Screenwriting is about more than just putting words on paper — it’s about making a blueprint for an actual film or TV show or short. But how can you effectively write a blueprint that’s meant to be shot if you’ve never shot something yourself? More and more writers are learning how to make a film themselves, and it’s the perfect way to learn how to write a screenplay more effectively.
First, you’ll learn how your location choices can create challenges in shooting. When you’re actually in charge of shooting your own script, you might realize that you’ve been too ambitious. You’ll learn which kinds of locations make it difficult for sound, lighting, or other logistical considerations.
If your screenplay is produced for a big budget by a studio, these things are not your problem and it can be good to be ambitious on the page. However, shooting a film will show you how your choices actually play out in the real world. You’ll also have to face the reality of other expensive choices, such as large, multi-character scenes that require a lot of camera coverage.
Actors & Dialogue
You’ll also learn how to write for actors, which will improve your dialogue. When actors stumble over your lines — and, if they’re bold, ask if they can make edits, you’ll start to hear your dialogue in a new way. You will learn what sounds too formal, too informal, or too difficult to say. You might also realize that you can combine some of your lines or cut extraneous beginnings and endings of scenes. “Enter late, leave early” is an old writing adage that you can follow to make your scenes more efficient — and this can mean saving time during shooting as well.
In addition, learning how to make a movie will make your writing more cinematic and visual. Once you begin shooting your own film, you’ll start to see a script as a collection of actual shots and not just as a narrative story in your head. You’ll think more about the characters’ physical environments and how you can make them interact with those environments in interesting ways. You’ll also think more about lighting, sound, and music.
“Seeing the inner workings of your script through production is incredibly valuable and can completely change how you approach your writing,” says Joshua Caldwell, who made the movie Layover for $6,000. “You can’t fully appreciate a screenplay’s purpose until you’ve seen it through to its natural conclusion as a film, until you’ve heard an actor try to say the lines you wrote, or you see what goes into shooting a piece of written action like ‘he falls out the window.'”
Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do everything on a film set. Filmmaking is collaborative, and people learn by doing. You can recruit experienced crew members through FilmUp such as editors and directors of photography who can guide you through the filmmaking process.
After you’ve made your own film, you will likely know a lot more about directing, editing, acting and even ordering the right craft service items. Plus, it will only get easier. Next time, you’ll know what to expect and how to prepare.
“I’m a big believer in over preparing…because film is one of the very few timed arts,” says Ladybird director Greta Gerwig. “When you’re on set and that clock is going, every second you spend doing something is a second you spend not doing something else. That’s true of all of life, but it’s very vivid on a film set because you’re always managing that.”
Your Personal Journey
Shooting your own movie or short film can also give you the thrill of creating a finished, tangible product. Although you can print out a physical draft of your script, sometimes screenwriting can feel intangible. It’s as though you’re sending words out into the ether, but people may never read them. Plus, it’s hard to get people to read something, especially if it’s 120 pages. It’s a lot easier to get someone to watch something.
And finally, making your own film means that you get to decide what’s out there in the world. You get to tell the story only you can tell. If current filmmakers aren’t representing your community or your experience, why not put it out there yourself? “I knew if I wanted to perform I was going to have to write it myself,” Mindy Kaling once told Entertainment Weekly. It worked for her!
Featured photo Credit – Kai Mitt – Instagram: jedzamiluj