How I Made My First Feature Film and Why and How you can do it too! PART ONE

So you’ve wanted to make a feature length film. You have a great idea for a script. It’s always been a dream of yours to show Hollywood that you have what it takes. So why haven’t you started shooting? I’ve been there and done that. But one day I decided that enough was enough and since that day I have been able to put it all together and am now editing my first feature. It was hard so don’t kid yourself and I won’t kid you. But I will help you if you will read through my posts I’ll explain how I did it and how you can too. Will I impress Hollywood? Who knows. One thing I do know is that I will have a film that will outlive me and I think I can live with just accomplishing that for now…till my next one starts.

I welcome any questions as I go since this will take several parts to present so don’t be shy. Now understand that I’m going to tell you how I did it which means there are probably another thousand ways to go about it out there but those ways I haven’t learned yet.

In 2005 I ventured to Hollywood intent on learning all I could about making movies. I stayed there awhile but I wanted to make my films in the South so I packed up and came home to South Carolina. I did learn some things out there and I did have a lot of fun mixing with the crowd in the business but you do not have to go to Hollywood to become a filmmaker. While I was out there I started to outline several scripts for ideas I had. I ended up with several ones I liked and by the time I came home I had actually started writing on several of them. I decided to take all screenwriters advice and write what I knew. So my advice to you is WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. If you at least know a little something about your project you will save a lot of time in research that you could spend writing. I settled on writing about the summer I graduated High School. Even at my age (48) I could still remember all the crazy things my friends and I got into that summer. So I took a bunch of my friends characteristics and blended them into several characters for the movie. Now I had to write the script. Once you have your story idea you have to write the script or get someone to write it for you. Now there is nothing wrong with getting someone to write the script for you because writing a screenplay is probably unlike anything you have ever written before but you can write it yourself with some practice. It took me awhile just to get the feel of it.

OK here is how I wrote my screenplay and it worked out pretty well for me so you might want to try it. First take a sheet of paper and write one of your lead character’s names on top of it. Now grab another piece and do the same for another lead character. Do this for every prominent character your film will have in it. For me this took awhile because I had a huge number of characters. Now do a little bio on each character. Tell a little about who they are and where they come from. Give a little backstory on each person so that you can always look back and see really who that character is. Now I know this is boring and time consuming but you will be thankful when you do it and start getting into the script. It also comes in handy when it is time to let your actor in on who their character is.

Now all scripts should have a beginning, a middle and an end. You can break that rule if you want to because it is your film but I decided to do mine the standard way. In the beginning you have to introduce your characters and you have to make your audience care about them in some emotional way. They may love them, pity them, hate them, feel bad for them for some reason, something! If the audience can’t connect with them in some way then that character does you no good in the film. So you are going to introduce your characters in the first part of the script. You are also going to introduce the situation they are in. What are they going through? Where are they? Why are they there? You can have a couple of sub plots going on also so the audience needs to get a glimpse of  those stories too. In a film like mine the first thirty pages or so the action flows along pretty smooth as the audience starts to feel something about the characters. Then something happens to cause a conflict with your main character. This is the middle. For thirty pages or so the lead character has come upon something that has him in some kind of peril. It could be physical (the world will blow up if he doesn’t do something), or emotional (his girl is gone and he had better do something or he will never see her again). He is facing a conflict of some kind and just when it seems that he won’t make it… BAM something happens and he now has the power to change everything or even through no power of his own suddenly the situation changes and everything is going to be alright after all. This is the end. That is the normal script. You don’t have to write the normal script but I’ll leave that tpo you.

