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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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Script Coverage: Why You Need and Where to Get It

Script Coverage: Why You Need and Where to Get It

Content is king, and you know it — that’s why you wrote a script. But if you don’t get script coverage before you send your baby out to prospective buyers, you might not be putting your best foot forward. If you just wrote your first screenplay, you already know script writing is a great place to get started in the film and television business. It costs nothing and all you need to invest is your precious time… (and perhaps some cash on script coverage — but we’ll get to that). That said, it’s an incredibly competitive field and the number of scripts that are written vastly outnumber the scripts that get produced. You need to stand out. If someone requests to read your script, you might just get one shot to show them what you can do. If your idea is great but it is poorly structured and under-developed, you might be perceived as a hack, and be quickly dismissed. On the other hand, if you hand in a polished beauty of a script and they aren’t hot on the idea, they are more likely to look at something else you have.

By now you’ve probably done your homework. You’ve read every book on script writing, you’ve listened to podcasts, you’ve given birth to a draft, and have suffered through many re-writes. You’re so close to success you can taste it. But until your script has an audience, you really have no idea if it is working or will have your intended effect on people. This is why you don’t want to send it out, yet. You don’t want a very busy Script Analyst, Producer or Manager who holds the key to your future to be your guinea pig. Let someone else do that, someone who will give you constructive feedback and make your script better. And the best person to do this is a professional – someone who analyzes scripts for a living. But before you dole out money for script coverage, I would take a look at other ways to get feedback on your script before you spend the big bucks.

In this article, we’ll look at the following options for script coverage:

  1. Writers groups
  2. Film festivals like Slamdance and Blue Cat Screenplay Competition
  3. Websites that give feedback like The Blacklist and American Zoetrope
  4. Script coverage services like
  5. Writer career sites

Writers Groups

The safest place to get feedback is from your friends. They are so supportive and want nothing but success for you. They also rarely tell you the cold, hard truth. They will focus on the good stuff and not mention what isn’t working for them. So you may want to start there, but move on quickly!

The best way to begin the torture of getting criticism is to find other Writers. Even if they are not seasoned professionals, they can tell you if something isn’t clear. If you are open to it, they can also suggest something that might help make it better. It might not be something you agree with, but it might lead you to the right solution. Make sure you choose people who have the same sensibilities and are equally as motivated as you. You won’t get everything you need here, but it’s a great place to warm-up.

There are loads of script coverage services out there. Here’s what you need to look for: have these people, indeed, worked in the industry doing studio coverage for industry insiders? Have they worked in development? Are they in the Editor’s guild as a story analyst? Check their credentials before you fork over hundreds of dollars.

Film Festivals

Another place to get objective feedback is through film festivals. Two of the most popular places where they offer decent feedback are Slamdance and Blue Cat Screenplay Competition. It may not be too detailed, but it will be anonymous, which has its benefits. They don’t know you, so their critique is formed solely by the words on the page. These people, however, are rarely industry professionals, so it won’t be as constructive as in-depth coverage. Nevertheless, it’s a great stepping-stone that costs less than script coverage services. Screenplay competitions otherwise don’t do much to advance your career so be careful about spending money in this arena. There are exceptions, but do your research. By choosing festivals that offer feedback it’s easier to justify the fee. At $35 and up a pop, I’d submit to a few and save your money for something that can be more beneficial to your writing career or getting your script in tip-top shape.

Websites That Give Feedback

There are two kinds of websites where you can get feedback – peer critique and industry critique. Both have value. You just need to take the feedback with a grain of salt. There are a number of these sites, but two of the most popular ones are The Blacklist, which is industry review and American Zoetrope (of Francis Ford Coppola fame), which is peer criticism.

The Blacklist website was designed to give writers “industry access.” There are a number of sites like this, so make sure you know what you are getting into. They often dangle a carrot: if you sign up with them and your script is up to snuff, it could get the attention of Producers or Managers, who can search the site to see if anything grabs their attention. This might happen, but don’t hold your breath. The Blacklist touts that six scripts have been produced in three years… out of 55,000 scripts submitted!

