Task 1. Find The Story That You Want To Tell And Start Thinking About How To Tell It
The three main sources for screenwriting ideas are original stories from your brain, favorite books, and true events from history.
Use A Story All Your Own And Opt For An Original Story
Original stories are, by far, the most difficult material to use for movie making. It can be very hard to write a plot and develop characters when you are making it up as you go along.
Personally, I believe that it takes a whole different set of thinking skills to create a good story. However, what you have are the skills and enthusiasm to make a movie.
If you are like most independent filmmakers, you are excited to get to the camera and the costumes, not spending a ton of time developing an elaborate and time-consuming story
The only plus to using an original story is that you don't need to worry about any sort of copyright infringements.
The easiest original stories to write are ones that take place in modern times, which can be hard to find an inspiring storyline for. The best and easiest thing to do: avoid original stories.
Unless you have a very strong story, not very many people are going to be interested. Sorry.
If you do choose to use an original stories, think really hard about your characters. If you have a knack for writing your own story, that's great. Just make sure you still work through every step of this screenwriting phase.
Breathe Some New Life Into Old Treasures By Making Your Favorite Old Novels Into Film Gems
The second source hotspot for screenwriting is found in old novels.
A book which has not been copyrighted within the last 75 years is up for whatever you want to do with it.
These books are in the public domain.
Not sure what the copyright date is on your book? Check the inside cover, the most recent date listed after the publisher is the copyright date.
Still not sure? Look for the book on LibriVox. All books on LibriVox are in the public domain.
Using an old story will capture audiences because they are tried and true, and many people have already read or heard about them and trust that they are good stories.
Among the many pros to lifting scripts from old novels are:
- No story fabrication needed
- Books already follow a solid storyline
- Research is done for you
- Novels boost your credibility
- No need to find witty phrases
For Outlaws of Ravenhurst, many people said they had read the book and were looking to see if a film was ever made of it and found Industrious Family that way!
In the great library of old stories, you can “hire” the master story-making minds from across the whole history of literature.
Plus, all genres can be found in literature.
And remember it is not a shameful thing to use good stories that are not all your own. Walt Disney formed his career around the retelling of fairytales.
Inspire Your Audience With The Forgotten True Stories From History
A third and final source for screenwriting material is history. There are many interesting and inspiring stories of virtuous heroes found throughout the course of history.
Historic films are popular because people feel a connection with the characters.
The idea that these were real people who lived in the same world and probably suffered similar trials in their private lives is appealing to everyone.
Everyone has his own favorite period of history and is happy to watch any movie he can about that era. When we made Max & Carlota there were quite a few people who were interested in the movie because they were interested in the Hapsburg family line.
Task 1 Checklist:
Answer these questions about Task 1 before moving on to the next task:
- Where are you going to find your screenwriting material?
- If you are using a book, are you sure it is in the public domain? If not, you may need to contact the publisher and ask who owns the copyright. If you really love the story, chances are you can create a persuasive enough proposal to maybe be granted permission to use the story. Worth the try.
- Are you really passionate enough about this topic to be dedicated to it for the next year or so of your life? Remember that this is not set in stone. Just because you have a script for something does not mean that you MUST commit to it. Once you have hosted auditions and casted in Phase 6, you are at the point of no return.
Task 2. Use A Storyboard Mountain As A Map Guiding You Through The Screenwriting Phase
Looking At The Mountain As A Whole To Get Perspective
Once you have selected your source and idea, draw a mountain. Yes, a mountain.
Think of your script as a journey--because it is one!
You have your main character, who is usually presented with a problem in the beginning:
...Marred for life
...Got struck and is now void of all sense
...Needs to find out the secret behind a sudden and mysterious death
...Has been locked into a tower from infancy and now wants to see the world
..Is stuck making muffins from broccoli...You name it!
There is always a problem or challenge.
Your character is challenged to overcome his problem, which is what is commonly called the plot. You now need to divide your story into three sections: exposure, climax, and resolution.
The first quarter of your movie should be dedicated to exposure. This is the part where you meet the character, find out his greatest flaw, his greatest fear, or any other background which may be important later.
The middle half, the climax, is where the problem reaches its highest intensity and the character must either overcome it or resign himself to it. This part should be able to stand alone as a story.
The ending quarter is the resolution, where you put the audience back on the ground, resting assured that the ending was satisfying. This is where the problem is solved.
Give Your Mountain Support With Smaller Climaxes And Resolutions Within The Main Shape
Inside of the main mountain are smaller hills. These are the various other problems and their solutions found throughout the story. Draw these inside of your main mountain.
Penciling-in each of these hills with the event's focus will help remind you later while you are writing.
Above is the original mountain that we drew when brainstorming Grisly Grisell. As you can see, we have the estimated duration written out beneath the mountain. Each crease represents the supporting climaxes. Written in each crease are notes about each segment.
Climbing up the mountain are the sections of exposure ("introduction"), climax ("middle"), and resolution separated into 1/4, 1/2, and 1/4 format.
A word about estimating film duration: We have found that a page of script equals about an hour of filming, a minute of edited scene. So, referring to the drawing above, we were planning on a 120 page script for a 120 minute film.
For our company, this is basically a one year project.
Still A Little Confused On What I Am Saying? Here Are A Few Examples To Clarify What I Mean
I know that this is all a lot to take in, so let me lead you through a few examples to solidify these ideas.
Let's say you are planning your movie to be an hour long.
You are going to want to have 15 minutes of exposure, 30 minutes of climax, and 15 minutes of resolution. Make sense?
Now for a breakdown of what composes the exposure, climax, and resolution using Outlaws of Ravenhurst as an example.
Exposure Introduces The Conflict
In the beginning, you meet the Gordon (George Abell) with his Catholic American family. He is suddenly and quickly taken away from this life and family by his evil Uncle Roger and Godfrey.
These two show their true colors in the carriage scene. You understand that they are both Protestants who are steadfast in their resolve to make the new Gordon the same.
You also meet the Gordon's mother, who is also a Catholic, and encourages him to stay true no matter what the cost.
This entire opening part of the movie we call exposure.
Climax Tells A Complete Story Of Its Own
Next, comes the climax. This escalates with the Gordon resisting his uncle's will and instead staying true to the Faith. Then all that follows: meeting Father Stephen, being locked in his room, escape, meeting his father, going to save the clan.
These events make up the climax.
The climax is the most important part of your movie. It should be strong enough to stand alone without the exposure and resolution. It would, of course, feel abrupt, but it should still tell a complete story.
Resolution Gives A Sense Of Satisfaction
Now comes the resolution: Clan Gordon escapes to the colonies. The Gordon is reunited with his adopted family, the Abells.
The entire clan is allowed to live and raise their children in the Faith in peace without fear of pressure and intimidation from the state.
The audience is given the sense of, The story is told. You may return to your own lives now.
Underlying Bumps Make For Quality Storytelling
The underlying bumps would be when the Gordon is torn from his family, when he and Sir Roger have their first confrontation about the Faith, when Sir Roger whisks the Gordon's mother from him and makes her appear to not care about him, when Sir Roger whips the Gordon, and when the Gordon must escape from the castle.
These all have their own problems and solutions which support the main mountain. Although these are of lesser importance, they still add to the overall quality of the storytelling.
Task 2 Checklist:
- Create the main shape you want your movie to take.
- Consider the target length of your movie. This is just to give you an idea. Of course, it is unlikely your script will be an even number of pages.
- Decide how long your exposure, climax, and resolution are depending on the length of your target length. Include a rough idea of what will be contained in these areas.
- Consider any underlying bumps to include, make sure they are truly supportive to the overall storyline and not distracting.