.
    • If you want to get the email of a production office, call the office of the production company and politely ask where you can send your resume for the production.
    • Listen to the Director’s Guild podcast.

    References

    1. Jarecki, Nicholas and Roger Ebert (2001). Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start. Broadway Books. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
    2. Badham, John (2013). On Directing: Notes from the Sets of Saturday Night Fever, WarGames, and More. Audible. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
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How to Create a Call Sheet

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How to Create a Call Sheet

Knowing how to create a call sheet is essential to staying organized and keeping on schedule throughout your shoot. It’s a document that is distributed daily that tells your crew when they need to show up on set, who will be there, any special needs for the day, and what script pages the crew is tackling. It’s basically a daily blueprint and is created by the Second Assistant Director (Second AD).

A preliminary call sheet, endearingly known as the “prelim,” is usually sent out after lunch so the crew can get an idea of what is coming up the next day. However, as the world of film dictates, things shift and change as the shoot day goes on, so the final call sheet gets approved by the Unit Production Manager (UPM) and is sent out at wrap. If something’s going to change on a call sheet between the preliminary and the final, it’s the call time. The call time is determined by wrap of the previous day, so if you wrap a half-hour late, the call time will be pushed a half hour.

There is an industry-standard for a call sheet, although you might find small differences from production to production. Below are the essentials that are consistent across the board that can be easily created in Excel or Google Sheets.

The components of a call sheet are:

  • Above the line info
  • Production title and general crew call
  • Date, day of days, the weather and nearest hospital
  • Set address and set details
  • Shooting schedule
  • Talent information
  • Background talent and stand- ins
  • Special instructions
  • Advance schedule
  • Crew list

The top of your call sheet is divided into three parts. Let’s call them the left, center and right. Once you have created this header, the rest of your call sheet is more like a spreadsheet.

1. Above The Line Info

On the very left of the call sheet you want to make sure you have listed, without contact information, the production company, the Director, the Executive Producer(s), and the Writer. The only contact information you must put down is the production office, giving the full address and phone number. If anyone needs something, this is the number to call.

2. Production Title and General Crew Call

In the center of the page, you will have the name of the show, the production itself, and below it, you will put the general call time.

You might want to put a pre-call on there as well, which is when the Grip and Electric show up or if there is a cast rehearsal. Sometimes you will see these details on the far right of the call sheet and can sometimes include the lunch break time and the wrap time.

3. Date, Day of Days, the Weather and Nearest Hospital

On the very right, you will have the date, and what day you are on in context of the whole shooting schedule. For example, you start with day 1 of 21, to 2 of 21, etc.

The weather is another important piece of info, given that rain could mean a change of plans. You will also want to put sunrise and sunset info. Very often you are chasing the sun during a shoot, so knowing when and how much of it you have is important information!

Being prepared for an emergency is essential during production, so noting the closest hospital is important. The last thing you want to do if someone suffers an accident is scramble for emergency care.

4. Set Address

The set address is always squeezed in somewhere on the right of the call sheet. You can also indicate a map is attached, which is a great practice that can also include parking or any transportation information. Some film sets have what is called a base camp, where the crew parks and the food tent is set up for catered meals, so the cast and crew take a shuttle to the actual set.

[contentblock id=37 img=gcb.png]Knowing how to create a call sheet is essential to staying organized and keeping on schedule throughout your shoot. It’s a document that is distributed daily that tells your crew when they need to show up on set, who will be there, any special needs for the day, and what script pages the crew is tackling.

5. Shooting Schedule

Once you have created the header above, your document becomes more of a regular spreadsheet.

The shooting schedule is the meat of the day. These are the script pages that you are going to shoot. Some people think this is a shot list, but it’s not because it only includes the scene – not the coverage (different camera angles) you will get of the scene. This section is divided into these columns:

Scene Numbers: Simply the scene number.

Set and Scene Description: Example: INT. DINING ROOM, Mary and David discuss getting married.

Cast: The cast is coded by numbers to keep things simple, so in this cell, you would put in the cast code number, instead of squeezing in the names.

D/N – Day or Night: Just put a D or N.

PGS – Pages: In this cell, you put the actual script pages for reference.

Location: This is the location of the set. You might have what’s called a company move during the day, in which you change locations, so it’s important to provide this information here.

6. Talent Information

Here you will put everything you need to know about each Actor’s schedule. This section is divided into the following columns:

ID: This is the identifying number of the cast member that you used above.

Cast: The name of the Actor.

Character: The name of the character.

Status: Here you will use more codes: SW (Start Work), W (Work), WF (Work Finish), SWF (Start Work Finish) or H (Hold). It’s pretty straightforward. SWF refers to a day player and if someone has an H status, they may or may not be needed that day.

Pickup: Will the Actor need transportation or will they drive to set?

Arrive: What time the Actor arrives on set. (They are not there the entire day like the crew).

Block: What time on set blocking will take place.

MU – Makeup: What time the Actor goes into hair and makeup.

Set: What time the Actor needs to be on set.

Remarks: This can be wardrobe or prop notes.

7. Background Talent and Stand-Ins

This section can be divided in a couple of ways. The information here is to make sure everyone knows what time to report for work and when they are expected to be on set. The other thing that should be noted here is how many Extras and Stand-ins you have, so the Second AD and Catering will have a headcount.

Your columns can be a variation of this:

Number (#): How many Extras will be in the scene.

Description: A brief description such as “café customers”

Report: What time they arrive – their call time.

Set Call: What time they are needed on set.

Location: You don’t need the address here, just the location; and you can add a column for scene numbers, too, if you have a lot of scenes that day.

8. Special Instructions

This section will have any reminders for particular departments.

Here’s an example:

Props: Book, notebook and pencils
Makeup/Hair: To match scene 27 – the prom hairstyle
Wardrobe: Ice scream spill on dress
SFX: Squibs, blood
Grip Electric: Crane, day for night – scene 12
Location: Hot set. Do not touch or remove anything.
Vehicle: Hero vehicle, police cars
Stunts: none
Animals: Dog licks ice cream off dress.

[contentblock id=37 img=gcb.png] If you are interested in becoming an Assistant Director, I would dive into the software options. These tools will make your life easier (and seriously, when you are in the throws of production, you will appreciate this, especially at 1:00 am when you are creating the call sheet for the next day.)

9. Advance Schedule

This section will be exactly like your shooting schedule, but it will have the information for the following day.

10. Crew List

This is the list of crew you will have on set that day. Your columns here are simple: Position, Name and Call Time.

11. Walkie Talkie Channels

A grid with walkie talkie channels is a great reference for crew members and will save the First PA (Production Assistant) the energy of having to remind people on set. Just add a simple list of departments and channels. You might put any other reminders down here as well, such as no cell phone, etc.

12. Hospital Address

Put the hospital address and phone number and make it clearly visible on the bottom of the call sheet.

Resources

As I mentioned above, there are many variations of a call sheet, so make sure you are getting all the information on your call sheet that is important to your production.

And don’t fret! There are terrific resources for creating a great call sheet. If you are looking for a template, check out Simple Call Sheet, Set Hero, or Studio Binder. There is also another industry favorite software made by Jungle Software, called Koala Call Sheets, which is another great tool.

If you are interested in becoming an Assistant Director, I would dive into the software options. These tools will make your life easier (and seriously, when you are in the throws of production, you will appreciate this, especially at 1:00 am when you are creating the call sheet for the next day.) Software will also help keep you organized. Most software options not only have tools for creating paperwork, they also include efficient ways of distributing these reports and documents, and keeping track of it all.

Another note: Save the call sheets for each day of production. It’s an important record of your shoot. And if you are a filmmaker, leading this adventure of making an independent film on your own, if you hang on to them, when you get to the finish line of post-production, your call sheet has the all the information of your cast and crew so you can easily put together your credit sequence!

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Screenplay Writing: From Story Idea to First Draft

Screenplay Writing: From Story Idea to First Draft

Screenplay writing is far more than simply typing out a 100-page (give or take) script.

Before a Writer is ready to begin with “FADE IN,” they have much to consider, not the least of which is what is the story? Why does it need to be told? And who will want to see it? That’s why screenplay writing goes beyond the actual writing of it. While there’s no one-size-fits-all template that works for every Writer, with each new foray into creating a script, they should consider what steps will help them craft the tightest and most riveting story.

The following breaks down some of the more common phases of getting from idea to finished screenplay.

We’ll discuss these elements of screenplay writing:

  1. Starting from an original idea
  2. Doing an adaptation
  3. Learning script formatting
  4. Choosing between software options
  5. Understanding screenplay elements
  6. Using a beat sheet
  7. Outlining story
  8. Creating a treatment
  9. Writing the first draft

Finding the Story

Screenplay writing is a commitment. Sure, every once in a while a story surfaces of how a Screenwriter finished their script over a single weekend, but those instances are far and few between. In most cases, it takes weeks, months or — yes — even years for a Writer to finally get to “FADE OUT” or “THE END.” Given the time, energy and emotion put into this work, it’s essential that the Writer truly love their idea, as they’ll be with it for some time.

Original Idea

There’s the old adage of there being no such thing as an original story. And there’s a lot of truth to it. Pick a script — produced or not — and odds are similarities can be found in another work. That being said, original ideas in screenplay writing still exist and many Screenwriters choose to write a story sourced from their own imagination, especially when it comes to spec scripts.[1]

Why pursue an original idea? For one, there’s no need to get the rights to the material. It’s already in the writer’s mind. Two, there’s creative freedom in writing something purely invented by the Writer. Screenwriter Kelly Kurowski notes, “When they say write what you know, it’s true. I draw from personal experience or things that I’m interested in. I like to write things that I would watch and try to come up with original ideas. When an idea does pop up, write it down right away! I keep a notebook full of ideas.”

Adaptation

However, the current popular trend in filmmaking today is using existing IP — or intellectual property. That means taking material from books, stage plays, newspaper articles, graphic novels or really any other medium and using it as the source for screenplay writing. But Writers should be cautious when using existing IP — in particular for spec scripts.[2]

For one, the Writer should obtain the rights to the material before moving forward with writing the screenplay. To do otherwise might mean significant legal obstacles in the future should a Producer or executive be interested in the material. Two, for world-renowned IP such as Star Wars, The Avengers or other global franchises, Writers should strongly consider whether it’s worth their time and energy to write a script based on such material, as odds strongly favor it only ever being viable as a writing sample.

