The strange journey begins...
So, making a movie.
I've decided to keep a record of the process as we experience it. As with any artistic (and therefore deeply subjective) endeavor, there are a LOT of opinions out there, all of which are STRONGLY held. They often conflict, and the internet doesn't make it any easier. For any one issue, I'd wager you can find at least 10 completely conflicting opinions of the “right” way to go about it. In my experience, the fact of the matter is that sadly, there is no one “right” way. Different people find different routes to make their projects happen, and there is no universal rulebook. But unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily save you from getting into trouble by listening to the wrong opinion. Because of this, I am always deeply appreciative when someone who has gone through the experience themselves is willing to share what has happened to them. It might not happen that way for everyone, but it really helps when someone is willing to honestly say, “here's what happened to me, learn what you can from it.” So that's what I'm attempting to do here. Being a beginner is exciting and wonderful! But it would be terrible if some mistake cost you the chance to create a project you care about deeply. My hope is that someone out there like me might benefit from my experience. So, step-by-step from the beginning, here goes.
It's hard to know where to start! With Lost Creek, it began with an image I had sitting at my cousin's wedding. Two kids, a boy and a girl, holding hands in some sort of suburban wasteland, about to face something together. I liked it, logged it away. Later I had an idea for a movie I wanted to do about childhood and Halloween. I was interested in exploring the world of childhood imagination. When you're a kid, you almost create your own personal mythology as you play and create pretend worlds. And the significance of those worlds never goes away. There are still places in my home town that are special to me because of the part they played in my imagination as a kid. Also, imagination can be scary as well as exciting. These two ideas came together to form Lost Creek.
Obviously a movie starts with the script, but I don't think I'll go too in-depth with the writing process. I think the act of writing is very personal, and I don't know if it's my place to offer advice there. The only things I'd say are:
Familiarize yourself with screenwriting etiquette. It exists for a reason. A movie is a collaborative process, and lots of people are involved to make it happen. From basic smart use of "CUT TO:"-type directions to intelligently laid-out scene progression, a well-done screenplay can really help the DP, director, etc., know how to shoot it beautifully. Work with those people through your writing. There are free programs out there that will let you write automatically in the accepted format (so you don't have to bog yourself down trying to set margins and so on), and lots of online resources to give you a sort of "101" crash course in screenplay etiquette.
Show rather than tell. Movies are a visual medium of course, but don't over-explain to your audience. In some of my favorite films, the best lines leave most of the idea unsaid, the power is in the simplicity. Trust your audience's intelligence.
EDIT. As many times as needed. Lost Creek went through at least 14 drafts, one of which completely changed the ending of the film. Even the name of the film changed several times. Seek out advice from TRUSTED friends (be careful who you first show it to), let them read it. But remember, it's your vision. Take advice on board only when it's helpful. It's hard to do, the first time. I remember feeling scared, maybe even a little resentful. I'd just poured my blood sweat and tears into this story, really lived with it. That tends to make you want to hold onto everything. Don't. The simpler, the tighter, the better. I tend to over-write. If you're like me, you'll always need to cut a ton. That's why it helps to get outside perspective. And of course, don't OVER-edit. My experience is, you'll start to feel when the script is truly in shape, but it's NEVER done in one draft.
Think about protecting your work. There are a lot of opinions out there about this. Whether it's better to actually copyright your work, or simply register it with the WGA (Writer's Guild). I'll only say this: DON'T trust people who say the "poor man's copyright" is good enough, because it isn't. That's the process of mailing it to yourself (either as a hard copy or an e-mail) to prove your ownership. That won't stand up in court. Then again, you'll hear some people say that fully copyrighting the script might hurt you, depending on what you want to do. For example, say you're just writing a spec script, which you'd like to sell to a studio. To produce it, they'd need to transfer the copyright ownership from you to them. I've heard that process can be laborious, and sometimes studios pass up on such scripts because it's not worth it to them. But I'm not sure about that, as I've never gone through it. I get the impression that if your work is stolen, no matter what you do, there will be an unhappy legal process, so I hope it doesn't happen! I'd just say, at least register with the WGA, either West or East (there doesn't seem to be a real difference between them). It's official, it's easy (you can do it in 2 minutes online), it's cheap (around $30), and they keep your script in their archive for 5 years. It does afford some protection.
Great! So what's next? In the next entry, I'll talk about the process I went through to take the script of Lost Creek, and start to turn it into a movie!