Screenwriting and Directing

Screenwriting and Directing


DAVID L. SPIES
SCREENWRITER/FILMMAKER/BLOGGER

Every year, about half the population of LA is writing a screenplay with lofty plans to direct it. With that many budding Spielbergs out there… there’s little room to be mediocre on your writing or directing skills. There are thousands of people in LA seeking a movie-related career.  The ones that will even have a chance to see their script come to life on-screen come armed with training, experience and connections.

The possibility of a great screenplay or very good concept opening doors in Hollywood is still achievable. With the saturation of writers delivering screenplays every year, agents and studio executives don’t have the time or the resources to read and filter through all the scripts they receive. Your screenplay needs to standout or it will end up in the pass pile.

Do you have what it takes to write a great screenplay? It’s important to know a few basic details. A feature-length screenplay runs between 90 – 120 pages, an average or ideal short screenplay about 15 pages. If you’re not currently an exceptional writer with a finished blockbuster script, you may want to consider a faster route to getting your name to stand out among the masses in Hollywood.

In order to increase your chances of making a connection, securing a meeting or having your project considered for production, you’ll need to have a really tight script. You must know your story, know who you are making your film for and most of all, write a script you can produce. Yes. If you’re seriously planning to make a career in the movie industry you’ll need to consider moving right into producing/directing your own work. Make the next leap… right into film. This is a big leap, but once you make it, there’s no going back. Look for other creatives in the film industry in your local area. Don’t hesitate to partner with other like-minded individuals that have a similar filmmaking vision. Jump right in and collaborate on a project. The time will come when you’ll need to make the decision to move from screenwriter to director. Believe in your writing and the decision to direct will make itself.

Unless you already have experience in writing and directing films, a feature film may be too big a project to start with. Consider a short film as your first project/calling card. A short film can get you noticed and can obviously be produced on a much smaller budget than a feature film. It takes far less time to watch a short film than spending time reading a screenplay. This is why short films are so much more appealing to studio executives than spending their time reading another screenplay.

If you’re serious about directing your first short film, there are several things to consider:

1.)    The Team – Almost every film production, regardless of the size or scope, needs a producer, director, DP, script supervisor, set designer, gaffer, audio mix/boom, catering/craft services, hair/makeup, wardrobe, and a couple of production assistants. If I’ve missed anyone… then you have more left for your budget, right?

2.)    Budget – The biggest contributors to your indie film budget are usually salaries, costumes, props, location scouting, set design, meals and transportation. In a low-budget indie film this may be negligible, but at the very least budget for marketing materials and meals. The majority of your films budget will be spent in the production phase.

3.)    Production – is considered any day you’re shooting, although on large productions budget categories tend to blend together. The largest portion of most big studio budgets will be salaries for actors and crew. On an independent set, actors and crew may be paid with points, deferred salary (collecting on the back end if your film is successful) or not at all. The remaining production costs will likely fall into the following categories: catering/craft service, transportation, lodging, lighting, makeup, equipment, location rentals, cinematography (including the camera and all accessories, tripod, filters, batteries, and media). If you’re shooting digital (which will likely be the case) you’ll also want to budget for a laptop/MAC and or an external hard drive for backup (absolute necessity).

4.)    Post-production – For most independent films, post-production will consist of utilizing digital non-linear editing (NLE) software on a high-end modern computer (Mac). Indie filmmakers shooting in HD will realize the cost associated with hardware and the amount of data captured in a few days worth of shooting can easily add up to a couple of 2TB. Post-production budgets for a digital production will typically include an editing workstation, software (FCP), special effects software (Adobe AE), a sound mixing program and salaries for the postproduction crew. Whether you are hiring others, or planning to do the work yourself, there is a ‘cost’ associated to everything during post production. The cost will likely be more obvious when someone has been hired to perform a task. A critical mistake that many independent filmmakers make is assessing any work they do themselves as ‘free’. This may be true in the sense the filmmaker doesn’t need to cut a check to someone for a particular task, but everyone’s time has a cost. The key is in knowing what your time is worth. It may seem appealing and cost-saving to not hire an editor, but if it takes the filmmaker 4 months to assemble a rough cut and an experienced editor can do the same job in 2 months, is doing it yourself really saving money? This is where you need to take account of what other jobs you could be getting done with that time. There are tradeoffs that every filmmaker must consider and reflect on during post-production.

5.)    Marketing – Once you have a film, you’re not out of the woods yet… Additional costs associated will include converting your film into a workable DVD with menus, motion windows, behind the scenes footage, directors narrative, running chapter points, and any other options that enhance the quality of your DVD. Most independents will utilize recordable DVD technology. If your project has a larger budget and funds allocated, you’ll want to consider master duplication; this can decrease the per-unit cost significantly. A movie poster is where you’ll want to spend a considerable amount of time and efforts. Your poster is a make-or-break creation when it comes to marketing your film. A poster should be aesthetically pleasing, capturing attention so the message is delivered. It should focus and communicate on a single message to your target audience. Your design should be well-ordered and obvious. Also keep in mind that a poster will be printed in a relatively large format so you should be working in a high resolution and output at a minimum of 300ppi (pixels per inch). There are other factors you need to consider when designing your poster, such as the film title, genre, cast, directors, producers, writers, etc. Study other movie posters to get a good idea of what you should be applying to your poster to make it stand out a winner.

Unless you have the knowledge and experience, you’ll also want to budget for a professional to assemble and review your press kit before submission to film festivals. Ever hear the saying “You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Money WILL be tight at the end of your project. However, you’ll want to ensure that your budget allows for shipping, film festival submissions, conversions to alternate media and a website.

Film production templates, be sure to visit the “Dependent Films” Download Center. Tools and Utilities for Filmmakers: www.dependentfilms.net

6.)    Insurance – Errors & Omissions Insurance (E & O) protects indie filmmakers from a variety of lawsuits such as copyright infringement, using music without proper permission, chain of title issues (i.e. who owns the movie) and a host of other lawsuits dealing with movie production. Without E & O insurance most film distribution companies will not release a movie through retailers. It’s a necessary cost of doing business with a majority of distributors, even at the independent film level.

MovieMaker magazine’s article: How to Avoid a Lawsuit in Waiting www.moviemaker.com

Also visit Mark Litwak’s: Entertainment Law Resources www.marklitwak.com

How do I start a film production company? www.filmmaking.net

Filmmaking is all about careful planning. This is important because a well produced film is like a calling card for a filmmaker which can open doors to film festivals and increase the chances of getting a return on a film’s investment.

Posted on January 16, 2011 with permission by writer David L. Spies from his blog

Catch David L. Spies on Twitter.

David is self-taught in the area of writing and storytelling. He has completed several screenplays that are each quite different in genre. He wrote the first draft of his most recent short “A Musing” while in-flight from Seattle to Phoenix the first week of June and registered with the WGA nine days later. After a local search for cinematographers in the Seattle area, David was fortunate to connect with Phil Seneker. They had their first meeting at a Starbucks just outside of Seattle. Phil and David reviewed the script for “A Musing” and from that day on there was no turning back. A Musing film project can be located here.



In addition to writing screenplays David also maintains a blog at: www.davidspies.com.  There you will find posts related to screenwriting, filmmaking and a multitude of industry information that is quite helpful to any screenwriter.

David is a 42-year-old husband to Melanie, a stepfather of two boys 9 and 12. Sometimes when life seems to get away… his family is what keeps him in focus and that’s what really matters.