While in theory, any Writer can just sit down and start typing out their script, the reality is that the finished product may not be as strong due to lack of preparation. That’s why many Writers — even those who have been professionally writing for decades — map out how they want to tell the story with tools such as a beat sheet, outline or treatment.

Learning Script Formatting

Screenplay writing is essentially telling a story, but that story has a format entirely unlike any other. So for someone just setting out on writing their very first script, it’s critical that they understand this unique style.

Software Options

A huge perk for Screenwriters is that they have multiple software options to help them learn screenplay formatting. And while some Writers may choose to purchase certain industry powerhouses such as Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter, they certainly can opt for free alternatives like Highland or StudioBinder.[3] The only recommendation is to not attempt recreating a script template through a program like Word or Pages. Odds are it will not look as professional as using actual scriptwriting software, and moreover, it will likely become a tedious process trying to make sure it is formatted correctly.

Screenplay Elements

For a Screenwriter just starting out, having script software is helpful but hardly a catchall for understanding screenplay format. Although essentially every program intuitively guides the writing process, Screenwriters should thoroughly understand how each screenplay element works to create a cohesive story. Whether that education comes through classes, books or other self-taught methods, having that foundation of knowledge will go a long way towards a more organic writing process once it’s time to start typing.

Fleshing Out the Narrative

We’ve got an idea and we’ve got the tools to write the story. Great. Now what? While in theory, any Writer can just sit down and start typing out their script, the reality is that the finished product may not be as strong due to lack of preparation. That’s why many Writers — even those who have been professionally writing for decades — map out how they want to tell the story with tools such as a beat sheet, outline or treatment.

Beat Sheet

As with any writing document, the details of how a beat sheet is created can vary from Writer to Writer. But in general, a beat sheet is a brief, action-by-action breakdown of what occurs in the screenplay.[4] It’s also typically the most concise of any preparatory materials, so a beat sheet can work well for Writers who may otherwise have difficulty fleshing out their story ahead of putting it into screenplay form.

Outline

An outline also breaks down what happens in a script, but there’s usually more information giving context to that action such as location, time and even bits of dialogue. Depending on how detailed a Writer wants to get, an outline can be anywhere from a few pages to several dozen. This particular document can also be quite helpful in allowing the Writer to easily and quickly move around sections of plot when revising to tighten the story.

Treatment

For some Writers, it’s helpful to write a present-tense retelling of the story in prose form. Hence, the treatment.[5] Treatments can provide a roadmap for Writers before they dive into screenplay writing, as well as offer outside individuals a look into what the script will be about. For instance, a Manager, Agent or executive commonly will ask to read the treatment, which often is less than 10 pages, before committing to reading a script 10 times the length. So it can be in a Writer’s best interest to have a treatment for reasons besides the actual writing process.

In some cases, a Writer might even decide to pursue all three avenues. Screenwriter Corrie Shatto describes her prep process: “I’ll start with a ton of options for key story elements… Then I’ll mix and match the best ideas on index cards until some of them click. I massage a few different paths into a few different beat sheets, eventually morphing what works into outlines and treatments. Forcing myself to constantly iterate on an idea helps me refine it and come up with even better ones.”

Writing the First Draft

The idea has been formed, the formatting has been learned and the details of the story have been fleshed out. Now it’s time to write! First drafts can be intimidating, but it’s important to remember that a first draft isn’t supposed to be a perfect draft. Rewrites and revisions will happen, so Writers should give themselves space to make peace with wonky dialogue or ineloquent action lines. They can always come back to those areas and edit. What’s most important is just finishing the initial screenplay writing process.

Writing a vomit draft may sound like a rather crude process, but the sentiment behind the term is simply to get out the story onto paper or the computer screen.[6] Too much hesitation or second-guessing the first time around can cripple the goal of completing the screenplay, so just let it all out! Says Shatto on what she does to get out that first draft, “I set a time limit. Then I sit down and pound the whole thing out in a few hours. It helps me keep moving forward without getting caught up in the details.”

Screenwriter Jenn Monteagudo agrees: “Writing is easier when you’re against the clock because it’s a reminder that this (mostly) painful process will soon end. So I just write. Without judgment, without editing, not worrying if my characters sound like grunting Neanderthals and act like squirrels with brain damage. If a scene bogs me down, I skip it. That tough scene becomes easier when the other scenes around it are built up.”

First drafts can be intimidating, but it’s important to remember that a first draft isn’t supposed to be a perfect draft. Rewrites and revisions will happen, so Writers should give themselves space to make peace with wonky dialogue or ineloquent action lines.

What happens to the script from there depends largely on the Writer. Some might go through several revisions. Others might immediately ask for feedback from a trusted colleague or friend. Still others might put the script away for a while so that they can come back to it later to address issues that they’d otherwise miss without a break from the material. Of her process, Kurowski says, “After the first draft I move away from it for a week or two so that I have fresh eyes and then go back in to rewrite. After a few drafts, I send it to friends (some in the industry/some not), get notes and then back to rewriting.”

However a Writer chooses their screenplay writing process, the basic goal is the same — to write a complete script! And while they likely will be living with that material for months or sometimes years before being happy with their screenplay, by following the above steps, they will have a process that they can hone and make their own as they move forward in their career and build their screenplay writing portfolio.

References

  1. “Script Ideas: 5 Proven Ways to Unlock Original Movie Ideas.” Script Reader Pro (6 August 2018). Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  2. Flesher, Felicity. “How to Adapt a Short Story Into a Feature Film.” In Focus Film School. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  3. Chadwick, J.D. (31 January 2019). “The Best Screenwriting Software of 2019.” Top Ten Reviews. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  4. Hellerman, Jason (5 April 2019). “Try Our Screenplay Beat Sheet.” No Film School. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  5. McGrail, Lauren. “What Is a Film Treatment, and When Do You Need One?” Lights Film Film School. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  6. Bourassa, Angela (9 July 2018). “How to Write a Vomit Draft (And Why It’s So Important).” Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved 30 September 2019.

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The Script Template: Understanding the Elements of a Screenplay

The Script Template: Understanding the Elements of a Screenplay

What exactly is a script template? Well, just like a novel, poem or newspaper article, a screenplay tells a story. But unlike those other forms of communication and expression, a screenplay is meant to serve as a blueprint for another medium: film. It’s because of this unique relationship that a script template is necessary to convey the different elements of the story.

It’s important to note that Screenwriters have a special advantage when it comes to writing a screenplay: a variety of screenwriting software programs that act instinctively to prompt the script element required next. However, even with this help, it’s still vital that the Screenwriter understands how each element works and how best to tell their story through each one.[1]

The following breakdown of script template elements can provide some guidance as to why each one is necessary and some tips on using them:

    1. Scene headings (aka sluglines)
    2. Subheaders
    3. Action Lines
    4. Dialogue
    5. Extensions
    6. Parentheticals
    7. Transitions

Scene Headings (aka Sluglines)

A common refrain before telling a story is, “Let me set the scene.” And for good reason! It’s called context. Before an audience can follow along with a story, they need to know where in the world—real or imaginary—it takes place and when it takes place, as subtleties such as day and night can dramatically change how a person processes what they are reading or being told.

Hence, scene headings. Also commonly referred to as sluglines, this script template element, written in capital letters, informs the reader to the where and when of the screenplay. An example of what a slugline might look like is: “AMITY ISLAND BEACH – DAY.” In a succinct manner, we now know exactly where the following scene is taking place and when.

This is also the perfect time to point out that the Screenwriter must create a new scene heading each time the story moves to a different location…

Subheaders

Which brings us to subheaders. Before we go any further, though, it should be mentioned that just as the story of a screenplay is subject to the writer’s stylistic choices, so too are some allowances made for how they use different script template elements. Case in point—the decision to use a subheader versus a new scene heading.

Let’s say that an entire screenplay takes place in one location, such as a house. It could become tedious, as well as unnecessary, to have a new scene heading each time a character moves from one room to another. In this case, it would be entirely appropriate to use subheaders such as “BEDROOM” or “KITCHEN” instead. However, if a screenplay takes place in multiple locations, the character’s home being only one of them, it would make more sense to use a new scene heading for each distinct setting.

When it comes to what readers typically like to see in a script, some common words of advice include “keep a lot of white on the page” and “make sure they’re reading vertically, not horizontally.” Both point to keeping action lines short.

Action Lines

Typically what immediately follows a scene heading is the action line. As its name indicates, this script template element is used to describe what is happening within the scene. Continuing with the scene heading example above, an action line might read something like this: “Police Chief Brody scans the water for danger as the beachgoers enjoy themselves in it.”

What should be kept in mind when writing action lines is to keep them as concise as possible. Remember, a screenplay is not meant to be read like a novel. Long paragraphs can not only slow down a reader but also discourage them from finishing the script. The decision to give up on a script for this exact reason is common for Managers, Agents and executives who have little time to determine if they like a script, as they have dozens more waiting for them.

If a particular scene demands more than an average description, like a car chase or war battle, conventional advice recommends that the Writer break up the action lines as much as possible to keep it reader-friendly. When it comes to what readers typically like to see in a script, some common words of advice include “keep a lot of white on the page” and “make sure they’re reading vertically, not horizontally.” Both point to keeping action lines short.

Says Screenwriter Nadia Madden, “Less is more. Each chunk—this can even be only one line or word—of scene direction is like a camera angle. No more than four lines of action at a time, but even that can be a lot. Each word needs to be economical and important or it shouldn’t be there.”

Dialogue

Dialogue sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, what if character names were suddenly no longer allowed? Would dialogue still seem like such an easy task? While this is a hypothetical that likely would never be asked for, Writers should look to this question as a bar for whether they’re making each character’s dialogue distinct.[2] Because that’s really what the question is asking… Can the dialogue alone clue in the reader to who is saying what?

While each Writer should have a unique voice that comes through in their work, so too should each character in their screenplay have a unique voice that differentiates them from every other character. If that’s not happening, it might be time to revisit the script.