American Zoetrope is a peer review site, which is an expanded version of a writers group. In order to get reviewed, you must give a review, so it’s a bit tricky. You don’t know how experienced the Writer who gives feedback on your script is, and not everyone is good at constructive criticism. You have to have tough skin with these sites. They both can hit you in the gut.

First of all, it’s ok to disagree with a note. I have a five-time rule. If five people say it, I need to think about it.

Script Coverage Services

There are loads of script coverage services out there. Here’s what you need to look for: have these people, indeed, worked in the industry doing studio coverage for industry insiders? Have they worked in development? Are they in the Editor’s guild as a story analyst? Check their credentials before you fork over hundreds of dollars. Also, check out what they offer. Some will just give you “studio coverage,” which is the kind of coverage they would give to their bosses; others give you more constructive criticism. I prefer the latter. Studio coverage will get in the weeds and let you know what is working and what is not, and give you a “recommend,” “consider” or “pass” grade, but detailed feedback will give you more tools to jump into a rewrite. See if they offer a phone consultation so you can clarify things and ask questions.

Writer Career Sites

Another resource for Screenwriters are sites like the International Screenwriters Association or Roadmap Writers. There are others, but these are the most popular. Both of these sites offer coverage, but also offer ongoing support for Writers. Roadmap Writers, in particular, will work with Writers not only on developing great scripts, but they also help Writers develop their careers. They, too, offer to hook you up with industry professionals, but they help you hone your craft first, then pair you with industry professionals they know and who would be a good fit for you. With these sites, you get more attention and they offer a solid sounding board for Writers who toil away alone in the dark. They can also be your champions. The more Writers they shepherd to the top, the better their reputation is and the more business they get.

What to Expect With Notes

First of all, it’s ok to disagree with a note. I have a five-time rule. If five people say it, I need to think about it. Also, sometimes people will respond with their taste. If it’s not their favorite genre, they may not be hot on your story. Or if the character is someone they don’t like, well, you’re out of luck – with them. Let it roll off you and move on.

However, there are times to pay attention. If something isn’t clear, make it clear. It might make sense in your head, but not to a reader. What information did you forget to put on the page? Character notes are also important. If the character is misunderstood or has no depth, you really need to take heed. We watch movies to identify with characters so dig into these notes to make sure you have created a character an audience can latch on to. The same goes with the character motivation. These things are the backbone of your script.

Structural notes are also important. I’m not keen on the three-act structure, or things happening on a certain page, but if your reader can’t follow the story, that’s a legit problem. One somewhat ambiguous note you might get is, “the stakes aren’t high enough.” To address this note, a good question to ask is, why do we care about what happens to these characters? The more your character has to lose, the more engaged your audience is.

The most important thing about getting notes is to remember that they are not personal. The more you get notes, the more you will be able to decipher what is critical and what is opinion. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Ultimately your goal is to sell or produce your script. So you absolutely want it to be rock solid or it will be tossed in the garbage after a few pages, or, if you made it yourself and got it on a screen, it will be turned off in two minutes. Your work will get better with notes. Notes are a part of the life of any filmmaker. Quite frankly, the more successful you are, the more notes you will get – Director notes, Producer notes, studio notes…. Get used to them and make them work for you!

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How to Storyboard: Envisioning a Film’s Look

How to Storyboard: Envisioning a Film’s Look

As a filmmaker, how to storyboard is a critical skill in bringing the story from script to screen. But for someone who has yet to take this step, the central question may initially be what exactly is storyboarding? In short, it’s putting pen to paper — or using digital software — to draw out the scenes that will become the visual road map during the filming process.

While every filmmaker may differ regarding to what degree they flesh out their storyboards, having them offers a clear direction from which the entire production crew — including the Director, Cinematographer, Production Designer, Costumer, etc. — can move forward to create a cohesive look for the film. Given the highly collaborative nature of filmmaking, storyboards offer a critically important blueprint of what a story is going to look like on screen that all members of the crew can continually refer back to throughout production.

So where to start? The steps below highlight some of the key stages of how to storyboard:

  1. Study the script
  2. Select character positions
  3. Decide character motion and camera movement
  4. Determine background elements
  5. Include shot numbers
  6. Assemble storyboards

Study the Script

What eventually becomes part of a storyboard can typically be traced back to what was in the script. Every element of a script — slug lines, dialogue, action — can inform what belongs in a storyboard, so it’s crucial to first analyze the screenplay.

