Filmmaking basics

You have an idea that you want to turn into a movie. Now what? Here's an overview of the steps involved in turning good ideas into great films. 

Write a script

Decide whether you're writing a mystery, love story, thriller or other genre. If you don't have a hero or heroine in mind, spend time identifying and developing your main character, including what this character will do and say and how the character will react to different situations. The script needs conflict to keep the story moving and the audience engaged. It should also include goals, an inciting incident and a climax.

A great resource for learning the industry standard scriptwriting format is The Hollywood Standard. There's also industry standard screenwriting software like Celtx, a free program, or Final Draft and Adobe Story that take the guesswork out of properly formatting your script.

When all 100-120 pages of the script are written, let others read the script and offer comments on ways to make it better. Remember, great films appeal to their audience; not their writer.

Sell the script

Once you've finished the script and copyrighted your work (or registered it with WGA), it's time to find a producer who can raise money to produce your film. If you are self-funding or already have investors, you can go straight to pre-production. If not, here are tips for finding a buyer:

  • Create a logline – A one-sentence marketable pitch that sums up your story, your protagonist and his or her central conflict.
  • Send query letters – Include the reason for the letter, your logline, your writing experience and/or background, your name and contact information.
  • Hire an agent with connections and experience.
  • Approach producers directly – at networking events, with query letters, and by replying to magazine and internet ads.
  • Send your script to screenplay contests and get it noticed.

Pre-Production

All planning on a "greenlit" project is finalized during the pre-production phase. Careful planning increases a film's chances of being made on time and within budget. Some of the tasks associated with pre-production include script revising and rewriting, finalizing the shooting script and shot sheet, lining up and scheduling crew, finding and securing locations, casting, planning for wardrobe, props and set creation, storyboarding and rehearsing, and planning special and visual effects. Financing is usually confirmed during pre-production, as are the director and cinematographer.

Production

Long days characterize the production phase, which involves shooting the film. Sets are created, dressed and lit. Actors meet with hair, makeup and wardrobe and rehearse their lines. Scenes are shot, sometimes over and over.  When the director is satisfied, the set is dismantled and the next is erected. That day or the previous day's raw footage (the "dailies") is reviewed, reports are written and distributed, and the entire process repeats the next day.

Post-Production

A movie is finished and readied for release during post-production. In this phase, the material shot during production is pieced together into scenes and edited, dialogue, other noise and special effects are added, the film is color corrected, music is composed and recorded, a digital cinema package and trailer are created, a campaign image is selected, and more.