How to Write and Produce a Movie
Writing and producing a movie can be quite the challenge, especially if you are new to filmmaking. Creating an original motion picture requires a unique vision, detailed planning, and hard work. Start by writing a screenplay that is engaging for viewers. Then, produce the movie by making a budget and getting financing. You will also need to find the cast and crew and supervise the movie production to ensure it runs smoothly.
Preparing to Write the Movie
Learn the format of a screenplay.Screenplays have a particular format that requires tabbing and hitting Enter a lot if you are working in a word processing document. You can use software that does the formatting for you, such as Final Draft, Scrivener, and Move Magic. You will need to write the screenplay in the right format so it can be produced properly. There are several key formatting notes in a screenplay, including:
- The slugline: This appears in ALL CAPS at the beginning of each scene and explains the location and time of day. INT is used in the slugline if the scene is interior, or indoors, and EXT is used if the scene is exterior, or outdoors. For example: “INT. DINER - NIGHT” or “EXT. FIELD - DAY.”
- Transitions: These show how the camera is moving from scene to scene. They appear in ALL CAPS. Common transitions include FADE IN, FADE OUT, CUT TO, and DISSOLVE TO.
- Character names: Your character names always appear in ALL CAPS in the screenplay. For example, “RON walks down the street” or “SARA shuts the bedroom door.”
- You can find more detailed formatting information at Write a Screenplay.
Brainstorm story ideas.Think about films and movie characters you like as a viewer as inspiration for your movie. Use a childhood memory or an adult experience that you found interesting. Take a real life character and fictionalize them in your movie.
- Pick a particular time period, such as the 1970s, and create characters that would fit in that era.
- Use a historical event as inspiration for your movie. You can also take a historical setting and make it come alive in your movie.
- You can also write a movie based on a particular genre, such as romantic comedies, action movies, or horror flicks.
Create a hero or heroine.A good screenplay will have a main character that is relatable to your audience. They can be a conventional good hero or heroine who saves the day. Or they can be a complicated, self-deprecating heroine who does not always do the right thing. Come up with a main character who is active and makes decisions, even if they are not always the best ones.
- For example, you may create a main character who is lonely and trying to find their true love at school. Or you may have a main character who works for a shady boss and wants to escape a life of crime.
Read examples of screenplays.Get a better idea of the formatting of a screenplay, as well as how to write a successful movie, by reading screenplays that are well respected. You can find most complete Hollywood screenplays online. You may read:
- Pulp Fictionby Quentin Tarantino
- Thelma & Louiseby Callie Khouri
- When Harry Met Sallyby Nora Ephron
- Moonlightby Barry Jenkins
Writing the Movie
Outline the screenplay.The script outline is a guide that includes a rough idea of the number of scenes in the movie. Most feature length scripts have 50-70 scenes and run about 100-120 pages long. They usually have three acts that include:
- Act 1: This is where you introduce the setting, characters, and inciting incident. The inciting incident is the event that gets your protagonist going and motivated to act. Act 1 is about 30 pages long.
- Act 2: This is where your protagonist identified her goal or desire and encounters obstacles that make it difficult for her to achieve her goal. It contains the bulk of the story, full of urgency and tension. Act 2 is usually about 60 pages long.
- Act 3: This includes the story’s climax, where the tension is highest as the protagonist tries to achieve her goal. There is also a clear ending, where the protagonist gets what she wants or fails to achieve her goal. Act 3 is usually 20-30 pages long.
Write a rough draft.A rough draft is your first go at the script. Write quickly and do not think too much about what you are writing. Get your ideas down on paper and avoid editing the script as you go. Use your long line, treatment, and outline as a guide while you write.
- You can try writing the rough draft in a few days or a week. Focus on getting your ideas down on paper, rather than writing a perfect draft.
Include visual details in the script.Describe things that can be seen or heard on screen. Include descriptors that paint a visual picture in the reader's mind. Note any sounds or images that are important to the scene.
- For example, you may describe a character injecting drugs as "Naomi MOANS as she sticks the needle into her vein. Blood SPURTS into the syringe as she pushes down on the plunger."
Create distinct dialogue for your characters.Make sure the dialogue tells the reader something about the character. Avoid generic dialogue like "Hi, how are you?" or "What's new?" Instead, use dialogue that is particular to your characters. Include slang or turns of phrase that only they would use.