Extensions

A script template element that might be seen alongside a character’s name is an extension. Extensions are used to indicate that what we’re reading as dialogue is more than just words being spoken by that character on-screen.

For instance, if there’s a “V.O.” in parentheses next to a name, it’s notifying the reader that the dialogue is, in fact, a voiceover. A voiceover may or may not be a character’s way of breaking the fourth wall and directly communicating with the audience. Sometimes a voiceover is merely an internal voicing of a character’s thoughts. But in either case, a voiceover is heard and not seen.

Another common extension is “O.S.” If placed in parentheses next to a character’s name, it means that the character is voicing their dialogue, but it’s off-screen. This type of extension in many ways serves as an implicit camera direction to the filmmakers of the script, as it’s indicating that while the character is saying those words in the scene, they shouldn’t be shown on-screen in that particular moment.

Parentheticals

Parentheticals are another script template element that can be used in conjunction with dialogue. Essentially, parentheticals help to explain to the reader—and eventual Actor voicing the dialogue—how it should be read.

But here’s the thing. In the vast majority of cases, the dialogue itself should be strong enough to indicate how it should be read. Therefore, parentheticals should never be used as a crutch as an added explanation of the dialogue.[3] Screenwriter Owen Croak notes, “I err towards the economical, trying not to overuse them and also using them in places where they convey information more efficiently than action lines or breaking up dialogue into smaller fragments.”

Another note to keep in mind regarding parentheticals: while it’s the Writer’s prerogative to have a preference for how a line should be said, ultimately it’s the Director and Actor who will be making the call. Too many parentheticals in a script can be stifling to the creativity of these individuals, or worse, it might turn off a Director or Actor entirely to being part of the project.

Transitions

The use of transitions in a script template can be yet another hot-button topic. But first, what are they? Well, they’re somewhat self-explanatory. Transitions are elements that can help a Writer move from one scene to the next. Probably the most common transition is “CUT TO.” Other transitions include “INTERCUT,” “SMASH TO” and “DISSOLVE TO.”

But as they indicate, transitions largely point towards a type of edit.[4] And much like parentheticals, they can easily be overused and/or impose on the authority and creativity of the Editor. For his work, Screenwriter Dustin Fleischmann states, “I tend to avoid typing out transitions to let the Editors come up with natural transitions in the cutting room. Plus, it’s a space saver: It’s implied that you’re cutting to another shot when a new scene heading that takes places in an entirely new location immediately follows the end of the previous scene.”

There was a time when transitions were used more commonly. But now much can be read between the lines in screenplays. As Fleischmann mentions, as a script moves from one scene heading to the next, the assumption is that a simple cut will enable that action. Therefore, “CUT TO” is not necessary.

While each Writer should have a unique voice that comes through in their work, so too should each character in their screenplay have a unique voice that differentiates them from every other character. If that’s not happening, it might be time to revisit the script.

While many screenwriting experts would advise using caution with transitions, the only two of these elements that are still used with little reservation are “FADE IN” and “FADE OUT.” Whether just an industry-wide tradition or not, these elements that indicate the beginning and end of a script are still widely the norm in script formatting.

Much like learning French or Mandarin, the script template has a language all its own. And to become a successful Screenwriter, it’s important to become a master of that language. As Fleischmann notes, “Know the rules before you break them… If you don’t know the rules and you try to break them, it’s noticeable—and makes you look like an amateur.”

Screenplay software has made it easier than ever to write a script, and while the elements explained above constitute those most commonly used, every Screenwriter should become familiar with the greater intricacies of script template formatting through their preferred software. But in the end, it always comes back to the Screenwriter being able to discern how best to implement those elements. As with that knowledge comes the confidence and agility to craft a script that will garner the attention of those in a position to make it.

References

  1. “Formatting a Screenplay: How to Put Your Story Into Screenplay Format.” Studiobinder (5 August 2019). Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  2. Bloom, Alex (19 February 2018). “The #1 Way To Give Your Characters A ‘Voice.’” The Script Lab. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  3. Mayes, Trevor. “10 Rules For Using Parentheticals In Your Screenplay.” Movie Outline. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  4. “Ask the Expert: How to Use Transitions (28 April 2012).” Script Magazine. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

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How to Organize a Group to Make a Movie

How to Organize a Group to Make a Movie

If you want to organize a group to make a movie, there are three things you need before you even think about the process: a good script, good leadership skills and a whole lot of gumption. Making a movie is a big task. It requires creativity, plus a lot of planning and resiliency because the potential of something not going as planned is very likely. It’s a lot like painting a house – when you put the roller in the paint for the first time and start on a wall, it feels very doable… almost easy… until the reality kicks in – you have to do the whole room… wait, the whole house! And oh no, the color looks totally different on the wall!

So the first advice I will give you is to start with a short film. A short film can pack quite a punch and do wonders for your career, even if it is only to teach you how much you have to learn. Which brings me to the other thing you should consider before you get started: why do you want to make a film? There is no right answer to this question. It can be very simple – maybe you want to see if you can do it. Perhaps you want to see if your writing translates on to the screen. Or, more likely, you want to pursue a career as a Director. Whatever the answer is, having a goal will help you to the finish line. If you have never made a movie before, do not fear! You have to start somewhere. Just be humble, be ready to learn, and read on for some tips.

  1. Write the script
  2. Find someone to help you produce
  3. Find a Cinematographer and a camera
  4. Find the rest of your crew
  5. Cast the film
  6. Hold Pre-production and Production Meetings
  7. Assemble a post-production Team
  8. Figure out costs

Write the Script

It all begins with story; and if you are just starting out and don’t know anyone, having a good script will attract collaborators. A short script can be anything up to 45 pages, but you are better off keeping it under ten; and if you can keep it to five, even better. Make sure your script has a good story and strong characters because that will inspire talent. I would suggest getting familiar with the short film format to see what resonates with you and how story and character arcs are different in shorts. You can stream award-winning shorts on Amazon, but you can also check places like Omeleto or Seed and Spark. I’d also check out Vimeo Staff Picks.

Once you write your script, make sure that you get feedback and take time to develop it. No matter how good your first draft is, it will never be as good as one that has gone through numerous rewrites. When it comes to building a crew, you can only make one first impression; so don’t rush it.

What if you aren’t a Writer? There are plenty of Writers out there that don’t want to direct, so I would try to connect with them. You can try online forums like Facebook Groups or there are several in-person groups that have monthly meet-ups in large cities like The International Screenwriting Association, ISA, or The Blacklist.

Tip: Write or find a script that takes place in one location. It will save you time and money.

Find Someone to Help You Produce

This is easier said than done. Many people think they want to produce, but when they realize how much work it is, they reconsider. I would be ready to do the heavy lifting yourself, but finding someone to help you, even just for moral support, is worth the search. On my first short, I had come out of post-production and had never really worked in production so I recruited a willing friend who also knew almost nothing about production and we learned together. There is a lot to coordinate everything so sharing the duties helps a lot!

Tip: Find friends who have similar goals. That way you can take turns helping each other out.

Find a Cinematographer and a Camera

The Camera Department is a large part of your crew. Not all Cinematographers come with a camera, so you will need to get your hands on a camera and equipment. There are professional rental houses, but you probably want to start out smaller. Is there a film school in your town? Perhaps there is a community film program that supports local filmmakers in your neighborhood.

As a newbie, the best thing to do is look for a Cinematographer who has a camera and lighting package or has access to one. This will lighten your burden as a Producer and you won’t have to shop around for rentals, which can cost loads of money and require insurance. I would also consider finding someone willing to experiment with a smartphone – there are lenses and apps that can make your phone footage look amazing. (Check out the Filmic Pro app and Moment lenses.) Your Cinematographer will also need a crew so I would lean on them to help find their team.

Find the Rest of Your Crew

As a general rule, the best thing to do when you are starting out is to find people who are also starting out. In order for people to get better at their craft, they need to practice; so many people are looking for opportunities, such as your short, to work on. Yes! You bring something important to the table!

But where do you find these people? Again, social media is a good place to start, but I would also see if there is a film office in your town and find out if they have any workshops or opportunities to meet other filmmakers. And honestly, before you start to recruit people to work on your short, you might want to work on somebody else’s production. Here’s why — first, it’s reciprocal. Second, you have a chance to meet other crew members and see who you like to work with. Plus, it’s a chance to learn something before you get on your own set.

The key positions you should be scouting for are Production Sound, Production Design, Costume Design, Hair and Makeup, and an Assistant Director (who will help you schedule and run your set,) and anyone else willing to help out!

Cast the Film

There are plenty of talented people hungry for an opportunity to get in front of the camera and act. And there are plenty of places you can find them. You can post a casting call on social media or you can use a service like Actors Access. Once you put out a call, you will get loads of responses. Then you can provide sides – script pages – and have your top choices submit an audition tape for your review. You can hold in-person callbacks (second audition) or just cast them from the tape. If you hold in-person callbacks or auditions, find a place that is safe and be professional and courteous.

Hold Pre-production and Production Meetings

Once you compiled a team, you will meet with the creative heads to determine the practical things you will need to make the film, and how you want the film to look. You will then want to consult your AD to schedule the shoot and solve any logistics like parking and permits. Though you don’t want to meet too often, because that could get in the way of your crew planning for the shoot, you do want to get everyone together for a page-by-page review of the script to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.

As you approach the big day, make sure that everyone knows where the location is and what time everyone needs to be there. Don’t wait until the last minute to get this information out! The AD is the one who sends out the call sheets, but as a Director, and let’s face it, a Producer, you need to make sure everyone is ready and excited. It wouldn’t hurt to send out an email to get everyone pumped!

Assemble a Post-production Team

Once you have your movie in the can you will need to make it through the rest of post-production, so you will have to rinse and repeat the advice above to find your post crew. The best way to find your post crew is to look at the credits of recent shorts similar to yours. Most post people are just like production folks, they need practice and credits to gain credibility. If you have put your best foot forward, people will want to help and be a part of it. Again, social media is a great place to recruit, but don’t be afraid to call someone.

Figure Out Costs

Making a short film can cost anything from nothing to thousands of dollars. If you can get people to donate their time, you must, at least, feed them well. The days are long and a crew needs energy. Plus, a good meal is a great “thank you.”

