Take ownership of your story
Everyone in the world that watches movies and TV — at one point — believes that they have an excellent idea for a movie or TV show that is better than the ones they’re watching. Yet having an idea is not enough. You need to inject the essential storytelling elements of story, plot, and characterization into the idea — and you need to do that well.
One of the most important issues that an aspirant writer has to come to terms with, and fully master, is the difference between the writing process and the film process.
What it all boils down to is this: the writer writes the screenplay and the director writes the film.
The script or screenplay is a master plan for the film. It is never in itself a finished work of art like a novel or a short story. An architect has his plans; a director has a screenplay which is his blueprint for the final film.
Film is a financially based art form. Many factors govern the development of a screenplay from the birth of an idea to the final shooting screenplay.
It might begin as a gleam in the eye of a director; it might be written by a freelance writer as pure speculation; it could be an original screenplay; often it is an adaptation of a novel. Some screenplays are written with a particular actor in mind.
Once it has been accepted, a screenplay undergoes many changes, some minor, and some radical. There are always compromises as film is a collaborative art form.
The Writing Process
Although the writing process seems simple and straightforward, most novice writers tend to take a step in the wrong direction by shortcutting, outsmarting or over-complicating the natural, instinctive process of communicating their story and making their voice as a writer heard.
If you shortcut the process and rush straight to the screenplay from the outline, your first draft is not a screenplay; it’s a surrogate treatment.
Let’s take a closer look at the course of action you will follow to write the first draft of your story, from inspiration to big screen, or TV series.
Find an idea
The process begins with a writer who wants to write a story. You must have an idea – this is your intention as a writer, there is something you are inspired to write about, a story you need to tell, magic you need to spin. The Idea is only an idea and nothing more; sometimes the spark of a great idea is only wishful thinking and evaporates the moment an even greater idea sparks up.
Note: In The Write Journey course we look at what makes an idea original, the art of adaptation, the war on cliché, choice making – the heart of all creative expression, and criteria for a good idea.
The hardest part of writing is knowing what to write. Feed your talent. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Gather your material any way you can. By doing research, you acquire information, and the information you collect will allow you to operate from the position of choice and responsibility.
Explore your Genre
What type of story do you want to write? Is it a drama? A comedy? A supernatural thriller? You must be familiar with other films that relate to or are like the screenplay you want to write. Each Genre imposes certain conventions on the screenplay. The choice of Genre sharply determines and limits what’s possible within a story.
Note: In The Write Journey course we explore genre, the most popular genre plots, and the conventions of genre
Define your premise
Explore the Premise, your central idea of what the story is about. Premise is a selling tool; it is a salesman for the film / publishers, and sells your story to people you have never met, whom you will never meet, some of whom are in a permanent bad mood because you can write and they can’t.
Define your concept
Having a Premise is not enough. You don’t have enough information. You’ve got to dramatise it. Define it. Articulate it. Conceptualise your story. If you don’t know, who does? Whereas premise focuses on the central dilemma and central conflict that form the basis of the story, the concept focuses on character and action: a character in a place doing something and wanting something.
Note: In The Write Journey course we look at how to define your premise and conceptualise your idea.
Define and explore your thematic purpose
What are you trying to say by writing your story? What is your point of view? Theme is the glue that holds your story together and resonates throughout the telling of your story. Theme refers to the purpose of telling any given story—what the audience stands to gain by watching, and what they risk losing out on if they don’t.
Note: In The Write Journey course we look at the art of thematic purpose, exploring your thematic purpose, the functions of theme, finding your thematic goal, the Process of finding your story’s theme, and we examine examples of themes from ground-breaking films.
Define and develop your characters
All memorable and successful stories have one thing in common. They all have characters that have become part of our culture. Character is the essential foundation of story. It is the heart, soul and nervous system of your story. Before you put a word to paper, you must know who the people in your story are.
