How To Write a Movie: Part One

Getting Your Act Together

Over the next few articles I will explain the most important aspects of writing a movie:

  • How to brainstorm ideas and create a treatment.
  • How to analyze that treatment to see if it will work as a script.
  • Then, the second most important part, how to write the script.
  • And finally, how to get together a business plan so that you can begin the long arduous process of marketing your product.

But first, get your act together!

  1. Screenwriters can write in many different forms. They can write TV soap operas, sitcoms, drama series, or small independent movies or big special effects driven blockbusters. The markets for all these have their own peculiar demands and the writers interact with the end product differently from each other. In this series of articles I am going to concentrate on the movies, but even within that area, we have a whole range of differences. For a start, every movie is different because every production is pieced together differently by a whole array of individuals often scattered about the world. Further, there are many different movie industries and even if one is neither Mexican, nor Indian nor Chinese, one can still write Mexican Wrestling movies, Bollywood Musicals or Chinese Sword Play movies if you happen to be in a position to do so!

    In 2007 I personally had a thirteen part TV series broadcast in Singapore, a drama series
    about the lives and loves of Singapore's Civil Defence Force. I'm a white Anglo-Saxon male who just happens have lived in Hong Kong since 1991 and so have become involved in the Asian film and TV world. For that matter though, I have a movie optioned in Hollywood that hopefully will be made in 2008! But similarly I am one of the writers on an Indian movie that is also in pre-production in Mumbai and I shall be there in February 2008 discussing some of the details. All these markets work very differently and expect different things from the writer. It is the professional's job to understand these differences, an aspect of the screenwriting career that has become increasingly important as the market has globalized, and one that in the future will be even more important.

  2. The screenwriter is not a stripped-down version of a novelist. Though writing prose fiction nowadays demands similar methods of engagement with the publishing industry that one employs for engaging with the film world, the novelist's art is very much an individualistic thing, whereas the screenwriter is part of a creative collaboration with other highly creative individuals. The director, the photographer, the actor, the composer, and even the production designer right down to the make up artist and caterer, all have difficult skills and aesthetic philosophies that need to be brought to bear upon the production to ensure a satisfactory experience for the viewer. So it helps if the screenwriter also has some knowledge of all these other skills, though I often think that a strong head for business is the most important skill to have alongside your writing abilities.
  3. Get into the habit of thinking that a movie is what you are writing and not just a script! To get a movie made requires you to not only have a great idea that can be made, that is capable of finding a market, but also a series of documents that will communicate the viability of your concept to all the key personnel who have to be involved in the process, not least of whom are the investors! So you need to write a pitch, you need to write a treatment, you need to write a screenplay and somewhere along the line someone will have to write a business plan and that person might as well be you, because that way you become a producer.

    This should enable you to avoid becoming the clichéd screwed-up screenwriter who was not even invited to the premier. You might also try adding Director to your ambitions. The Writer/Director/Producer is the way to go, and if you can't manage all that by yourself, then teaming up with partners who can pool their ideas and talents covering this range of requirements is highly recommended. Business partners screw each other up, fight among themselves, end up in litigation and so on, but that is business. It happens. And some times it all works and everyone is rich, happy and for the moment content with their lot. It is guaranteed that you will not be happy at any point if you merely think you can sit in your room, write a script and pop it into the post with your fingers crossed. You need to engage as fully as you can with the industry.

In short, get your act together. And proceed to movie-writing part 2.


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