woman holding camera - filmup writers make a film

Why Writers Should Make Their Own Film

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.

Logistics

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.

guy holding camera - filmup writers make a film

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.

Cinematic Writing

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.'”

Experience

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.”

guy camera on beach - filmup writers make a film

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

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Amanda

Amanda Pendolino is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and script analyst who reads for studios, producers, and distributors around the globe. A former talent agency assistant, she has collaborated on both TV and film projects with various producers, directors, and actors. She enjoys silly comedies, stuffy period pieces, travel, live music, yoga and ice cream.

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. My associate, Christopher Cooksey, and I started down that path with a micro budget feature now in post and three scripts, sci-fi, fantasy, and Christmas/horror, to follow. One thing we learned [ the hard way 🙂 ] was how to get to that ‘hard to define’ but highly valuable quality of pace in story telling, what they call ‘a page turner’ in a novel. The editing of your own film allows you to see clearly what you could have omitted in the original script in order to save time and money on the set and also get the benefit of a screen story which ‘moves’, that is, has the ineffable quality of pace which every story needs.

  2. I’m a big fan of taking this approach. It’s a lot more complex than just pitching, but it’s worth it. After a decade or so of writing feature length screenplays and pitching them to creative executives, investors, and pretty much anybody that would listen, I wrote a couple of screenplays as episodes for two online series. It cost me a bunch of money, but I learned a lot. Plus, I’m selling them on Amazon and showing them with advertising on Spincast.

  3. This article is spot on. Several years ago I decided to write and shoot my own short, and was soon cursing myself for some of the outrageous shots I had to get. To complicate things further, a fair amount of action took place on and under water. I think the whole experience was invaluable and made me a more visual writer.

  4. This is what I’ve been telling my own students for a long time.
    I don’t like how Universities barely give them enough training from what I’ve seen then even if they turn out a terrible film, they still get a high grade to tick their own academic boxes. Filmmaking is NOT an academic subject & no industry professional is EVER going to read their dissertations or essays, so why bother?
    I would have been better off doing an apprenticeship with professionals but I worked hard and did LOTS of short films, won some awards but am still no better off. So now what?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA3pQFM-Qvo&t=16s (showreel)