How a filmmaker wants to label the elements of a scene is entirely up to them. Some prefer using computer programs that help to identify and categorize various components like character, wardrobe, and setting. Others may instead physically mark up the script with highlighters to differentiate those elements. Should a filmmaker choose the former, they have at their disposal a wide array of software options, many of them entirely free to use. Among some of the more popular digital storyboarding options are Boords, Frameforge Storyboard Studio, Moviestorm, Plot, Studiobinder, and Storyboarder.

This stage of storyboarding is important for two reasons. Not only will it aid the filmmaking crew in identifying what will be required for each scene, but also it can help to clarify budgetary needs. For instance, if a scene is set in the Empire State Building, the filmmakers will have to address whether they intend to film on location or replicate that venue, a decision which usually will be based on cost.

At this early stage of the storyboarding process, a filmmaker may also want to make the decision of aspect ratio, meaning the dimensions of the film as a whole. Why would this be important before the camera equipment is even rented for the shoot? Because aspect ratio will determine the size of the storyboard frames. Most features are shot with either a 1.85: 1 aspect ratio or 2.39: 1 aspect ratio, depending on the film genre.

Camera movement can also be shown in a storyboard through the use of arrows. Tilts, pans, zoom-ins, zoom outs, as well as other types of camera movements, must be clearly described during the storyboarding process so that the cinematography unit can better understand what will be expected of it during production.

Select Character Positions

Not every shot will include a character. Especially in the beginning of a scene, an establishing shot may only be that of a city skyline or rural farmhouse. But in learning how to storyboard, filmmakers should prioritize the placement of any character in a shot that calls for them.

Deciding where the character will be in the storyboard may sound relatively straightforward, but several factors should be considered. For one, character placement is important for blocking purposes, meaning that it will indicate to the Actors where they should stand, sit or otherwise be present from shot to shot. Two, character placement will help in providing subtext to any given scene. Positioning a character front and center in a particular shot may indicate their power or control over others in that scene. In contrast, placing a character towards the side or background of a shot will effectively lessen their literal and possibly contextual presence. Three, with character placement may come decisions about how they look, including hairstyle, makeup and costume.

Decide Character Motion and Camera Movement

Few shots in a film are truly static, where neither the characters nor the camera are moving. In many cases, both are happening simultaneously. As a filmmaker, it’s important to indicate these elements to clarify for the rest of the filmmaking team how to approach each storyboarded scene.

The element of motion is often described through the use of arrows. So if a character is running from left to right in a particular shot, an arrow pointed towards the right can show that motion. Arrows can also indicate if a character is moving from foreground to background or vice versa. In fact, arrows can be used for any display of movement, including if a character is required to twirl in circles in a particular scene, making them a highly versatile tool.

To better estimate if a character’s movement in a scene will work, some filmmakers may go through the additional step of creating an animatic, which is basically a set of storyboard frames strung together that actually show the motion of the character. With modern filmmaking software, the creation of animatics can be done rather easily.

Camera movement can also be shown in a storyboard through the use of arrows. Tilts, pans, zoom-ins, zoom outs, as well as other types of camera movements, must be clearly described during the storyboarding process so that the cinematography unit can better understand what will be expected of it during production. Mapping out camera movement can also help in deciding if continuity is being preserved from shot to shot.

At this point, filmmakers should also add descriptions of the type of shot and camera angle being used for each storyboarded frame. For instance, is the shot a close-up? Is the camera intended to be looking down from a bird’s eye angle? Again, providing clarity regarding specific camera shots and angles for the rest of the filmmaking crew will only help to ensure that the actual production process will go as smoothly as possible.

After sending out their storyboards, a filmmaker should prioritize having their production team look over them so that a conversation can be had about any potential issues, errors or questions. How to storyboard is often a lesson in revisions, as is much of the early filmmaking process.

Determine Background Elements

The next question after deciding character placement and movement in a shot is what surrounds them? Are they relaxing in an Italian villa or walking through New York City? Both scenarios instantly bring to mind markedly different settings, which need to be brought to life through the storyboard.

