You’re probably thinking, "well this whole process starts with a script."
Actually, it's not even that. In truth, most stories start with a simple idea - often based off of other material - that acts as a springboard for the entire project.
If you can come up with a mere tagline for the film, in my opinion you're more than halfway there. Knowing what you, in the most vague sense, want your movie to convey, and what kind of character you want to convey it puts you 90% of the way towards a completed script. So what, specifically, DO you come up with? Well, one example is 'save the girl'. That's a high concept that could go any number of ways, but sure enough it was the framework for my film 'Pages' I grabbed three simple concepts for filmmaking – complete a thought on film, convey a tone/atmosphere, and establish a resolve. It’s really all pretty simple and painless- it’s getting that idea produced, from conception to completion, that’s the hard part. Sometimes.....
.....is all it takes to begin a movie.Let's face it.
Look, the fact of the matter with scripting is that it’s just simply not always there if you’re, well, not really a writer- and while people can always complain about movies not having strong enough scripts, both on big budget projects and here, the truth of the matter is waiting around for the perfect, solid script to come to you or peddling around for a hotshot writer simply won’t get a movie done. It won’t. Accept that now. I’m not a bad writer, no, but I know I’m not the most cohesive of storytellers- and in accepting that and playing to different strengths, I’m still able to create movies without massively overhauling the way I think about scripts or finding another person to write for me. And I really like this. Sometimes good ideas, or rather, great ones don’t even translate to good movies- just as the most basic of ideas, even without a good script, can translate to the best of movies.No, no, no. This doesn’t mean a script, a story, and compelling characters aren’t important.
But as the writer’s strike taught us- they aren’t the alpha and omega of filmmaking. There are many important aspects. Even if writing is the first of them- it doesn’t mean not having the best script should keep you from making headway on your movie altogether. Take an idea, draw out a concept and a conflict- even the most basic of ones- and go with it. It never hurts, and you’d be surprised the results you can get.
Take our movies, for example. While this may seem a shallow leaping point- in movies like Redemption
and Cover's Story
we established a visual and narrative style based on what we liked in movies we had recently seen.Redemption, just look at it.
The movie's fulcrum is an interrogation scene riddled in smokey haze, greenish tones, philosophical dialogue, and two characters of different race. While this may seem like a cookie-cutter description of it, it's important to note that while we didn't copy
it directly from other material- the whole style and many of the elements were taken from the movie Deja Vu
. More-specifically, this interrogation scene in
the movie is one we knew from the get-go we wanted to capture in our
movie. It may seem cheap, but woe is the world of exhausted ideas- and as a student filmmaker you'll have much more success, happiness, and a much more solid and slick movie if you pull from what you know and what you like before pushing into new ground. This isn't to say don't be original, no. But in trying out aspects of your favorite movies- I guarantee you you'll have more fun in making the movie, and you'll already have a framework for how you want something to flow or look, or how you want a story to play out. Redemption, after all, ended up like this:
Look at the similarities. In retrospect- setting a goal like this, one that had a clear visual and narrative vision, was a good idea- as the end result came out almost exactly like we wanted it.Narrative strategies are helpful.
A narrative strategy, too, that we like that began with Cover's Story is the use of medias-res
, otherwise known as 'starting the movie in the middle'. Like Redemption, we pulled this technique from a movie we liked, one we had just seen. In this case, it was Mission: Impossible III
. See, M:I3 begins in the middle of the narrative for a few minutes before cuing the title credits.Watch here, it's intense, gripping, dramatic- great.
See what it does? How it's effective? It draws
you in, even if the rest of the movie lets you down. (For me, luckily, it didn't.)
In this time, we see a lot of dramatic exposition in a really intense setting. This is something, after seeing, I've liked to use time and time again- it's a really effective storytelling technique, and immediately draws in your audience.
With Cover's Story we did this by establishing him pulling up a gun and crying, you can do it many other ways or not at all.The key here isn't the technique, it's how we came about it- pulling from what we liked and what was manageable.
A few years ago, it was M:I3, and look where it's got us. Making sense? I hope so- the ground I'm covering isn't intended to tell you how to write
, it's to give you an idea
how to. It's not easy, but it doesn't require waiting around for a 'eureka!' moment either. Here we go:
________________________________________________________________________-Take what you know, what you like in movies. Pull from that.
-Take characters you're fond of, that intrigue you (even stereotyped ones) and use those within the means of your actors.
-Make a manageable script. Don't write a 50-year old black man into your story if you don't know a 50-year old black man. If it really requires one, go out and find one. It's always worked for us, in truth. All it takes is a little prodding and confidence to call around.
-Don't get overwhelmed, but don't play it too safe either. It's always fun to be ambitious, but don't ever take on more than you can chew- you'll just end up disappointing yourself.
And remember, the key here is to make a movie and make it quickly. So let's keep moving!
________________________________________________________________________Things in your head can get complicated, we know that
. But that doesn't mean you should condense the descriptiveness of your script- remember, the more descriptive it is, at least with a short time period and perhaps the not most-trained actors, the better off you'll be. Seriously. Focus and concision is important in writing looking
professional, yeah, but if you imagine a loud swishy boom noise before the credits, literally write
"loud swishy boom noise- credits." into the script. It might look silly, but it will help you later on and save you a ton of time. Trust me. Which brings me to this:When in doubt, 'write for the edit'.
This is a term you normally see in production as people 'shoot for the edit' (meaning they shoot according to what they think will come out and look best in the editing)- but I subscribe to it in all areas of filmmaking. When you 'write for the edit', you're essentially building yourself a bigger, better, and more-solid framework for getting your movie translated from paper to pixels faster, easier, and usually better. Take 'No Rest For The Wicked', for example. Although it was written in a matter of a only a few hours, it's still full of descriptions that make it easier for the actors, directors, everyone to relate to. It's written 'for the edit', and therefore can save everyone time by going by it like a step-by-step book.Formatting is nice, too.