- For example, you may have a character who speaks in formal British English when they get nervous or upset. Or you may have a character who says very little or only gives one word answers.
- Keep the dialogue short, about three lines or less. You can include monologues for your characters, where they talk for more than five lines at one time, but only when you feel they are absolutely necessary.
Revise the rough draft.Read the draft aloud. Listen to how the dialogue sounds. Make sure your characters sound distinct on the page. You should also confirm you have included enough visual detail in the script so your reader can get a good sense of setting and scene.
- Check that your screenplay is formatted properly.
- Look for any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.
- You can also show the script to others, such as friends, peers, or family members, and get their feedback. Then, revise the draft again to include their notes.
Creating the Log Line and Treatment of the Script
Make a log line.The log line is a one sentence summary of the movie. It should contain your protagonist (a hero or heroine), an antagonist (a villain or anti-hero), and a goal that motivates your protagonist. Having a log line will help you stay focused when writing and stay on track. It is also useful as a marketing tool when you are producing the movie and trying to get it made.
- The log line should not use the names of the characters. Instead, it should use descriptions of the characters that tell the reader something about them.
- For example, you may have a log line like: “An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a '66 Thunderbird.”
Create a treatment.The treatment will give financiers and studio executives a clear picture of the movie, and help them decide if it is worth their money. The treatment is a two to five page summary that breaks out the movie into three acts. It will include the title of the film and the log line.
- For example, you may have a title like “When Harry Met Sally” or “Bobo the Fish.” Go for a title that is simple and to the point. Avoid long titles.
- You may then have a log line like: “An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a '66 Thunderbird.”
Include a synopsis in the treatment.The treatment should also include a synopsis that mentions the names of the characters, and provides brief details about them. It will also present a basic idea of how the characters get from major event to major event in the movie.
- For example, you may write a synopsis like: “Thelma, a timid housewife, joins her friend, headstrong Louise, for a weekend fishing trip. But when Louise shoots and kills a man who tries to rape Thelma at a bar, their trip finds them fleeing to Mexico on the run from the law. Along the way, Thelma finds herself falling for a handsome young thief while a kind detective tries to get them to surrender before it's too late”
Budgeting and Financing the Movie
Create a budget.Most producers will hire a line producer or a production manager to prepare a budget for the movie. If you do not have access to a line producer, you will need to make the budget yourself. You will need to factor in the cost of:
- The cast, including the salaries for the actors and actresses
- The director
- The production staff
- The film crew
- The art department, including makeup, costumes, and set design
- Travel and transportation for cast and crew
- Using location(s) for the movie
- Post production, including editing and publicity
Apply for arts grants and local funding.Search for film grants through your local government. Contact your local arts foundation or program in person or online.
- You can also enter your script into contests online that give you money to develop your film. Try submitting your script to programs through local film festivals or independent film festivals that offer funding.
Ask friends and family members for financial support.Tell them you want to produce the film as a passion project. Create an online donation page where friends and family can give money to the movie to help it get made.
- It is usually easier to ask friends and family for money, rather than people you do not know.
Use your own money.Take out a line of credit or a personal loan at your bank. Use money in your savings account towards the movie. In some cases, if you cannot get funding in other ways, you may have to take a chance and invest your own funds into the project.
- Be careful when using credit cards to fund the movie, as this can be a risky way to produce it. Try to only invest money in the movie that you know you can pay back or earn back later on.
Getting the Cast and Crew
Find a director.If you are not directing the script you wrote, you will need to find a competent director that understands your vision for the story. The director is responsible for overseeing the creative aspects of the movie. They will work with cast and crew to achieve the vision laid out in the script. They are considered separate from the production staff and they answer to the producer.
- As the producer of the movie, you will check in and communicate with the director regularly to ensure the shoot goes well.
Assemble the production staff.The production staff will help you maintain the budget and stay organized before and during the shoot. The production staff usually includes, at a minimum:
- The Production Manager: This person supervises the physical aspects of the production, including personnel, budget, and scheduling. It is their job to ensure the movie stays on schedule and on budget.