During the storyboarding phase, it’s the job of the filmmaker to faithfully recreate on paper the scene described in the script. That means for every shot deciding exactly what needs to be in it, and what those background elements are depends entirely on the story being told. Again, that is why step one of how to storyboard sets the foundation for the rest of the process. By paying attention to what is in each scene — or inferred from it — the filmmaker can then flesh out the shot beyond the character with those necessary elements.

How detailed the background elements are in a storyboard is ultimately up to the filmmaker, but it should be noted that storyboards are meant to be shared. As a result, including as much detail as possible can only help the rest of the filmmaking team to better and more quickly understand what is trying to be conveyed in each scene.

Include Shot Numbers

Label. Label. Label. Once all the basic information such as character placement, camera movement, and background elements are drawn or described for each storyboard, it’s essential to number each frame in chronological order.

Filmmakers who use digital software for their storyboarding needs will likely have this step automatically completed for them. For those who prefer to storyboard by hand, perfect execution is mandatory. Having even one shot labeled out of order could mean a costly and/or time-consuming mistake, so taking the time to carefully number every frame is key.

Because some shots may actually be comprised of more than one storyboarded frame, filmmakers should include secondary symbols like ‘1a’ and ‘1b’ to frames that belong to the same shot in order to both differentiate and chronicle them.

Assemble Storyboards

Once all of the above steps have been completed for each scene in a script, it’s time to arrange the storyboards and disperse them to the appropriate individuals. However, a filmmaker’s work is far from over at this stage.

After sending out their storyboards, a filmmaker should prioritize having their production team look over them so that a conversation can be had about any potential issues, errors or questions. How to storyboard is often a lesson in revisions, as is much of the early filmmaking process. For instance, another member of the production crew might have a better suggestion for a particular shot or they might have interpreted a particular scene in an entirely different manner than what was storyboarded. This final phase of storyboarding is when concerns should be discussed and worked into updated depictions of each shot. Only once the appropriate individuals have all signed off in agreement on the storyboards should the project move forward to production.

This final step in how to storyboard exemplifies why the process is so critical to a successful film production. Even the most modest of films require significant collaboration between dozens if not hundreds — or even thousands — of individuals. While executing the vision of the screenplay is of primary importance, into that execution is a considerable investment of time and financial resources. Few productions have an open-ended budget, which is why storyboarding well can help to save precious dollars and energy later.

Many filmmakers are eager to make the leap from script to production as soon as possible. But if in the position of heading up a film project, they should recognize that a thought-out set of storyboards will be much appreciated by the rest of the filmmaking team, making how to storyboard a vital part of a successful film production.

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Script Writing Basics: Creating a Story That Stands Out

Script Writing Basics: Creating a Story That Stands Out

Why do the basics of great script writing matter?

Because a professional Script Reader might read eight or nine scripts in a single day. That’s nearly 50 scripts a week. Over 2,000 scripts a year. And that’s not including the “favor” scripts they agree to read for friends and friends of friends on weeknights and weekends. Managers, Agents and Development Executives have an endless pile of scripts on their desks as well.

These professionals are typically the gatekeepers through which Writers make it to earn fellowships, win contests and get meetings. So to truly stand out from the thousands of competing stories vying for the attention of these individuals, stellar script writing is key.

And for a Screenwriter to rise to the top, it’s essential that they master not just one but all of the following script writing fundamentals:

  1. Unique premise
  2. Memorable world
  3. Distinct, engaging characters
  4. Suspenseful plot
  5. Cathartic climax & resolution

Unique Premise

Every great script begins with a compelling premise. A shark terrorizes an east coast community over the Fourth of July. An adventurous Archeologist searches for the lost Ark before the Nazis find it. A young boy tries to hide and protect an alien left behind on earth.

The above concepts might all belong to Steven Spielberg films, but they’re also some of the most iconic movies ever produced. Why? Because at the time, those stories had never been seen before. Spielberg — and his Screenwriter collaborators — found a hook in each story that got people to not only pay attention but also want to know more.

That can be an overwhelming challenge to an aspiring Writer. After all, what story hasn’t been told at this point? It sounds simple, but in many regards, the first step to great script writing is asking one simple question: “Would I want to see this story?” While few scripts will appeal to all demographics, by keying in on a novel concept or putting a twist on an established genre, a unique premise will invoke curiosity and interest.