If you feel like you want to forego the reciprocal model of making a short, you can also hire a crew. I have done this and the dollars add up, but when you hire people that have more experience, you could boost your learning curve. The most important thing is to be ready to learn and treat anybody who walks on your set with respect. Be prepared and poised to problem-solve and support everyone you have recruited on your journey.

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The Shooting Script: What It Is and How to Make One

The Shooting Script: What It Is and How to Make One

The shooting script is a fundamental tool for film production, yet many aspiring filmmakers are a little hazy on what exactly it is. Especially for Screenwriters, the word “script” implies that they should know this document, but as we will see, there’s a good reason why Writers often never get their hands on a shooting script.

But for anyone looking to make a professional path for themselves in the production area of entertainment, understanding the use and importance of a shooting script is key. The information below will help to discern what sets a shooting script apart from a conventional screenplay and how filmmakers can build one for their production projects.

In our exploration of shooting scripts, we’ll discuss:

  1. Basic shooting script breakdown
  2. Importance of shot designations
  3. Other shooting script considerations
  4. Flexibility in filmmaking

Basic Shooting Script Breakdown

Every once in a while, news comes out about a Director who has filmed their project in chronological order. But that is incredibly rare. For economy of time and financial resources, most movies are filmed out of order. That being said, imagine the confusion if a production crew tried to film scenes out of order with the original screenplay! Hence, a shooting script.

Basically, a shooting script is a script that is ordered according to how the Director, Cinematographer and other pertinent members of the production crew have decided is best for the project.[1] As mentioned, time is a significant consideration. Even the most modest film can have expenses that go into the thousands of dollars on a daily basis. If a production can shave off a week or even a day by shooting all relevant scenes in the same location in a single block of time — rather than taking down the set and then coming back weeks later to rebuild it — that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

Schedules might also necessitate the order of a shooting script. Consider the coordination that has to go into films with a large ensemble cast. Especially if the Actors are in high demand, they may have a narrow window in which they can be available for a shoot. For that reason, the Director and Cinematographer may have to reorder certain scenes to accommodate their schedules, all considerations that will go into a shooting script.

Another major factor that can influence a shooting script is location. Outside of trying to save time, a particular location, such as those abroad, might necessitate that the Director and the rest of the production crew reorder the shooting script. For instance, let’s say that a production is expected to run three months. However, there’s a need to film in a certain location where winter is approaching. To avoid inclement weather, the production might decide to film there first with the hopes of getting the shots they want without having to worry about snow or colder temperatures.

Availability for certain locations could also impact how the shooting script is ordered. Especially popular destinations, such as the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building, might require that productions use their venues only on certain dates. All these considerations will go into how the final shooting script looks.

It’s for all these reasons that even seasoned Screenwriters may not have a clear idea of what a shooting script is — because they don’t write it! Unless the filmmaker in question is a Writer-Director hyphenate, the person who is responsible for writing the story must eventually hand off their screenplay so that the Director and Cinematographer can reshape it for production.

However, when the Writer of the script is indeed also the Director on the project, there might be more latitude in terms of what is used as a shooting script. As Writer-Director Sarovar Banka explains:

“I do create a shooting script, but sometimes I will jump straight to a shot plan or storyboarding. My feature A Decent Arrangement was somewhat unusual because I knew I would be directing it. So from my early drafts, my script ended up being a typical script with also some notes on how I envisioned it as a Director. I wrote these notes and ideas as I was writing the script.”

There’s the old adage of “we’ll fix it in post,” but it can be a quite expensive correction to make. That’s why having a well-detailed shooting script is often a make or break production tool.

Importance of Shot Designations

Changing the order of the scenes shot for a film is just the first step in creating a shooting script. Why? Because it still doesn’t tell the production crew how the scenes will be filmed.

When watching a film, viewers often aren’t aware of the many different types of shots that might be used for even a single scene. But it can be a truly eye-opening experience to count them. Especially in modern cinema, camera shots have become more varied, which is all the more reason why they must be noted on a shooting script.[2]

For the production crew, the shooting script is very much like an architectural blueprint. From it, they must be able to understand how the film is going to be “built.” So while reordering scenes to group them according to location is important, so too is breaking down each scene shot by shot so that every frame is accounted for and ordered in the most economic fashion.

That means that typically all long shots will be filmed together if they’re for the same scene. So too with medium shots, close-ups or any other kind of shot. Most professional shoots will also have the running time for each shot noted on the shooting script. Having this information detailed out is essential to the production running smoothly without any confusion about what set-up the crew is expected to get ready.

Hand in hand with noting the shots used in each scene is highlighting where special effects might be required. Special effects have gone from being a relative novelty in films to standard tools used in not only large summer blockbusters but also quiet character pieces. But as common as they might have become, the professionals who understand how to film and execute them are still an absolute necessity on set. That is why blocking out where a special effect will be used is critical to a film’s success. An On Set Visual Effects Supervisor or Coordinator must be present to ensure that the scene is shot in accordance with what will be needed later on in post-production. If a day of shooting comes where that expert is missing, it could have serious ramifications once that footage gets into the hands of the people who are creating the visual effects. There’s the old adage of “we’ll fix it in post,” but it can be a quite expensive correction to make. That’s why having a well-detailed shooting script is often a make or break production tool.

In a similar vein, the shooting script should also designate where special stuntwork might be done. Just as with any special effects, stunt work should never be attempted without the appropriate experts present. That means both the Stunt Person to perform the stunt — as opposed to the Actor they may be stepping in for — and the Stunt Supervisor to make sure that the stunt is carried out in a safe manner. Making sure that these designations are clearly marked in a shooting script is key to a production that goes off without injury or other issues.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of a shooting script…with one minor disclaimer. Rarely does a project not change course during production. It could be because of weather. Or perhaps the Screenwriter is asked to come in a rewrite a scene. Or a financial backer withdraws their support and certain costly locations can no longer be used.

Other Shooting Script Considerations

Much has been said about the where and how of shooting scripts. Equally important is the “what” — what is the audience going to see? In this case, that refers to the production design, the costumes the Actors will be wearing and even notes on acting details.[3]

A common refrain regarding the importance of preparation has already come up for shooting scripts and making sure the production design team understands what is required of it is no exception. That is why noting what will need to be built or bought for each scene is a fundamental consideration when drawing up a shooting script. Especially sets that might take time to build or those that play a particularly important role in a scene should be discussed well ahead of the day they will be required for the shoot.

The same holds true for costumes, and given how much time it can take to create an intricate period dress or superhero outfit, knowing in advance what will be required from day to day and scene to scene can help to ensure that there are no time-consuming or expensive hiccups throughout production.

Flexibility in Filmmaking

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of a shooting script…with one minor disclaimer. Rarely does a project not change course during production. It could be because of weather. Or perhaps the Screenwriter is asked to come in a rewrite a scene. Or a financial backer withdraws their support and certain costly locations can no longer be used. Anything and everything can happen on a production, which is why flexibility and fluidity as it pertains to a shooting script is critical. Regarding his own project and shooting script, Banka notes:

“I think what we had was worthwhile as a blueprint, but there were so many production constraints and changes that often we would decide to cover a scene completely differently. Still, I think it’s a good idea to be as prepared as possible so that you can use that as the basis of your work.”

Important words of advice to keep in mind for any filmmaker. Be as prepared as possible, which is why a shooting script is a fundamental filmmaking tool. And while a production might have to adjust to one or more unexpected circumstances, the shooting script can always be the blueprint from which a creative professional can reroute their filmmaking course.

References

  1. “Shooting Script.” ElementsofCinema.com. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  2. Miller, Greg (8 September 2014). “Data from a Century of Cinema Reveals How Movies Have Evolved.” Wired. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  3. Hellerman, Jason (11 July 2019). “What’s a Shooting Script and How Do You Create One?” No Film School. Retrieved 24 August 2019.

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What Happens During Principal Photography?

What Happens During Principal Photography?

When the Actors are on set and the cameras are rolling, you are in principal photography. It is often referred to as production, which separates this time period from pre-production and post-production. This is the time that most scenes get shot and the entire crew is focused on shooting the movie. While the Director works with the main crew, there is sometimes a second unit shooting simultaneously, catching pieces of the film in order to making shooting more efficient.

Now, you might notice I wrote most scenes. While there are Producers who can claim to be the greatest schedulers on the planet, there are a variety of reasons why you might not get everything you need in principal photography. It has nothing to do with the quality of scheduling and everything to do with the nature of the filmmaking beast.

In order to understand principal photography, it will help to put it in context. So let’s look at how departments prep for production and what they do during production.

As we explore the topic of principal photography, we’ll discuss:

  1. What happens before principal photography?
  2. Day-to-day during principal photography
  3. Second unit
  4. What does the Editor do during principal photography?
  5. Pickups
  6. Reshoots
  7. Rescheduling

What Happens Before Principal Photography

Pre-production covers everything leading up to the film shoot, from hiring the crew to finding the locations. Once all of that is secured, you move into prep. This is the time period is which every department has consulted and collaborated with the Director and is in the practical phase of preparation. All the costumes and all the elements of production design are mobilized and staged for the shoot. There might be camera tests, workflow tests, makeup tests – all the things that could go wrong are tested to make sure things run smoothly during principal photography. During prep, the Director will create a shot list or storyboards and may also have the opportunity to rehearse with the Actors.

The Assistant Director (AD) is the one who handles most of the scheduling logistics and creates the call sheet that tells everyone when to be on set and where to go. The call sheet has a lot of important information. It tells you what scenes are going to be shot that day, who will be on set, including Actors and crew, along with contact information and other resources. It’s essentially a roadmap of each day during principal photography for the main unit and often has sides attached to it. Sides are the pages of the script that will be shot that day.

After principal photography, there are a few reasons a production might have to roll cameras again. Reshoots, rescheduling and pickups are all a part of the process, but some of them should be avoided.

Day-to-Day During Principal Photography

The main unit is the crew on set with the Director, working with the lead Actors, shooting each scene of the script while the AD runs the set and keeps everyone on schedule. Though the call sheet has all the scenes to be shot, it does not break it down into coverage – that is, the various shots it will take to complete a scene — so the AD keeps track of the shot list to make sure that the Director doesn’t get hung up on a particular scene and fall behind schedule. The rest of the crew is in constant motion, making sure all props are available, the sets are dressed and that from scene to scene, things move smoothly and efficiently.

