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An Introduction To Scriptwriting For Those Destined To Increase The Availability Of Beautiful Catholic Movies

There is no small satisfaction in using one’s God given creative talents and applying them to something big. I have found this satisfaction in storytelling though film and I’m sure there are many people out there who have never considered this to be a wholesome Catholic career.

April 17, 2024

Introduction to screenwriting

Visual storytelling has been so much a part of human interaction that it can be traced back to hieroglyphics on stone, Shakespearian plays, all the way down to our own day’s medium: film. Unfortunately, what is produced on a large scale is food only fit to feed pigs, hence young Catholics are beginning to make their own films inspired by a lack of good modern films and plenty of great reading. I would like to share with you the steps to creating your own motion picture on a budget.

READ: This Is Just Scratching The Surface! Go Deep With The Movie Production E-Course

There are three phases to moviemaking: Pre-production, production, and post-production. Here I will cover pre-production. This phase is all the happenings between finishing that good book that has never been made into a film or the creation your own story, all the way to filming.

Young Adult Time Travel Books

A Word on Funds

Movies cost money. Hollywood spends millions. Here’s a secret: the shorter the story, the less characters involved, the more modern the setting, the cheaper the film. The old lost treasures are going to cost you a little. If you have no money and want to know what you essentially need, I would say that your costumes can be dress-up clothes, your acting can be mediocre but without good line delivery and sound, you cannot tell a good story.

Decide On The Story

You can make a movie on any book if it is in the public domain. A book is in the public domain if it has not been copyrighted in the last 75 years. If it is a recent work and you really want to make it into a film, you should begin chatting with the author.

Period Research and Setting

Reading all about the era in history which your movie takes place is a wonderful idea while you are writing your script. Watching a few appropriate films which are similar is another excellent idea. Knowing what the story’s setting is will affect the way that characters react to their particular circumstances.

READ: Spot-On Movie Titles That Will Warm Your Heart, Give You A Thrill, Or Scare You To Death. Whatever You Want To Watch, It's Here!

Write A Script

If you have the budget for it, I recommend that you look into getting a software called Final Draft. This is a script program that even the pros use. It provides correct script formatting as well as reports which assist you in planning shoot days and so on. 

Keep this in mind when writing a script: for every page of script there is roughly an hour of filming and a minute of finished film. So if you have a 120 page script, you are looking at 120 hours of filming, and 120 minutes of film run time.

Outlaws of Ravenhurst Scripts

It is important to remember that the script does not need to be word for word from the book. Consider making plot changes, character changes, line changes. Don’t hesitate to cut side characters entirely or, try combining two characters into one. Don’t be afraid to tweak with a character’s drive and motivations either. Sometimes it is best to cut the forms of antiquated speech and stick to the normal speech that we use to connect with each other. Use the era and dialect in the lines very sparingly simply to add flavor. 

Simplify. Some of the best heroes are the ones that speak with actions, not words. This is where the script reports come in handy. You can get a cast report and see how many lines each part has and with that information you can purge and prune. Characters should have lines that are no longer than 4 - 5 lines. It is best practice that each character only have one monologue. The reports tool will help you locate how many monologues each character has. Again, purge and prune.

Sometimes it is helpful to think of the storyline as a bump or mountain. You should experience a steady incline to the opening of the story and once you reach the summit you should feel like you are experiencing the climax. And of course, always bring your story to a good ending. One quarter of the film should cover the information that you need to know before you unravel the climax. The middle should be the climax, the thing that makes someone change or the height of the drama. The ending fourth should be the resolution to the problem or the wind down to a happy ending. Decide at what point in the story the climax begins and what action in the climax causes the resolution.

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Once your first draft script is done invite a few others to read it but don’t get too many hands in the pudding. About two others and a priest is sufficient. Be prepared for criticism and take a few of the suggestions. You may not know it, but you are more attached to the script than you realize.

When we decided to tell Cardinal Wiseman’s story of Fabiola we were originally going to make a seven part mini-series. Once we reached the 4th episode, we felt like there was a lull in the story and we could not get to the climax soon enough. This led us to starting completely over and throwing out the first draft of the script. We realized that we were relying too heavily on the novel so we started by sketching out only the important events depending on how memorable they were. This helped a lot in narrowing down the story. We wrote characters’ lines from memory too and hardly opened the book. These edits helped us to realize that the story would be better told as one full length film.

READ: Fabiola: Bringing The Timely Tale Of The Catacombs To Life

In Fabiola, we made a few storyline changes and cut several side characters. Doing some personality and character research, we made the villain Corvinus serve as the comic relief in an otherwise serious story. Some of the actors later told us that he was their favorite character and that they were disappointed that he has a sad fate. We also gave the saints which appear in the story some human faults. This made them more relatable and better role models.

Looking at the reports we discovered that Fulvius has the most lines as well as the most scenes. Fabiola is really the 3rd character as even Corvinus appears and speaks in the movie more than she does. Getting Sebastian to appear more and talk less than she was something that we worked out by re-doing some of his lines and shortening them.

Costumes and Sets

Manuza costume

Keep in mind “period appropriate” colors and fabric textures when researching for costumes. Also, research what your sets should look like if you have the space and the budget for it. If you know of a few places which would make great set locations, simply ask permission to film there. I have called public parks for permission to film and I was told that I can film on public property as long as we do not interrupt the rest of the people who are enjoying the place.

READ: Pelagius of Asturias Teaches Us A Lesson From History When He Defended Christendom From The Risk Of Muslim Invasion

Casting and Auditioning

Now comes the part where you invite others to take part in making the story come to life. For simpler films, these may simply be your family members but for larger scale projects where many characters are involved, you will want to extend the invite to your homeschool group or church friends. It is important to make it clear that you are serious about telling this story and you need others to be eager, excited and committed to helping you tell it. Have them try out for several roles then cast them where they best fit. 

Running through the script as a group is a must. This is important in helping the actors relate to their characters and the characters of others. There were times when an actor would show up to a scene and not know what had just happened in the life of the character that he was interacting with. This was due to the fact that this actor only read through scenes that his character was in and was never forced to sit down with everyone else and read the entire script.

This covers all of pre-production for a film. The planning stage is complete and you are ready to film the first scene of your movie. Stay tuned for production. Until then, I encourage you to pick a story, turn it into a screenplay, research the setting and invite others to join you in telling the story.

READ: This Is Just Scratching The Surface! Go Deep With The Movie Production E-Course

Mary Bio 2023

Mary Beth Bowen is a movie director and entrepreneur. 

Since 2018, she has distributed four movies through her online platform at Industrious Family Films where she also contributes to the #ReclaimChristianArtBlog. Her 5th film is currently in pre-production.

Some of her passions include history, classical literature, and modest fashion: topics she usually writes about to share her great love for these things.

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