Memorable World

Let’s go back to those concepts. Beyond hooking the audience with a unique premise, each story was brought to life through the creation of a believable, three-dimensional world — and that world begins long before a camera shoots it. It always starts on the page.

It’s important to note that a screenplay is not a novel where lengthy, and sometimes flowery, descriptions of the world are common. In a script, economy of space is vital. Which makes it all the more essential that a Writer knows how to describe and build a world with minimal words.

World-building also applies to all genres. Some Screenwriters might think it’s applicable only for fantasy or sci-fi stories, but it’s just as important to create a fully fleshed out world for an intimate, character-driven story set in Omaha, Nebraska as it is for a large, action-driven piece set on Krypton. For Writers who prefer to set their stories in a real locale — don’t be complacent about creating that world because of the assumption that the audience already knows it.

It sounds simple, but in many regards, the first step to great script writing is asking one simple question: “Would I want to see this story?”

Distinct, Engaging Characters

When deciding on characters for a story, here’s a good rule of thumb for Writers: you should know who is saying what even if you remove the character headings from the script.

Characters should not be interchangeable. Each one must have a distinct voice that is separate from every other character in that story. But how to develop those distinct voices? While not mandatory to create a memorable cast of characters, many Writers choose to write backgrounds for each of their characters. Others have a list of questions that they answer for their protagonists and antagonists. Both exercises serve to provide more specificity for their characters, which helps to make them more distinct. Again, think Quint from Jaws, Elliott from E.T. or the titular Indiana Jones. It doesn’t matter if the character seems larger than life or like the boy next door. They should all make an impression that sticks with the audience.

Script writing, as it applies to characters, also means making each character count. Some Writers like large ensemble casts, as it often translates to more opportunities for conflict and dialogue. But another question that a Screenwriter must ask themselves is whether or not every character serves the story. In short, are they helping to move the plot forward? If not, merge that character into another or remove them entirely.

Suspenseful Plot

Speaking of plot, a logically and thematically sound plot is crucial to any script. Writers should keep in mind, though, that logic doesn’t necessarily mean what makes sense in the real world. They can make up any rules they want for their story, but those rules need to both fit together and build upon one another. Whatever the logic, it must make sense for that particular world.

Another question to ask: what is the story really about? Is it just about an Archaeologist finding a lost piece of history or is it about the forces of good overcoming evil? While the plot should move along the action and progress of the story, it should also be continually building upon the larger themes of the story, whether that’s love, redemption, independence or any other human experience. Because while a fast-paced race to find the Ark of the Covenant can be fun to watch, it’s the larger themes of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark that make the audience care about whether or not Indy will be successful.

And when it comes down to it, that’s really what sets apart expert script writing from the rest — caring about where the story goes. The truth is that if someone doesn’t care about the story by page 10 — or sometimes earlier — they likely will not invest the time and energy to see if they change their minds by page 90. A Writer must immediately set the stage for a suspenseful plot that keeps the audience wanting to follow through until the end.

Keep in mind, though, that a suspenseful story doesn’t have to mean stakes as high as saving a community from a man-eating shark or helping an alien get back to his home planet. It can mean a reconciliation between an estranged father and son or a couple finding out that they’re going to adopt the baby they’ve always wanted. But for the audience to care about those outcomes, not only do Writers have to find a unique premise with which to draw them in, create a world that immerses the reader or viewer and draw characters that feel authentic and memorable, but also they have to build a plot that takes the audience willingly along to find out what happens.

It takes time, persistence and energy to hone the skills that will make for a great read. It’s not uncommon for Writers to get the attention of a Manager or have a script optioned only after they’ve written a dozen or more other stories that never see the light of day.

Cathartic Climax & Resolution

When the audience does find out what happens — that Brody blows up the shark or that E.T. does go home — how will they feel? Will they think the outcome was warranted? That there is satisfaction in how the final climax leads to the resolution? It’s up to the Writer to give the reader not necessarily what they want but rather what the story needs.