The first day (well, sometimes even the first week) of a shoot can be quite stressful and there is usually a period of adjustment to get the kinks out. From getting everyone to set to wrapping up at the end of the day, there are a lot of things that can fall through the cracks.

Each day ends with the relief that everything the crew set out to capture is in the can. While the Directors and the Actors go home to prep for the next day, the rest of the crew stays behind to wrap (put away equipment, secure it, etc) and one important person, usually a Production Assistant has to get all the paperwork (called the football) back to the production office, and the film, (or camera cards these days) back to the lab so it can be processed for the Editor. Once the equipment is put away and the film is on the road to processing, everyone can go home and get a good night’s sleep to prepare for the next day. Except for the AD, who is probably still working on the call sheet. So, stay awake until you get it!

Second Unit

The second unit is a separate crew that shoots scenes or parts of scenes that don’t require the main cast. They can be establishing shots or inserts and sometimes even stunts. The second unit will have its own Director and Cinematographer, but the Second Unit Director is hired to fulfill the vision of the Director of the entire production and will want to match the look and the feel of the main unit because this footage will be cut together with what the main unit is shooting. You may also hear the term splinter unit. A splinter unit is usually a few members of the camera department who split off to grab shots while the main unit is shooting without a dedicated Director.

What Does the Editor Do During Principal Photography?

Most Editors are hired for principal photography because it’s better to know while you are still shooting if the coverage is working. The Editor is a very important member of the crew and the Script Supervisor takes notes on set to keep her in the loop. An Editor will usually get the footage within a day or two of each shoot day and will start editing the picture together. If the Editor feels like there is something missing, she can consult with the Director to see if they can get it added to the schedule. This can be inserts or other shots that help the scene tell the story better. Depending on how critical the needs are, an Editor will usually build a list and keep track of the shooting schedule to make sure that any shots that are needed can be grabbed before moving to a new location.

Editorial is often referred to as the last rewrite of the script. This is when you discover what worked on paper doesn’t necessarily make as much sense on the screen. Or perhaps test audiences asked consistently for something that wasn’t there.

Pickups, Reshoots and Rescheduling

After principal photography, there are a few reasons a production might have to roll cameras again. Reshoots, rescheduling, and pickups are all a part of the process, but some of them should be avoided.

Reshoots

Reshoots can happen for a number of technical reasons or they can happen for creative reasons. A camera can malfunction or footage can get corrupted, but many times it can be a creative move by the Director and the Producers if they feel an Actor’s performance could be adjusted to tell the story better, or if the coverage just doesn’t work in the cutting room. For example “a one shot scene” (a one-er) may seem like a good idea during conception, but playing out on screen it might not feed the pace of the film. This is not an amateur mistake. Many experienced Directors have to reshoot. In fact, a good Director will recognize a problem so they can solve it and tell the story right.

Rescheduling

Rescheduling usually involves shots or scenes that were initially on the schedule for principal photography. This can happen due to weather or the loss of a location or Actor. What you don’t want is that it happen because you fell behind schedule. Things that are rescheduled can be lumped into another week of principal photography (adding to the load of another day), or sometimes it’s a day (or whatever it takes) tacked onto principal photography.

Pickups

Pickups are very common and usually worked into the budget. Pickups are usually shot after the film is assembled in post and the Director and the Producers feel that another scene or a series of shots would clarify important story information.

Editorial is often referred to as the last rewrite of the script. This is when you discover what worked on paper doesn’t necessarily make as much sense on the screen. Or perhaps test audiences asked consistently for something that wasn’t there. This is when the Editor, the Director and Writer put their heads together to fill in the blanks, so the Producer can schedule a pickup shoot. This requires getting the camera, a crew and the Actors back on set. Sometimes it’s just as simple as grabbing exteriors to add more texture to the film.

Did you know?

Time on set can be expensive! An average studio picture can cost $500,000 a day! Break that down into a ten-hour day, that’s $50,000 an hour and $833 a minute! (1) That’s why prep is so important. You come to set unprepared, it’s going to cost the production and it could also cost you your career. Remember this even if you’re a Production Assistant. I know a guy who took his dear time coming back from the store with an emergency prop and he was sent home the minute he got back (late!) Time really is money.

In the original cut of ET: The Extraterrestrial, ET dies! Test audiences couldn’t stand the thought of the cute little alien dying, so Steven Spielberg had to shoot new scenes to change the end of the film.

Michael J. Fox wasn’t the first choice for the lead in Back to the Future! After four weeks of shooting, the studio and Robert Zemeckis realized that the Actor they had playing the lead, Eric Stolz — although a great Actor — didn’t have the comedic timing they needed. They recast Michael J. Fox in the role and had to reshoot all those weeks!

1. The Movie Business Book, Edited by Jason E. Squire

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Screenplay Format: How to Write a Script

Screenplay Format: How to Write a Script

Before a Screenwriter can tell that next great love story, historical epic or zany comedy, they need to master screenplay format. Understanding exactly how a script should look and be formatted is important for two main reasons. First, knowledge of each element can go a long way in supporting the more creative aspects of screenwriting, such as creating memorable characters and building a solid story structure. Second, as scripts are meant to be read, a solid screenplay format will help a reader move quickly through the story with ease, as well as indicate to them that the Writer of it is of a professional caliber.

The following guidelines break down screenplay format fundamentals, including:

  1. Font
  2. Point size
  3. Page number
  4. Title page
  5. Scene heading
  6. Character
  7. Action
  8. Dialogue

This is essential learning for aspiring Screenwriters and a helpful reminder even for those who consider themselves veteran scribes.

Screenplay Basics

Font

Probably the most basic of the basics is the type of font used for scripts. The standard in the world of screenplay formatting is Courier. For a Screenwriter to go rogue and use a different font can result in several outcomes. For one, it can indicate to the reader that the Writer of the script is either a novice regarding scripting rules or is simply someone who doesn’t find the rules important enough to abide by them. Two, a script written in another font can throw off the typical time assumed when using Courier, which is one minute of screen time for one page of the script. For these reasons, Writers should stick to the standard of Courier font.

Point Size

Again, as with font, screenplays have a typical point size for all text, which is 12 point. The reason? Much the same as why scripts are written in Courier font. It demonstrates to the reader that the Screenwriter understands standard screenplay format, and it also helps to maintain the usual ratio of one minute of screen time for each page of the script. Moreover, a font smaller than 12 point can make it more difficult to read the screenplay, and a font larger than it may misrepresent there being enough of a story to tell, à la using a larger font for a school essay to hit the required number of pages.

Page Number

It’s important to remember that for many Screenwriters, some of these basic script formatting rules are built into the many types of screenwriting software available to creatives, including the automatic addition of page number in the upper righthand corner of each page, minus the first page of the script. But as with any program that can experience the occasional glitch, Writers should always double-check that their work is properly formatted before sending off their scripts to Agents, Managers, executives or anyone else in a position to help that screenplay come to life. As mentioned, the first page of a script need not have a page number, though every subsequent page should be numbered in proper numerical order.

A font smaller than 12 point can make it more difficult to read the screenplay, and a font larger than it may misrepresent there being enough of a story to tell, à la using a larger font for a school essay to hit the required number of pages.

Title Page

The title page should likewise be part of every script — with one important exception. Many film festivals and contests that host competitions for best screenplay ask that Writers leave off the title page, which typically includes identifying information so that the readers are not in any way biased about the material they are evaluating. Outside of that particular circumstance, Writers should always include a title page when sending out their screenplays. On that page should be the script title, author name and contact information, such as email address and phone number, as well as any WGA or U.S. Copyright registration numbers.

Screenwriting Elements

Scene Heading

Now on to the actual screenplay formatting elements! A Writer can’t tell a story without first alerting the reader to where they are, whether it’s a farmhouse in Kansas or the royal residence of the fictional planet Asgard. Also referred to as sluglines, scene headings identify location and time of day, either independently (ex. “DAY,” “NIGHT,” “MORNING,” etc.) or in relation to the scene preceding it (ex. “CONTINUOUS,” “MOMENTS LATER,” etc.).

Character

This one is fairly straightforward, but the importance of it should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to choosing character names. A first-time reader of a script can get easily confused by characters with similar names such as Ann and Amy, so when selecting names, aim for diversity to minimize mix-ups. Also, while it’s ultimately up to the Writer’s preference, some screenwriting experts recommend always giving a name to even minor characters, such as a Cop or Doctor with just a single line, the reason being that it allows the future Actor playing that role to more deeply identify with it.

Action

The goal of a script is to show and not tell a story. As such, it’s important that Writers not rely on action lines too heavily to explain the narrative. Keep it concise and in service to explaining only what cannot be told through dialogue. Also, Writers should keep in mind that a screenplay is not a novel. Large chunks of text slow the ability of the reader to make it through the script, and more importantly, may dissuade them from continuing to read it at all. Some conventional wisdom is to keep as much “white on the page” as possible, as well as to make sure each page allows the reader to “read vertically” rather than horizontally — i.e. too much description.

Dialogue

Great dialogue is one of the most critical aspects of a good script and probably one of the most difficult aspects of it to explain. Why? Because dialogue relies entirely on the nature of the character speaking it. Is the character a babbler? Are they curt? Do they speak with a dialect that sets them apart from everyone else in the story? Each of these questions points to creating distinct characters that could not be mistaken for anyone else in the narrative, which is one of the most crucial guidelines to keep in mind for dialogue. In fact, some screenwriting experts advocate that each character should be identifiable by their dialogue alone even when their character names are removed from the script.

Parentheticals

Related to dialogue is the use of parentheticals, which typically are used to help inform how a line is spoken by a character. While parentheticals can be useful, a good rule of thumb is that the majority of dialogue — and its intended delivery — should be clear on its own. Therefore, use parentheticals sparingly. Not only can excessive use of them indicate to the reader that the dialogue isn’t strong enough to stand on its own, but also it can hinder a future performance by the Actor playing that role, as they may feel boxed in creatively regarding delivery of their lines.