- The First Assistant Director: This person assists the production manager and the director. They maintain a working environment where the director, the cast, and the crew can focus on their work. They manage the cast and crew scheduling, the equipment, the script, and the set.
- The Location Manager: This person is responsible for securing locations for the movie. They arrange permits or fees needed to use a location to shoot scenes.
- The Casting Director: This person chooses the actors or actresses for the film. They will run auditions for the cast and decide who ends up starring in the movie.
Find a director of photography and a camera crew.The size of the film will dictate how large the film crew is. If you are making a small, independent film with a limited budget, you may have a very basic film crew. At a minimum, you will need a film crew that includes:
- The Director of Photography: This person is responsible for the camera and lighting crew. They may decisions on the framing and lighting of shots in collaboration with the director. They are considered the senior creative crew member after the director.
- The Camera Operator: This person directs the camera based on the decisions of the director of photography. In some cases, the director of photography will also be the camera operator, especially on low budget movies.
- The Gaffer: This person is the head of the lighting department. They come up with a lighting plan for the production, working with the director of photography and the director.
- The Key Grip: This person is the head of the set operations department. They make sure the correct lighting and equipment is present on set. They work closely with the director of photography.
- The Sound Operator: This person is responsible for making sure the sound is captured correctly on set. They will arrange microphones on set so the cast can be heard on film. They also log audio for post production.
Get a production designer.The production designer is responsible for creating the visual appearance of the film, from the settings to the costumes to the makeup. They run the art department on set and work closely with the director and the director of photography to achieve the right look for the movie.
- The production designer may have an art director and a costume designer working underneath them.
Supervising the Film Shoot
Support the director as needed.As the producer of the movie, you will mostly communicate with the director on set. You do not need to be on set for the duration of the shoot. But you should check in regularly to ensure the production is going smoothly.
- You may set up daily phone calls with the director or regular visits to the set to make sure everything is going to plan on set.
- You may need to field any issues or complaints the director has about the set and address them promptly so production does not stall.
Confirm the movie is on budget.Communicate with the production manager to ensure the movie is staying on budget. Advocate for keeping costs down so the film is not at risk of going over budget. As a producer, it is your job to make sure there is enough money to finance and complete the movie.
- You can also ask for daily information on where the budget is at during the shoot so you can keep a close eye on it.
Check that the movie is on schedule.As a producer, it is also your job to make sure the movie does not go over the allotted shoot days. Communicate with the production manager and the director to make sure the movie stays on schedule, as any extra shoot days will end up costing money that you may not have.
- Most low budget films take 20 to 25 days to shoot, or 4-5 weeks. Bigger films that are backed by a studio can take 40 to as much as 120 days to shoot.
Arrange publicity for the movie.Once the movie has wrapped, you will need to figure out a publicity plan so you can promote the movie to the public. You may arrange short social media teasers to help attract attention. You can also enter the movie into film festivals and film competitions to expose it to a wider audience.
- You can also arrange for the cast to do promotional tours and interviews for the movie to help promote it to viewers.
Sample Script and Outline
QuestionWhat kind of green screen do I need to make it look like I'm in a room?Trivia_loverCommunity AnswerAny type is fine. Setting up a green screen to make two walls and the floor is a good method, but with recent technology, one layer of green screen behind you and a 3-D picture should do fine.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I get started on making a movie with an extremely low budget?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWrite the script, cast your friends, find cheap cameras, download an editing program and just shoot.Thanks!
QuestionCan a movie have two settings?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. Most movies have more than one setting. As long as the switch between settings is smooth, your movie will be fine.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I make a Sci-Fi and comedy movie?Josh VareyCommunity AnswerI recommend you watch Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks." It is an excellent Sci-Fi/comedy and it might give you some ideas on what to do.Thanks!
QuestionWould I have to pay the movie theater to show my movie?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNot if the theater sees potential in the movie, in which case they can make a deal with the filmmaker(s). That's what the people of the Dutch independent action movie "Bum Fu" did. They managed to show the movie in three theaters.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I make a good movie title?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThink about what happens in the movie, and then work on a title based on that. The title can be changed many times during production, so you can start off with a "working title" and modify it later.Thanks!
Video: I Didn’t Know How To Produce A Movie, But That Didn’t Stop Me by Zack Ward
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