Note: In The Write Journey course we fully explore the protagonist / hero / anti-hero, the antagonist / antagonistic force / villain, and the supporting and function character. We also look at how to create character biographies, building character, explore the visual dynamics of character, and look at how to write functional dialogue.
Structure your story
Structure is discipline, it is the starting point in the process of writing; without structure, you have no story, without story, you have no screenplay / novel / stage play / TV series. It is the force that holds everything together; all the action, characters, plot, incidents, episodes, events, and the thematic purpose that make up your story.
Note: In The Write Journey course we explore the origin of structure, the essence of dramatic structure, the symbiotic relationship between character and structure, the relationship between structure and the screenplay / novel, composition – the ordering and linking of scenes, the impact of Turning Points, and understanding the craft of transitional values.
Plot your story
Structuring the plot of a great story is distilling from all the elements of writing – the premise, concept, characterisation, theme, story, dramatic action, obstacles, etc – a set of story events that builds suspense, utilises surprise and logically makes sense. The plot must follow the rules of logic and still be unpredictable, it must work on the emotions of the audience / reader without being manipulative, must weave together outer story problems with inner character dilemmas.
Note: In The Write Journey course we explore the differences between story and plot, what a plot represents, 20 different genre plots, and four different plots to structure your story. We also look at the subplot (s) that carry the emotional and thematic content (Internal), and take a closer look at 14 structural points /structural signposts that will help you to write a solid story outline.
Take a closer look at Story Events
Before you start writing your story outline, it is important to familiarise yourself with story events, the scenes / sequences that build your story. Once you have pulled your story into shape and looked at the whole, it is time to deconstruct and look at the parts that make up the whole. The ‘what happens’ in your story must be broken down into story events, activities and actions that happen to your protagonist in your story that ultimately reveal character and emotionally underscore the theme in your story.
Note: In The Write Journey course we explore elements that make great story events and sequences,
Write a story outline
Once you have made sense of the whole it is important to deconstruct your story and identify your story events (scenes and sequences), the parts that make up the whole. The function of the Story Outline is to identify the crucial story events in your character’s life that will tell the story from start to finish.
Note: In The Write Journey your writing coach will assist you in writing a perfect story outline, the function of story events, the art of writing sequences and action scenes,
Design a card outline
Once you have outlined your story from beginning to end it is time to deconstruct the whole. This is done by doing a Card Outline, using an index card for each story event (scene or sequence) to explore the interior world of the event, and to explore the actions, motivations and conflicts of your characters. The function/ goal of the card outline is to build and dramatise each event, and to explore the exterior and internal lives of your story.
Note: In The Write Journey we will identify your story’s line of dramatic action, the opening and closing story values, turning points, the motivated action of characters, expressing your thematic purpose, and how to craft transitional values.
Write a Top Sheet
Now that you are clear what and who you are writing about, and have a definite story in place, it will be a good idea to write a Top Sheet that features your concept, theme, synopsis, character descriptions, your own biography, the business statement (business plan), and relevant historical background. The Top Sheet can be given to prospective investors, producers and publishers, who might want to invest in the potential script and even commission the writing if they are hooked on the story.
Note: In The Write Journey we will look at how to write an effective top sheet and taking ownership of your writing
Write the first draft
You will start writing the first draft. A first draft is not the end but marks the real beginning of the writing process. You must convert the storyline description and card outline to full scene description and add dialogue.
Note: In The Write Journey we will take a closer look at six steps of writing your first draft, and you will write the first 10 pages of your screenplay/ script and send it to your coach for revision and comment.
Have your screenplay read
Before you submit your draft to an agent, or production company, you must find out if it works. You can send your script to a reader, and have it evaluated, or call together a reading session.
Note: You can submit a draft of your screenplay / manuscript to The Writing Studio for evaluation or story-editing. Send us a mail for more information
Professional screenwriters learn that true success requires the ability to respond intelligently to criticism and to tolerate sometimes endless rewrites. You will work on several re-writes until the writer reaches Draft X that is as perfect as it possibly can be; this ‘final draft’ will be professionally formatted an preferably evaluated by a professional reading agency.