Extension

Another screenwriting element used in conjunction with character and dialogue is that of extensions. Essentially, when a character name is listed on its own with their dialogue immediately following, it’s assumed that the dialogue is spoken by that character on camera. However, that’s not always the intended case in cinematic storytelling. So to clarify, extensions are used. Two of the most common extensions are “V.O” and “O.S.” The former, which stands for “voiceover,” indicates that the dialogue is being spoken by the character to the reader, audience or themselves internally rather than to another character in their presence. The latter, which stands for “off-screen,” means that the dialogue is being spoken by a character off camera.

Writers should keep in mind that a screenplay is not a novel. Large chunks of text slow the ability of the reader to make it through the script, and more importantly, may dissuade them from continuing to read it at all.

Subheader

In some circumstances, the use of a brand-new scene heading is not necessary. For instance, let’s say two characters are having a conversation with each other within two different rooms in a house. Instead of creating a new scene heading for each line of dialogue between the characters, a Writer may choose instead to use the subheaders “BATHROOM” and “HALLWAY.” However, just as parentheticals should not be excessively relied on in screenplays to help explain dialogue, nor should subheaders be used too frequently to help explain location.

More/Cont’d

As with most screenplay formatting elements, the inclusion of “MORE” and “CONT’D” (short for CONTINUED) will likely be automatically inserted into a screenplay to help preserve fluidity and make sure the reader understands the continuation of dialogue. When there is a page break in a script, but dialogue that continues from one page to the next, “MORE” will be inserted at the bottom of the page to alert the reader that the dialogue continues onto the following page. On that next page, “CONT’D” will be inserted to again reaffirm to the reader that the character’s dialogue is still in progress.

Fade In/Fade Out

Perhaps two of the most exciting screenplay formatting elements are the use of “FADE IN” and “FADE OUT.” Why? Because in many cases, these will be the very first and last words of a script. While some Writers might make alternate creative choices to begin and end their screenplays, these elements are the most common to signify the start and close of the narrative. As such, Writers should include them to help guide the reader into and out of the script.

In mentioning “FADE OUT,” it’s perhaps the ideal time to state that the above screenplay format elements do not encompass all formatting tools at a Writer’s disposal. To fully understand and have a mastery of those elements, Writers should take the time to explore their screenwriting software to learn more about what they can use to help explain their narratives. While a unique story or compelling characters can make a screenplay stand out against the competition, it’s creating a solid script formatting foundation and knowing how to enhance it that will also guide Screenwriters towards future success.

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How to Make a Movie

How to Make a Movie

If you want to learn how to make a movie, the best thing to do is make one. Yep. By starting DIY, you will get a sense of the big picture and be more likely to become a better filmmaker down the road. In fact, there is no better time to learn how to make a movie. You have tools at your fingertips that your creative forefathers would have died for. If you are reading this article on a phone, there’s a good chance that that phone has a better camera than the early digital cameras with which many people learned and mastered filmmaking. So if you have an idea, what are you waiting for?

Right. But where do you begin? Getting the idea out of your head and onto the screen can be a daunting task, but once it is broken down in steps, it becomes more manageable. Even better, once you master these steps, whether you are making a film with an iPhone or with a full camera kit from a rental house, they are relatively the same — the biggest difference being that the toys are more expensive and the crews are bigger. But let’s start small. Let’s say that you want to use that phone in your hand to make a movie. What would you need? Well, several things, from the creative to the technical, and if you are not technical, do not let that deter you.

In our discussion of how to make a movie, we’ll cover:

  1. An idea/script
  2. Film tools/film gear
  3. Collaborators/crew
  4. Production
  5. Editing/post-production

An Idea/Script

A lot of people are afraid to get started because they don’t think they have a good idea. Trust me, an idea doesn’t have to be good in order for you to learn or even make a good film. All you need is a story. It can be as simple as telling the story of someone who rolls out of bed, stumbles to the coffeemaker only to find that she is out of coffee. The goal with storytelling is to get someone to relate, and with filmmaking, it’s all about the images you use to tell the story. So as you develop your idea, don’t over think it. It just needs to be something you can visualize and execute. What’s going to make it unique is your point of view. Take the example of no morning coffee. How does she feel when she discovers there is no coffee? How does that translate visually? Does she grab her hair in despair or throw the empty pot against the wall?

Whatever story you want to tell, put it in a script. For the most part, screenwriting is what you see and what you hear. Just remember that it’s always more interesting to tell the story visually. Rather than having the character say, “Oh no, there’s no coffee,” show us the empty coffee container, show us her reaction. Another thing you will want to do is get feedback on your script. Have someone read it to make sure it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, fiddle with it until it does. If it does make sense, still fiddle with it to make it better.

How you frame the shot is literally what you see in your viewfinder. Different framing can say different things: for example, if you have two Actors placed at the end of each frame, perhaps you are saying that they are not connecting. If you have a wide shot and the character is small on the screen, maybe you are suggesting that he feels powerless.

Film Tools/Film Gear

The most accessible camera these days is on a smartphone. It can be an Android or an iPhone; all you need are the right accessories. In order for you to get the most out of your phone camera, you will need an app called Filmic Pro; this app will get your phone to behave more like a camera. You will also want to get lenses so you can shoot a better variety of shots. There are two ways to go here — you can get lenses that are designed specifically for smartphones – like Moment lenses, or you can use an adapter, like the Beastgrip adapter that will allow you to use regular camera lenses with your phone. You may also want a tripod or a stabilizer to keep the camera steady; all you need is a mount adapter to put your phone on a tripod and there are stabilizers built specifically for phones.

Next, you need sound equipment. Unfortunately, phones (and most cameras, for that matter) don’t record good sound, so you will need a sound recording device, like a Zoom or Tascam. You will also need a good microphone on a boom pole to record the sound. You can also get lavalier microphones – which are the kind that you attach to an Actor to record dialog, as well.

Collaborators/Crew

Alright, technically you can do all of this on your own and maybe you want to start that way — maybe film your cat to get some practice in, but eventually, you will want Actors, someone to record the audio, someone to operate the camera, and ideally someone to help produce it. (Without getting into it, a Producer will help you stay organized and on track. Learn more about the role played by Producers here.) So, finding collaborators is essential to filmmaking. There are many ways to go about this – you can post something on social media, you can go to events sponsored by your local film community, or if you are in school, get to know the film and media students. One thing to keep in mind as you are meeting people is to find folks that you enjoy being around, who have similar interests, and who are interested in learning and mastering skills. If you know nothing about the camera, lighting or recording sound, find people who are passionate about these things.

Once you have your team, get their input about the script and start to plan what you will need to make it. The more planning you do, the more successful you will be. The basics you will need are locations, Actors, and food! You will also want to talk to your team about how things will be shot. Create a shot list, which will be your roadmap during production. Some people like to storyboard, but that’s up to you. It’s just important to have a plan because you don’t want to waste people’s time during production. Something that will help you create a shot list is to remember that each time you move the camera, it’s a new setup, which is a shot. Shots are like sentences, some are long, some are short, but when you put them together, there is a rhythm and a pace. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the different kinds of shots: wide, medium, close up, etc. Understanding the language will help you communicate your ideas to your team.

One thing about filmmaking is the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know. Each new project will present new challenges, and if they don’t, you’re not challenging yourself to get better, which is really what makes all this so fun.

Production

This is the day you all come together to get the job done! You have done your homework; you have food and drinks to keep you energized; now you will spend the day perfecting each shot. Some of the things you will be focusing on will be blocking – how the Actors move through the space in relation to the camera, framing – how the shot is framed, and the performance of the Actor.

When you block a scene, you decide where the camera goes and how the Actors will move through the set. This includes any action they may do like grab a set of keys, when to pat someone on the back or when to sit down. Once you decide these things, you can put tape on the floor to make sure the Actors have reminders of where to stand and when. How you frame the shot is literally what you see in your viewfinder. Different framing can say different things: for example, if you have two Actors placed at the end of each frame, perhaps you are saying that they are not connecting. If you have a wide shot and the character is small on the screen, maybe you are suggesting that he feels powerless. Working with Actors is also important. Actors come to set with some terrific ideas, but it is important to make sure they hit the tone you are trying to achieve, whether it is humor or drama. Actors love to know what they can do to make their performance better

Editing/Post-production

Once you have your movie in the can, you are ready to edit. Well, almost. You will need to sync the sound in what is called a non-linear editing system (NLE), which is a fancy way to say editing software, where you will put the pieces you shot together. Again, this is something that you can learn and I highly suggest you learn the basics, but there are plenty of people who want to master this craft and are hungry to find material to work on to learn and hone their skills. Also, editing is like writing. Getting feedback will make your movie better.

After the editing is done, you still need to polish your film up. You will need to make sure all your shots are color corrected, which can be done in your NLE or you can have a professional do it. Again, always look for people who want to practice. The same goes for post-production sound. Post-production sound involves a lot of detail work, which includes cleaning up the dialog, laying in sound effects, music, and balancing all these elements in what is called the mix.

Once you have gone through these steps, you are a filmmaker! But one thing about filmmaking is the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know. Each new project will present new challenges, and if they don’t, you’re not challenging yourself to get better, which is really what makes all this so fun.

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Best Screenwriting Software

Best Screenwriting Software

At the dawn of screenwriting, screenplays were typed the old fashioned way: on a typewriter. Back then, a Screenwriter had to really know the specific screenplay format for the script to be considered professionally written. Typewriters eventually evolved into word processors and those gave life to the modern home computer. Now, we all have the benefit and convenience of crafting our screenplays on our laptops and desktop computers with the aid of some advanced and user-friendly screenwriting software programs that allow us to worry less about format and focus more on story. Here are some examples of screenwriting software packages that can help bring your next screenplay to life and even teach you how to write a screenplay.

Our picks for the best screenwriting software include:

  1. Final Draft
  2. Movie Magic Screenwriter
  3. Fade In
  4. Celtx
  5. Writer Duet
  6. Slugline
  7. Montage
  8. Free screenwriting software

Final Draft

Still considered the industry standard, Final Draft has a long history as the go-to screenplay writing software package and it is probably still the most used screenwriting tool in film and television. Its history dates back to 1990 when it was founded by Marc Madnick and Ben Cahan and has even been awarded a Primetime Emmy Engineering Award in 2013. In 2016, it was acquired by Cast & Crew Entertainment Services and it offers the submission-standard formatting structure for studios, the Writer’s Guild of America, and world-wide screenplay contests.