Some people may have been shocked and saddened that not only was Quint not the one to kill the shark, but also he was the victim of it. Sure, he could have lived, but then would it have been as compelling to see Brody — a man who is admittedly afraid of water — be the one to step up and kill the shark? Not the lifelong shark hunter, not the academic shark expert, but instead an urban Sheriff who came to find that moving his family to a sleepy little town could be more terrifying than New York City?

A Writer should always be looking for the climax and resolution that makes sense for the story and characters, and sometimes that means going against what they think the audience wants. For instance, Rhett doesn’t stay with Scarlett. R.P. McMurphy never escapes the psychiatric ward. Jack dies before he and Rose can be rescued. They’re all bittersweet yet ultimately satisfying endings precisely because they adhere to the way the final climax was executed.

Additional Script Writing Reminders

Sometimes it can feel like Writers are creating in a void, which is why it’s essential to find trusted individuals from whom to get feedback. For some Writers, that means joining a writing group. For others, it’s finding one or two objective colleagues who agree to read their material. But whatever the relationship, having someone to read drafts is critical before a Writer tries to submit to a contest, fellowship or development professional.

Having even one other person to read their script and give notes can help a Writer know if they’re adhering to all of the above tenets of good script writing. While screenwriting is a highly subjective craft, it always helps to get the opinion of a trusted individual — especially if their feedback falls short of expectations. From there, a Writer can evaluate those notes and see if it makes sense to incorporate them into their work.

Finally, Writers should remember that excellent script writing is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes time, persistence and energy to hone the skills that will make for a great read. It’s not uncommon for Writers to get the attention of a Manager or have a script optioned only after they’ve written a dozen or more other stories that never see the light of day. Just as with any other trade, practice and patience are key. But with a dedication to evolving and improving their script writing, any aspiring Screenwriter can stand out from the pack.

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How to Fit the Production Assistant Job Description & Land a Film Crew Gig

How to Fit the Production Assistant Job Description & Land a Film Crew Gig

Most of us have a strong desire to perform in an above-the-line role on film and TV sets. Those roles range from Producer to Director to Director of Photography. Many of us even desire below-the-line roles like Unit Production Manager, Assistant Director, or Gaffer. However, the film and television industry is still very much a blue-collar, apprenticeship-oriented vocation and it is very reluctant to let newbies and recent film graduates to just slide into one of those positions – and with good reason. Film school teaches you the basics in a student-level environment and until you work in the film and TV field, on professionally run sets, then you still have a lot to learn. That’s why Production Assistants – the often unsung, but extremely important – heroes of production are a necessary part of any film, video, or TV shoot.

So let’s dive into what it means to be a Production Assistant by explaining:

  1. Production Assistant job description
  2. What makes a great Production Assistant?
  3. Targeting the best department as a Production Assistant
  4. Finding work as a Production Assistant

Production Assistant Job Description

A Production Assistant or PA is a role that is far more important than most people know outside of the film and TV industry. A PA is often thought of as an assistant, and while this is true to some degree, this “Assistant” role is far-reaching and encompassing of several skills and abilities. A PA can exist in nearly every department including producing, production management, the writing department, casting, the camera department, the art department, locations, and even the wardrobe department.

What makes a great Production Assistant?

Attitude and gumption are everything as a PA. Here are the defining traits of an excellent Production Assistant.

Have a Fantastic Attitude: There is a lot of grunt work that accompanies almost any PA job. It’s difficult and PAs are pulled in several directions by department heads, Coordinators, and other production industry employees in lead roles. On any given day, regardless of the department, you may be asked to make copies, make and deliver coffee, label and distribute walkies, attend meetings and take comprehensive notes, take lunch orders and make sure they are correct, organize files, handle phone calls, and take out the trash. It is so important to roll with the punches and have a great attitude while accomplishing goals. Don’t take anything personally.

Be an Amazing Listener: A great PA keeps both ears open and listens carefully to direction. Producers, Directors, Production Managers, Production Coordinators, and various department leads are busy during pre-production, production, and post-production. They don’t have time to repeat directions, so pay close attention.

Write Comprehensive Notes: A successful PA takes comprehensive notes to make sure he or she doesn’t miss something. Write notes on a pad and then photograph your notes just in case you lose your note pad. I take notes on my phone, however, it’s important to keep in mind that writing notes on your phone may seem like you’re texting or distracted, so writing in a note pad sends a clear message that you’re writing tasks down. Then, email yourself those notes just in case you misplace your phone.

