The world of film is very, very competitive. You may have the best movie idea of all time, but if your script isn’t formatted correctly, there’s a high chance it will never even get read.
In filmmaking and video production, pre-production formally begins once a project has been greenlit. At this stage, finalizing preparations for production go into effect. Financing will generally be confirmed and many of the key elements such as principal cast members, director, and cinematographer are set.
Pre-production involves getting the storyline together and creating a screenplay. By the end of pre-production, the screenplay is usually finalized and satisfactory to all the financiers and other stakeholders.
A screenplay is about 120 pages long and involves scenes and dialogue. However, this page length varies by genre. For comedy scripts (i.e. romantic comedies), you can get away with 90-100 pages. A lot of horror scripts, especially contained horror scripts, can be 80-90 pages.
Most drama, action and thrillers often exceed a 100 pages and are closer to the traditional rule of 120 pages. Some writers like Aaron Sorkin are quite verbose. “Social Network” is at 163 pages!
As an indie filmmaker, we often prefer to work with screenplays around the 90 pages. Every page counts as a minute of film footage. This in turn helps you estimate the cost of producing that screenplay. Keep this rule (1 minute = 1 page) in mind as a film producer. For screenwriters, this is a good rule of thumb when estimating screen time for your spec scripts.
A screenplay is really just a draft of the film. The director will take charge as to which angle to shoot scenes. The actors will make their parts come alive. Some actors will want more control over their characters. The director will also fight for control.
Even if you are doing this on the fly and are hiring your best friends to do this job and make your own movie, expect a battle of control. Whenever you work with creative people, understand that they have egos.
Your movie should have a point and tell a story. Just like a book or any other written entertainment, you have to have the following in order for your story to work:
YOU HAVE TO PRESENT A CONFLICT AND SOLVE THE CONFLICT IN THE SCREENPLAY.
You can read all the books and listen to all the screenwriting gurus in the world. You can forget everything, but always remember this one simple rule of creating conflict.
Here is a clip from Wall-E’s typical day at work. In a little over a minute. It’s jam-packed with conflict. Without knowing about Wall-E, you learn that his job is to clean up the mess in a city.
The conflict in this short clip is both internal and external. The external conflict is the fact that Wall-E has to clean up this huge city and it’s just him.
The internal conflict is Wall-E’s search for meaning and self-actualization. This is hinted at as he rummages through the garbage in search of interesting mementos to take back to his home.
Pixar scripts are great starting places to learn script writing. In this short clip, you can get a feel for Wall-E, his world and the challenges of his current situation. And the amazing part? The clip used no dialogue! It’s purely visual, yet so powerful.
Your main goal as a film producer or as a script writer is to entertain. I wish we all had access to Pixar scripts. Regardless, your main role as a filmmaker is to find a compelling script that will keep an audience’s attention.
This means creating conflict and tension in every bit of dialogue, every mise-en-scène, and every cut.
There are some people that refuse to understand this basic concept of fiction and even non fiction writing.
You introduce your characters, you present a problem that they have, you work towards solving the problem, you have a climax to the film in which the problem is addressed and an ending in which everything is resolved. It doesn’t have to be resolved “happily ever after” but it has to be resolved.
You cannot leave the audience thinking that they didn’t get a conclusion to the problem. Even if it is one they don’t like.
When you write a screenplay, it doesn’t usually pop out of your head the way the final product reads. This is true whenever you write a book or even an article. There are usually rewrites required.
You may have to rewrite your screenplay several times before you get it right. Then, if you are fortunate enough to sell the idea to a producer, they will rewrite the entire thing.
The screenplay should introduce all of the characters through dialogue and also introduce the setting of the movie. Writing a screenplay is no different than writing a play. It is just different because of the technical aspect of filming on the screen.
Instead of directions like “stage left” you will most likely put “fade to black” in your screenplay, but for now, when you are starting out, the main objective is to get your idea down on paper.
Try to make your screenplay original and something that hasn’t been done before. You can work on the screenplay with a trusted friend, aka Ben Affleck and Matt Damon on “Good Will Hunting.” You may even, like Affleck and Damon, who wrote this Academy Award winning film out of college, become famous and get to start dating people like Jennifer Lopez.
There are three basic ways you can write a screenplay:
- Linear: Story moves from beginning to end
- Non-Linear: Movie jumps around in sequence
- Documentary: Interviews and anecdotes break up narrative sequences (or mockumentary):
There is an old saying that when you are writing a book or a screenplay, start in the middle. You are better off to pack a punch in the beginning of your screenplay and get the audience interested in the characters right away rather than start from the beginning to the end.
During pre-production, the script is broken down into individual scenes storyboards and all the locations, props, cast members, costumes, special effects, and visual effects are identified. An extremely detailed schedule is produced and arrangements are made for the necessary elements to be available to the film-makers at the appropriate times. Sets are constructed, the crew is hired, financial arrangements are put in place and a start date for the beginning of principal photography is set. At some point in pre-production, there will be a read-through of the script which is usually attended by all cast members with speaking parts, the director, all heads of departments, financiers, producers, and publicists.
Even though the writer may still be working on it, the screenplay is generally page-locked and scene-numbered at the beginning of pre-production to avoid confusion. This means that even though additions and deletions may still be made, any particular scene will always fall on the same page and have the same scene number.