Final Draft is simple, efficient, and powerful and allows the Screenwriter to quickly and effectively navigate screenplay structure while meeting the rigid requirements of screenplay format. One of its best features is that the built-in SmartType component remembers the names of characters and locations and automatically “learns” them so that even when you type the first letter it will give you a drop-down list of options, cutting the time you need to type each item.

Final Draft claims that it is used by 95% of film and TV professionals and it also offers the opportunity to not only write your screenplay, but it also allows you to seamlessly create beat boards, story maps, location, and character lists, is great with colored revisions, and offers a collaboration mode so you can create a script with a partner.

COST: $249

Here’s what you need to note about submitting screenplays to competitions, studios, the WGA, or class assignments: they will either be emailed in the universal PDF format or handed in on paper and the software used to create the screenplay will be inconsequential at that point. So don’t fret about using what’s considered the industry standard. Just find software you can afford and that gets the job done.

Movie Magic Screenwriter

In a very close 2nd place to Final Draft is Movie Magic Screenwriter, which not only allows you to more easily write a screenplay, but also has built-in formats for stage plays, teleplays, musicals, comic books, novels, and short stories. It is also officially endorsed by the Writer’s Guild of American East. Its import option is spectacular, allowing you to import screenplays started or fully written in Microsoft Word, PDF, or Rich Text Documents with very little re-formatting required.

It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter and both are considered “the big two” when it comes to first choices in screenplay software. They are also the most expensive and when updated versions are released, those upgrades usually cost the owner about $99 more to upgrade to the latest version. You have to remember that screenplays were originally typed on typewriters and screenplay writers memorized the format. So, any software that makes your life easier should do so not because it’s expensive or a standard, but because it allows you to focus more on the writing and less on the structure.

COST: $249

Fade In

At a more affordable price tag, Fade In is becoming a competitive and reliable alternative to Final Draft and more and more Writers are using it. Here’s what you need to note about submitting screenplays to competitions, studios, the WGA, or class assignments: they will either be emailed in the universal PDF format or handed in on paper and the software used to create the screenplay will be inconsequential at that point. So don’t fret about using what’s considered the industry standard. Just find software you can afford and that gets the job done.

Fade In gets the job done. It offers extensive formatting options including industry standard layout format, autocomplete typing that fills in characters and locations, a collaboration mode so you can partner with other writers, image support so you can add a vibrant and impactful image to your title page, colored revisions, breakdown reports, and it can go mobile on your phone or tablet.

COST: $79

Celtx

Whereas Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Fade In offer one-time purchasing options, Celtx is a monthly subscription, online screenwriting software package that offers screenplay writing essentials including a comprehensive script editor, standard screenplay formats, standard stage play formats, 2-column Audio/Video formats used in television and commercials, storyboarding options, colored revision tracking, and email and online support.

The benefit of Celtx is that if you can write your screenplay in a month, you can save a lot of money compared to the previously mentioned software packages and Celtx is becoming another industry standard. I highly recommend it for film students and Screenwriters working on a budget.

Another interesting option is that Celtx offers progress reports for writers working professionally with an Agent, Manager, or studio exec. As you make advancements on your work, the software can update those folks and keep them abreast of your progress.

COST: $20 monthly
($180 if you pay for the yearly subscription)

Writer Duet

Writer Duet is offered completely online, but also offers off-line writing options. The best thing about it is that you can write your first 3 scripts completely free online with their cloud-based writing software. There is no page limit, no time limit, and no limit on exporting or importing your work. It is a great option that offers many of the screenwriting choices offered by Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, or Fade In.

It is also compatible with Final Draft, Celtx, PDF, Word, HTML, Adobe, and Rich Text. It offers really visual and intuitive index card options that allow you to move around scenes, action, and dialogue as if using a virtual office cork board. It will color specific revisions within the script and it prides itself on its ability to allow collaboration between multiple Writers online.

I personally used Writer Duet for some professional jobs as an Assistant Director, allowing me to break down a script and schedule certain locations and it worked really well. I recommend it as a much cheaper alternative to some of the larger screenplay software packages mentioned above.

COST: $11.99/month

Firstly, learn screenplay format without using any software -– learning how to write a script is imperative. Think of yourself as a Pilot. Sure, automatic pilot exists, but don’t you want your Pilot to really know how to fly a plane? You should understand screenplay format until it’s intuitive and software should make your life easier as a Writer.

Slugline

Designed exclusively for Mac, Slugline is affordable and clean. The developers of Slugline claim that it is the best-reviewed screenwriting software in the Mac App Store and its mission is to take formatting completely out of the Writer’s way, allowing the Writer to focus on story. It works very well on the iPhone and iPad and its Outline Navigator updates your script live as you write. It offers a cool night mode for writing at night next to your partner while he or she tries to sleep when you just have to make a deadline. It offers touchscreen editing on your phone or tablet. It’s very modern, fast, and affordable.

COST: $39.99 for desktop
($19.99 for iPhone and iPad)

Montage

Now we’re starting to get into the lesser known screenplay packages that may not be as fluid or well-designed as some of the industry standards. However, don’t write off a software package like Montage just because of its lower cost. Its best asset is that it allows long-time Final Draft users to easily import Final Draft formatted scripts with little to no re-formatting. That is a huge benefit for Writers looking to keep writing in an industry standard while saving a few bucks. No one wants to re-write a script and Montage allows you to pick up where you left off while no longer having to use Final Draft. The copy of FD you have may be on disk and perhaps you can’t afford the cost of new FD downloads. That’s where Montage can step in.

COST: $29.95

Free Screenwriting Software

Here is what you have to remember when writing a screenplay: it’s not what you write with, but how you write. Firstly, learn screenplay format without using any software -– learning how to write a script is imperative. Think of yourself as a Pilot. Sure, automatic pilot exists, but don’t you want your Pilot to really know how to fly a plane? You should understand screenplay format until it’s intuitive and software should make your life easier as a Writer. It can’t, however, do the work for you. You can even still write on a typewriter — George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino still write with pen and pencil. So, no matter which screenplay software you choose, it’s all about the story!

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What Are the Key Elements of Mise En Scène?

What Are the Key Elements of Mise En Scène?

A great visual film is an amalgam of layers created by lighting, composition, art direction, costuming, makeup, and texture. These combined elements create what is known as Mise En Scène, which essentially means “visual theme.” Its creation begins with writing a screenplay that illustrates not only the action and dialogue, but also details (within reason) certain visual elements including the specific time period, essential descriptions of settings, and even character costumes and props. The explanation of these elements helps a Movie Director, Director of Photography, Art Director, Costume Designer, Makeup Artist, and Actors understand the tone of a film. Let’s dive into the essentials of Mise En Scène — an important and foundational part of film theory.

The key elements of Mise En Scène are:

  1. Composition
  2. Production Design
  3. Lighting
  4. Costuming
  5. Hair and Makeup
  6. Film Texture

Composition

One of the fundamentals of Mise En Scène is the framing of a shot and it can be determined during the storyboarding phase of a film. A Storyboard Artist will work closely with a Director and sometimes the Writer of a film to visually draw, illustrate, or graphically design storyboards of each scene in a screenplay. It is during this phase of pre-production that the framing, compositions, and camera movements can be determined before shooting. Some Directors like to work in very steady and traditional wide shots, medium shots, single shots, and close-ups. They want story to take the lead over style and don’t want the compositions to interfere with the acting and dialogue. However, some Directors prefer more kinetic and even frenetic shots and choose to shoot hand-held, Steadicam, or on jib and dolly. Perhaps shots with more movement are desired for a more fluid and active tale where style and story are equally expressed. Regardless of the style of the Mise En Scène, it can be determined during the storyboarding stage and then created on set with camera angles and moves.

How silly would Star Wars be if not for the original and historically inspired costumes of the Empire and the Jedi. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would not have the same visual impact if Gene Wilder were dressed in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his classic and recognizable purple velvet long coat, patterned silk vest, and his Bell Topper hat. These costume choices are all about adding to the value and mood of Mise En Scène.

Production Design

Think about the movies you’ve seen. Each one has its own visual merits partly created by the setting you see captured within the frame of each shot. If you’re watching a period piece like Gladiator, then the story can’t stand on the costuming, props, and lighting alone. It must also exist in the time period that showcases a believable backdrop — in this case, Ancient Rome, filled with gladiatorial training camps, the Colosseum, rural fields of grain, and ancient Roman architecture. It’s the art direction, scenery, and backdrops that give Gladiator its sense or realism and three-dimensional quality. When creating your own film, it’s important to ask yourself, where will my story take place? Does the setting, created by the art direction, strengthen the Mise En Scène? It’s important to producing a believable story that connects with viewers and you can do that with the proper locations and production design.

Lighting

Once your setting is determined, locations are locked in, and production design is constructed, all of that needs to be lit in a way that elevates your intended Mise En Scène. Let’s cite the aesthetic of the feature film Drive, lit by Newton Thomas Sigel. The night scenes are lit in what I like to think of as “Neon-Noir” (not to be confused with “Neo-Noir”). The night scenes feel like the dark and lonely inner world of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of the Driver. That is the true depiction of smart Mise En Scène. The rich contrast and bleeding colors of Sigel’s cinematography represent not just the tone of the world in which the characters reside, but also the inner workings of the main character, who is somewhat of a lost soul trying to find peace and love in a chaotic Los Angeles. Mise En Scène represents the inside and outside of that world.

Costuming

Can you imagine how little sense the world of The Dark Knight would make if not for the elaborate, artistic, and comic-book-inspired costumes worn by Batman and the Joker? Or how silly would Star Wars be if not for the original and historically inspired costumes of the Empire and the Jedi. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would not have the same visual impact if Gene Wilder were dressed in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his classic and recognizable purple velvet long coat, patterned silk vest, and his Bell Topper hat. These costume choices are all about adding to the value and mood of Mise En Scène. Now, that’s not to say that the costuming for your film has to be as elaborate and theatrical. In fact, many straightforward stories that are less fantastic and more rooted in everyday reality still make sure that their characters are wearing costumes that strengthen the tone and quality of the film. In a film like Back to The Future, Marty still wears “character” costuming and his signature puffy red-orange vest, denim jacket, and patterned button-down shirt are now an iconic Halloween costume. His character starts in everyday clothes that became part of pop-culture zeitgeist. Regardless of the costuming you choose for your characters, just make sure that they make sense within the Mise En Scène of the world you’re creating on screen.