Present a spec screenplay
When Draft X is handed over to a studio or sent out to be sold it is known as a spec script; if the spec script is sent out by the writer without the involvement of an agency, it is known as an unsolicited spec script. If the script is sent via an agent, it carries the guarantee that it has gone through some form of evaluation and script editing.
You must sell your screenplay and yourself. The market is a living, breathing entity that reflects the time and economic conditions of the industry and the country. You must have a clear understanding of the marketplace.
Note: In The Write Journey we take a closer look at how to sell and market your writing.
THE FILM PROCESS
The film process begins when someone working in development at a film studio or production company reads a wonderful spec screenplay.
During the development process screenplays gets optioned, bought, rewritten, rewritten, rewritten, and sometimes buried.
The reader writes commentary and evaluates; the reader might alert a story editor, who brings it to the attention of a development executive at a studio or producer at a production company. The screenplay, the blueprint for the film is optioned by a studio/ producer. Whether acquiring a novel, a stageplay, an original script, a concept, etc – the rights are optioned, preferably for a minimum of two years, renewable.
The director and stars
Once a deal is struck, the production exec or producer sends a script to a director. The director comes on board; either hired by the producer, or can also bring a producer on board when writing and directing the film. The script goes to stars: once a big enough star agrees to do the film, the studio agrees to fund the film.
The script development stage might involve one, two or three drafts, to get the script to “showable” stage to interest the marketplace.
The budget and schedule are worked out, based on the script. The budget will include the costs involved in the financing plan and cover the development costs, or an estimate which will cover development up to the commencement of pre-production.
Research is done. This includes locations, location photographs, historical research, etc.
If the project is related to a specific subject matter (paintings, music) research might include costs and difficulties involved in clearing rights.
If the film is based on a real character, still capable of taking legal action for defamation, an agreement must be negotiated. If you are planning a music driven production, and part of the pitch is the music involved, the cost and availability of the proposed music must be researched.
While this is happening the line producer, production manager and production coordinator will then confer with the director and producer, and then hire the art director, the set designer, the electricians like the gaffers, the grips, the sound guys, the wardrobe and makeup people, and other crew members, like focus pullers, continuity people, production assistants, chaperones, runners etc. They then book the equipment.
They also organise the castings and auditions for the actors. As soon as they have decided on the crew and cast, they book accommodation, transport, catering, etc.
A storyboard of the screenplay will be completed by the director, or storyboard artist, and can also involve the Director of Photography, and the special effects team.
During the pre-production stage the Production Designer will start designing the sets, and a Composer will start working on the musical score.
Before shooting starts, the producer, director, DOP and other crew members if required, go to the location and do what they call a technical recce, where they look at the location, and see where they want to set up, and they will maybe start setting up the equipment, building the set, etc. The DOP or focus puller, or loader (these are all members of the camera crew) will do a gear check to make sure that the camera equipment is spic and span.
Once everything has been confirmed, the production coordinator will then draw up call sheets for the cast and crew, with the date, time, location directions and weather predictions, gives them each a copy, and then they are ready to shoot!
The shooting stage of the film takes place: this can range from 10 days for a short film, to the extent of four years for a trilogy such as Lord of The Rings. During the shooting stage the production manager and production coordinator sort out the post production facilities, the editor, sound engineer, sound effects studios and so forth.
During the post-production stage the footage that has been shot will be edited, music and sound effects will be added.
A ’preview’ cut is prepared for exclusive preview screenings, where the film is tested and screened to the intended target audience. At this stage, changes that could affect the distribution of the film, are made.
The film is distributed.
Finally, the film hopefully reaches the audience that the screenwriter had in mind when starting to write the screenplay.
The Process Of Writing Your Story Is Fully Explored In The Write Journey Course
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