A note of importance that is sometimes pushed too much here, but is very important, is formatting. Proper formatting in your script will make your ideas clearer to others that read them, and overall make you look and feel more professional- and inevitably more confident in the movie you’re making. For this, there’s a simple solution: Celtx
. Celtx is a free screenwriting/scripting application that will aid you.
Now, no. I’m not one to go on and on with a bunch of links you’ll never click- or even get that technical on how to go about creating something- so don’t think that. I’m mentioning Celtx because it’ll increase the speed and ease of which you come up with and get your idea down onto paper.And finally, and this one is important....
find a badass ending to your movie. Badass ending. Say it with me, "badass ending"
. Compelling, cool, quirky- as long as you know your movie goes out with a good amount of class, or finesse, and with an appropriate climax- you can almost make up for a middle 20% of the movie of your choice that is decidely 'the worst part', but you can't come back from a bad ending. Endings and beginnings to movies are generally the most memorable parts- remember this and play off of it. What do you always notice about Atomic Production movies? Usually, the ending and beginning are the best parts. So know this
and don't ignore it. If your ending isn't strong, your movie isn't strong. Like all things, it's always wise to save the best for last- the viewer will almost always appreciate it more this way.
Annnnnnnd, well well well, those things being said we move onward once more!
________________________________________________________________________Obviously, we don't all know actors.
There's no getting around that one. What most of you should
have, however, are friends willing to help you out- and possibly some adults as well. With this a few things can be said....
___________________________-Always cast actors within your means. This one goes back to scripting- if you only have 16-year-olds, don't make a movie about seasoned CIA veterans. No one will believe it or take you seriously; and it'll come out looking silly any way you spin it. Even if you 'have to shave your beard so you can put on makeup' for the movie, which we all roll our eyes at to begin with. You're not really an adult, don't try and bullshit a bullshitter. Yes, yes. We all know you're not an adult, don't try and pretend- once again you'll just look silly.
-Don't be afraid to experiment, act in your own work yourself even. After all, even our friend, professional actor Brian Hunt, only realized he had an amazing knack for acting after biting the bullet and just offering to be in one of our movies.
The truth to it is, most of Atomic Productions' success, and our paradigm shift in filmmaking, came when we accepted two things:-You've gotta work with the actors in the ages you have them.
-If you want an adult, an astronaut, a Denzel-Washington-ish guy; you've gotta go find him yourself.Subscribing to both of these mantras when it comes to casting actors, and you can't really go wrong.
Yes, it is true, we've always been blessed with fairly exemplary acting in our movies- but this is only because we either went and looked
for actual actors
, or we found/had friends committed enough to give it their all and become actors
For instance, here are a few notable 'atomic' actors from some of our movies. What is important to note is that each actor is, for better or for worse, typecast
into a specific type of role for each movie we have, should they be an acting resource.
It's always important to keep this in-mind, as it'll yield the best results. Each actor has, for better or for worse, a specific strength in a certain type
of role. We know, naturally, that Brian is our strongest actor and able to carry a movie- and thus on the off occasions when we've got him at our disposal, he's almost always assuredly the leading man
. Put yourself into a similar if not the same mindset, and then expand that. After all...The most important thing to it all is to remember your resources are limited to what is realistic.
Don't dream up a scene including 60 extras running through a field- in the amount of time we're trying to go about helping you make a movie, that'll never happen. Just accept it. Instead, do this:Go through your script and simplify.
What used to take three actors can usually take two. What once required an old woman can sometimes be changed to a young man. Keep your options flexible and know what you're working with. In most cases, you can get much better performances, much better actors
, out of your friends than you really expect as long as you treat them like actors
and let the people in the movie know that they are, in fact, part of the movie
and a talent themselves. Not only is it flattering, it's true. Actors are a piece of the talent in your movies, even if they're you're friends. Let them know it, it always helps the whole atmosphere get more professional- which is always nice. People will surprise you.And look....
I'm not gonna tell you who your actors are or which characters they should be- that's all for you to decide.
And really, that's the best advice I can give you. Because honestly past that it's on you to make it work and know and thrive on your own situation. Take a deep breath, grab the people you can, and press onward!
Locations are tricky, because they differ so colossally from person-to-person; so there really isn’t much to say here as far as what
to pick and use exactly. However, there are in fact a few staples to generally follow and know for good measure:-Know that your locations are just as crucial to your production
as the appropriate lighting and grading are. Your locations are the guise for your production, and a fair few excellent technical values have been trumped in the past by the ‘I shot this in my backyard’ syndrome. AVOID THIS!
No, we don’t all have vacant warehouses and cool lots like some people are able to get ahold of, but a tad bit of asking around in your community and figuring out how to dress up an accessible location (like, say, your dad’s work office or a family friend’s storage shed) to fit the feel of your movie will do you volumes.-Remember
that, when in doubt, ask
. Asking people to use their house, calling the number on the front of a cool vacant building and talking to the realtors/owners, or simply calling the area police to let them know you’re shooting your movie on some public property aren’t just easy things to do- they can elevate your film just by the caliber of the locations
about the bigger picture. How many lights you need, how many people are going to be there, and how crucial the look or feel of the location is to your movie. This will dictate how long you’re going to be there and, more importantly, help keep you in control of your productions.-Cool locations
aren’t everything, no, but they do a great deal as a backdrop to excellence in production value. At least, I’ve always thought so. People remember the movie with ‘that cool warehouse scene’ more than they do the movie with ‘that scene in that guy’s backyard’.
Alright, moving onward!
Last edited Tue, 17th Nov 2009, 4:55am; edited 2 times in total.