It doesn’t matter if a movie is some grandiose, science fiction blockbuster or some small, independent character piece that takes place in genuine locations – it’s about using compositions, production design, lighting, costuming, hair and makeup, and film and video textures to envelop the audience into a world that is believable, captivating, and fluid.

Hair and Makeup

Hair and Makeup are essential in a movie and when you think of a film like Grease, the hair and makeup echoes the look and feel of the 1950s. Pomade-greased hair for the men and hyperbolic rouge and eye makeup for the women were part and parcel to bringing those characters’ looks to life and showcasing them in the hair and makeup styles of the era. The same goes for the fictional, politically charged world of a film like The Hunger Games. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has a look that can be considered gaudy, filled with bravado and flare. Her character dons the look of cotton candy hair and burlesque-style makeup. Her look is ironic in a world where children are forced to fight to the death. In contrast, Katniss Everdeen’s hair and makeup are often subdued, basic, and rural. Her look represents the life she leads: that of a country girl who hunts and lives off the land. However, when she is put on display by the totalitarian Capitol of Panem, she is made to look theatric and warrior-like. Her hair and make-up transform with her character development through different phases of her arc in the film. That is a pure personification of Mise En Scène.

Film Texture

Movies can have any number of final looks that can start with the type of film stock or video camera selected and end with the post-production effects and filters used before a final movie is screened. Traditional Directors of Photography who may still shoot on film will select different film stocks that offer fine, contrasty, or grainy textures. In the world of video, it’s best to shoot the best quality video you can afford and then choose a fine or grainy look in post-production. Take, for example, a movie like filmmaker Michael Mann’s Collateral starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. Cinematographers Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron shot that feature on the CineAlta HDW-F900. According to a quote by Cameron from an article written by Jay Holben called “Hell on Wheels” for The American Society of Cinematographers, “Using HD was something Michael (Mann) had already settled on by the time I came aboard,” recalls Director of Photography Paul Cameron, who prepped Collateral and shot the first three weeks of principal photography. “He wanted to use the format to create a kind of glowing urban environment; the goal was to make the LA night as much of a character in the story as Vincent and Max were.” Often, the latitude (or the array of sensitivity of film stocks or HD cameras) is taken into consideration when shooting a film or video. How film or video reacts to light is important and should be considered before shooting.

The point of understanding all of this is to note that Mise En Scène embodies almost everything that appears before the camera. It includes all of the ingredients necessary to help audiences willfully suspend their disbelief so they can enjoy a film. It doesn’t matter if a movie is some grandiose, science fiction blockbuster or some small, independent character piece that takes place in genuine locations – it’s about using compositions, production design, lighting, costuming, hair and makeup, and film and video textures to envelop the audience into a world that is believable, captivating, and fluid.


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What Does a Director Do?

What Does a Director Do?

When it comes to movies, it’s the Director who gets all the accolades, but what does a Director actually do? The term “visionary” is often tied to great Directors, but what does that mean? When I hear the word visionary, my mind conjures up images of historical game changers, who did things like send us to the moon or invent the iPod. These are all intimidating things to live up to, so what does the term visionary mean when it comes to directing? It’s really quite simple. The Director’s vision can be boiled down to two things: what she visualizes as she reads the script and how she interprets the script’s meaning. This includes everything from how the film will be shot, how it will be cast down to how the characters will be portrayed, the mood, music and where the film will be set. Essentially, anything that we see or hear in a movie comes from a decision the Director made.

In a nutshell, the Director’s job is to get all the ideas out of her head and onto the screen and she does this with a team, collaborating from pre-production to post-production to assure that vision is fulfilled.

In answer to the question “what does a Director do?” we will explore:

  1. How a Director works with a Writer
  2. How a Director works with Casting
  3. How a Director works with Production Design
  4. How a Director works with Wardrobe
  5. How a Director works with the Camera Department
  6. How a Director works with the Editorial Department
  7. How a Director works with the Post-Production process

How a Director Works With a Writer

The genesis of a story begins with the Writer. Sometimes it begins with the Producer or a book, but it is the Writer that crafts the story into a screenplay that can be shot. Once the story is written it goes into “development.” This is when a Producer and Development Executives work with the Writer to get the story in rock solid shape, making sure the story works and will translate to screen. When a Director is attached, she will also get a chance to make changes to the script. This is the first job of a Director – making the story better (yes, it can always get better). A Director is usually hired because she has a sensibility – a particular perspective that will bring the script to life, so it might not always be the case, but often a Director will have a chance to give notes to the Writer and help them shape the story for success. It is not the Director’s job to rewrite the script, but it is the Director’s job to give feedback that will help the script translate visually on screen and have the right emotional impact. Sometimes a Director will be asked to “make a pass” on the script, in which case the Director does, indeed, rewrite the script.

If you watch a film you will notice that colors of the sets and the wardrobe are calculated. What are the colors saying about the environment or the wardrobe? Are they drab and depressing or are they vibrant and exciting? It all depends on the story the Director is trying to tell.

How a Director Works With Casting

A large part of a Director’s job is finding the right Actors, which involves working with the Producer and a Casting Director to find the talent. The Producer and the Casting Director will present choices to the Director and the Director will participate in auditions to decide who they want to see again so they can make sure the Actor is right for the role. Though an Actor is hired because of what he or she brings to the table, during production, the most important role a Director has is to work with the Actors, who are sometimes there for a only few days, to make sure they have everything they need to strike the right tone and find the comedic and emotional beats in their performance.

How a Director Works With Production Design

An important part of a Director’s vision is production design. This is establishing the world in which the story takes place. It can be as simple as decorating a kitchen to creating a futuristic world that is a product of the Director’s imagination. The Director will work with the Production Designer to find a location and decorate it or build a set from scratch to create an environment that enhances the words on the page. If the script calls for a dated 1970s kitchen, the Director will work with the Production Designer to decide what that means – is it a fancy kitchen from the ’70s or is it a working-class kitchen from the ’70s? What will the colors be? What will the space say about the characters? Are the dishes tidy and lined up on the drying rack or are they piled up dirty in the sink? These are all the details that a Director will mull over with the Production Designer, down to the hair on a comb. They will also discuss the color palette. If you watch a film you will notice that the colors of the sets and the wardrobe are calculated. What are the colors saying about the environment or the wardrobe? Are they drab and depressing or are they vibrant and exciting? It all depends on the story the Director is trying to tell. Production design usually will entail some sort of visual effects (VFX), so a VFX Coordinator is often brought into the conversation.

How a Director Works With Wardrobe

Wardrobe is another product of the Director’s imagination and is in some ways an extension of production design. In fact, the two departments work closely together. First, we establish the world in which these characters live and interact then we decide how they are dressed. In some cases, costumes must be designed and made, and other times they are purchased. Whatever the case may be, the Director works with the Costume Designer to decide what clothes the character wears from scene to scene and why. A single mom may be dressed in a shirt that looks like it has been worn a million times, while an uptown gal might have freshly pressed clothes that look like they came right off the rack. A Director and a Costume Designer work together to make sure the clothing is consistent with a character and tells a visual story about who this person is and what is going on in the story.

How a Director Works With the Camera Department

Next up is the Camera Department. Once a Director establishes what is to be shot, the next order of business is to decide how the film will be shot — will it be shiny and slick or dark and depressing? Though a Director is not expected to know which lens to use, how to light a shot, or all the ins and outs of the camera, a Director does decide how things are shot and what coverage to get to achieve the overall look of the film. It can be handheld or it can be very still with limited movement. It can be bright and sunny or it can be muted and serious. This is all a part of the Director’s vision. The Director will also create a shot list or make storyboards to help the Cinematographer understand what pieces they will need to shoot. Where the camera is placed and how the shots are framed may be a collaborative effort between the Director and the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) but ultimately, it is the Director’s call.

It’s the Director’s job to see, in the moment, what is working and what isn’t working, and to find a way to make it work. But as much as a film is a result of the Director’s vision, very much of directing is communicating.

How a Director Works With the Editorial Department

Once the film is in the can, as they say, the Editor will have a go at cutting it together. Ideally, the Editor is working through production, to make sure that what the Director is getting is cutting together and informing her if she needs any pickups or coverage that would make things better. The Director will consult with the Editor throughout the process and hopefully have time to see cuts along the way. Once the shooting is done, the Director will sit with the Editor to get the film polished and tight. This usually involves going over the footage to find the best performance from the Actors and finding the rhythm and pace of the film and making sure all the setups pay off.

How a Director Works With the Post-Production Process

Once the edit is finished, there is still work to be done! When the picture is locked and everyone is happy with it, it still needs to go through post-production. The edit gets handed off to the Post-production Sound Department and Colorist for all the fine-tuning. If the movie has VFX of any kind, they, too start working. While this is happening, the Director works with a Composer to score the picture, going through the movie beat-by-beat to decide where music will go and why, and what the tone should be. Once the music is finalized, the music goes to the Sound Mixer who works with the Director to tell the sonic story of the movie and balance all the dialog, music, and effects. Once the sound is mixed, the Director sits with a Colorist to fine tune the look of the film. And in between all of that, she is approving VFX shots, which get melded into the final product.

There is a reason a Director gets all the accolades in the wake of a successful film. Having a vision is one thing, executing it is another. A Director must have an answer to every question, and over the course of the production, a Director makes countless decisions, answering questions from all departments. If a set looks fake or cheap, or if an Actor’s performance is cheesy or melodramatic, it falls on the Director. It’s the Director’s job to see, in the moment, what is working and what isn’t working, and to find a way to make it work. But as much as a film is a result of the Director’s vision, very much of directing is communicating. A good Director will choose her department heads based on their talent and vision, so more often than not it’s about “being on the same page” rather than telling someone what to do.

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