In the third part of his series on How to Make a Film, experienced Norwich based filmmaker Matthew Stogdon from Cheesemint Productions takes us through the script writing process.
Over the years countless volumes have been produced, detailing the key to writing success. With tips ranging from where you write to what you use, how often you write, the best time of day or frame of mind to start writing, blah blah blah. Personally, it’s all nonsense. Controversial opinion to have but it’s one I stand by. If you’re worrying about miniscule details like how you’re sitting or how other writers have punched out a script, chances are you’re writing because you’re expected to or because you’ve been told to. A real story, one of personal significance comes from deep plaguing thought. They develop over time and morph continually but without that initial spark, it’s not worth pursuing.
With filmmaking being such a visual medium, you don’t always need an entire narrative or character arc to pen a script. Sometimes, you simply need one scene or even the feeling of a scene. An image of two people sitting on the floor next to a parked car, distressed expressions, utterly silent. This could be the start of your story or the end, it could be a key scene or a simple flashback. But from there you can flesh out their story. Who they are. Where they’re going and what they’re doing. It’s not easy and you may end up changing things on the day of filming but if you’re worrying about yourself and your writing process, you’re not thinking about your characters or their story and your film will suffer.
Script formatting, while not essential, does make life a little easier for your cast and crew. Use your talents, use what you know. If you’re talented enough that you can draw reasonably well, perhaps you could storyboard the entire thing with the dialogue written underneath. If not, use hyperbole to describe how the scenes will look or even feel. If you’re worried that you can’t draw or write, just pen something very simple and talk your cast/crew through your vision. The generally accepted method is to start with your location, followed by a description of what’s happening and any dialogue that takes place. For example:
INT. PUB – DAY A male figure (JOHN) is slouched over the bar, looking weary and haggard. His eyelids slowly rise and fall as he nurses the drink in his hand. The camera follows his gaze as he drearily looks off to his left. Next to him is a female figure (MARY), sitting calmly with a drink in her hand.
MARY Is that all you have to say to me?
So, we’ve established the scene is an interior location, specifically a pub set during day time. We’ve also established that there are two characters what they’re doing and what they say to each other.
The other thing to keep in mind is pacing and structure. It might help from time-to-time to read parts of your script out loud, to see if any scenes are dragging on too long or could be extended in any way. As long as you have a beginning, a middle and an end, the rest usually falls into place. Clichéd words, I know but it’s true. The only other recommendation I would offer for first time writers/directors is to start fairly small. 10-15 minute conversational shorts tend to convey more than a 50 minute shouting match with everyone pointing guns at one another. This also allows your lighting, camera, audio and editing people to try different things in a simple, controlled setting, while still telling a coherent story.