Here is how I wrote my script. I got a pack of 3 x 5 note cards and I started by putting the name of any scene I might think would contribute to the story at the top of the card. An example was CARD # 1 High School Break Up Scene. This became my first scene in the script. Under the heading I wrote notes, for example, Steven and Amanda pull into the parking lot at school. Amanda breaks up with Steven because he is going off to college and she doesn’t think she can wait. When she leaves the car he watches her go out of site then raises his hands in victory! He was going to break up with her but she beat him to it. So my notes on that card pretty much told me what happens in that scene. Then I wrote headings for all the things I could think of for my story. When I finished I had about 60 cards or 60 scenes. Later I cut out a few that didn’t seem to fit and ended up with 53 scenes. These cards became the stepping stones for my script. Now visualize this. I laid out all 60 cards on the floor of a room and put them together like a puzzle until they looked like they would create a story that flowed. Now it was time to write!

Now came the fun part. What do these people say to each other and how do they sound? My script is dialogue heavy (not what the pro’s recommend but I’m not shooting for an oscar here I’m wanting to tell my story). I tried to have them do as much as possible but this is a story of teenagers in 1978 so they had to talk because in ’78 we talked a lot. But how do you do this. Writing dialogue has to be the hardest thing I did. You want your characters to sound like real people and say things real people would say. The way I did it was to have their conversations in my head and see if it sounded real. Of course when we started filming I gave my actors the leeway to try and talk as natural as possible and still say what the script said. Don’t make your script in stone if you are going to direct your film. If you are not directing you can be sure whoever is will not have it done by the script. I think this gave my actors the chance to create who they think their character was and give them more life. But you have to write something so make it as real as possible and work it out in rehearsals.

Only you or your co writer know what your characters want to say! Your characters are telling your story for you. They are your voice and will become your voice so let them say whatever they have to in order to tell your story. I suggest looking at other scripts to get ideas. I looked at many scripts and saw how characters reacted and looked at things they said them and how they said them. I know it seems strange but it will help quite a lot. You can find scripts in public libraries or right here on the net. Read some. You’ll be glad you did. Another thing I did that I think helped was I would get a script and rent the film and watch it and read the script while I watched it. That put a whole new perspective on what was written on the page for me. I suggest you try that too.

So here we go. Take card # 1 and put it in front of you. Use your screenwriting software or do like I did and do it in WORD. Type Fade In and begin. After looking at scripts you will get the hang of telling the who, what, where and why of each scene. Then bring your characters to life. Have them talking to each other and off you go. Finish scene one the way you see it on that screen in your head. Never mind if it looks to long or if maybe she shouldn’t say that or that sounds stupid. Never mind all of that just write and write till you have that scene on screen. Now save it and get Card # 2. Many days, weeks, months, later (it is up to you) you will pick up that last card and finally finish that last scene. Then you can sit back for a minute and be proud. Most people who are going to write a script and make a movie never make it to where you just got. They quit a long time ago because it got too hard and it is hard so be proud. You just wrote your first draft. Now read what you wrote. ARRRGGGGHHHHHH Did you really write that crap? Now you may be beaming with pride. I’m not going to say you didn’t write a masterpiece that firs time. After all you did spend probably weeks or months doing it. I’ll just finish up by saying it took me a year to finish and then I rewrote it four (yes 4) more times and now that the film is finished you could look at a lot of the final draft and find what was said in the movie was completely different in many scenes. You will write till it is all in the can and guess what? I just wrote a new scene to a finished movie and we are going to take a day and film it. No one in my cast even knows about it yet. Only me and my D.P. So in other simple words read it and put it aside because tomorrow you need to go to scene one and start again. This time only say what needs to be said. You want to say it in 90 to 120 pages because one page of script equals about one minute of film. So rewrite it and then rewrite it again. Trust me, it will get better each time.

Well that is it for this post. It took me 3 years to get my film to where it is now so I can’t explain how I did it in a few hundred words. Find Post number 2 when I get it up and we will proceed. If you read this far you may just be serious about making a feature length film. Hit me with questions if you want to . For more on my film “1978” just visit my myspace pages and see how things are progressing. www.myspace.com/MarkSCFilmmaker

Later friends!

Mark 

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