It’s easy to think that filmmaking is a regimented process, where each role is specifically defined and cast (including the cast itself), and that if everyone does their job to their highest ability, the movie will be a success. Unfortunately for those who are looking for a quick and easy way out, that is far from the truth. Filmmaking, and all its intricate pieces of the puzzle, is difficult and quite tightly intertwined. The writer and the actors, the producer and the financial backers: they all play an important role and have an equally large stake invested in the film’s success. There are usually complex egos to cater to, and everyone has his or her own wide range of firmly-held opinions. With all this complexity, it’s a wonder any film ever gets made.
Here are some of the secrets that should not be so secret: if you are a film producer, this is what you need to know about the story, which is of course, the fundamental and most important part of your project.
1. The Pitching of an Idea
Talking about the film during its infancy can be harder than you think. As soon as you open your mouth, you start to doubt your own ideas. When you go into the room with the writer or writers, you may immediately be intimidated by your own self-doubt about where you think the story should go. Learn to use the “what if?” approach and to be unmarried to any specific or particular idea. Keep your eye out for problems and address them at this early stage.
2. Boring “Ideas”
There’s never going to be a truly original idea – every story will be summed up using some motifs that have been done many times before. But don’t let that woo you into complacency – if your idea is too “been there, done that” then it truly will be boring. Something new and original must be a part of your story.
3. Know what to Expect from the Rewrites
Many writers and artists in general work tirelessly on a first draft ad consider it to be a nugget of gold. Many will resist the rewrite process, and that is because almost always, that second draft is worse than the first. But if properly encouraged and coached, that third (or even subsequent) draft will blow the first out of the water. Strive for greatness, but understand the pain of the rewrite process, and learn to lead your writers through it.
4. Story first, dialogue Second
You can keep re-frosting the same cake, but if that cake itself is dry or stale, that frosting will not save it. Rewriting dialogue can help, but if a script is flat, it’s almost always the story itself. Fix that, then worry about sprucing up the actual dialogue.
5. Goals for the Protagonist
A story can be exciting and full of twists and turns, but unless your protagonist as a defined goal, the story will be boring. This is character development at its core. Understand that it’s the character that we, the viewer, care about, whether we know it or not. An unsympathetic, or shallow, protagonist will fall flat.
6. Structure is your Friend
No matter how high or low concept, real life or sci-fi your story may be, there’s a successful structure that all good films must follow. This does not mean you print out a formula and plop in your specific ideas. But it does mean that you must consider arcs and patterns. Don’t shun them, embrace them. Not only are they tried and true and will result in a more compelling story, but if you pay attention to structure, you may find the writing process is even easier.