When in Doubt, Ask Questions: Yes, you should be paying attention and writing down notes, but sometimes, something doesn’t make sense when someone gives you a task. It’s ok to think about it for a moment and then ask clear questions that help clarify. A Producer would rather you understand the direction instead of just trying to wing it and get the task wrong.

Stop Obviously Competing: Some new PAs come off as competitive, trying to do everything in spite of the other PAs who are available to help with the workload. They jump on every task and never admit when they are overwhelmed. It comes off as desperate. Stop it and be a team player. Share the work and don’t bite off more than you can chew. It doesn’t mean don’t work hard – it just means don’t be too anxious and frenetic.

Anticipate Needs: After a while, a smart PA will anticipate the needs of his or her department. A PA will start to develop the ability to think 2 to 3 steps ahead, realizing when someone wants coffee, when lunch orders need to be taken, when script copies will be needed, and when an office will need to be set up for an incoming executive or new employee. The PA who can see what’s coming is invaluable and in demand.

A successful PA takes comprehensive notes to make sure he or she doesn’t miss something. Write notes on a pad and then photograph your notes just in case you lose your note pad.

Targeting the Best Department as a Production Assistant

Early in your career, you should have some indication of what you’re drawn to in the film and television industry. Therefore, you should be thinking about the type of PA job you want. Do you want to be a Producer or work in the Art Department? Do you want to get your hands on camera gear or learn the nuts and bolts in production management? Whichever department is most attractive, don’t be hesitant to seek out those roles and don’t be shy when asked, “What department do you want to work in?” Too many first time PAs jump into whatever role is available, and that may be OK. Sometimes, you just want to get your foot in the door and if all the production has is a Craft Services PA, then go for it. However, if they ask you about a specific PA role, go for the position that gets you as close to the department you eventually want to work in.

You should also be thinking about whether you want to work in the office or on set. Here are some basic departments to consider:

  • Office: Production, Post-production, Casting, Development, Writing
  • Set: Assistant Directing, Camera, Grip, Electric, Locations, Costuming, Craft Services

Here are some resources to find work as a Production Assistant:

If you work hard, show up 15 minutes early every day, listen, take notes, pay attention, and anticipate needs, you will be wanted by everyone who has worked with you. A strong PA is indispensable and in high-demand.

Should I Work for Free?

The short answer? No. However, there are exceptions. If you have zero experience as a PA, then perhaps volunteering on an independent production like a short film or webisode may be an option to gain some experience. Here’s what you should be wary of: job postings that promise an award-winning Director, name talent, and working with a professional crew. When I read that, my first question is: if they are so advanced, then why can’t they pay their crew? It sounds like nonsense to me. However, if you really need some experience, then perhaps volunteering on at most three free gigs will help build your resume. At least make sure they have insurance so that if you get hurt on the job, you can be covered. After three free gigs, stop working for free!

Tips on Rates

What should a Production Assistant be paid? Depending on the market, you should be paid at least minimum wage in your area. In Los Angeles, the general rule of thumb is $186.50 for a 12-hour day. That takes into consideration 8 hours of straight time plus 4 hours of overtime. After that, you should be paid overtime for the next 4 hours and then it goes up from there based on local labor laws.

The general rate for experienced PAs is $200 for a 12 hour day. The highest would be $250/12 to $300/12 for a Key PA or really seasoned PA, depending on the department.

How Long to PA

One to three years tops. After that, you should be looking into APOC (Assistant Production Office Coordinator), PC (Production Coordinator), or different types of Assistant roles like AC (Assistant Camera), AP (Associate Producer), 2nd AD (2nd Assistant Director), or Wardrobe Assistant roles. After three years, it’s time to advocate for advancement in your career. You can’t PA forever and you shouldn’t PA forever.

Learn While You Earn

Being a Production Assistant gives you insight into how productions and sets are really run and you will be able to learn while you earn. If you work hard, show up 15 minutes early every day, listen, take notes, pay attention, and anticipate needs, you will be wanted by everyone who has worked with you. A strong PA is indispensable and in high-demand. So, get out there and assist productions like a pro!

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