Write to Shoot
eBook - ePub

Write to Shoot

Writing Short Films for Production

Marilyn Beker

  1. 180 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
  4. Disponibile su iOS e Android
eBook - ePub

Write to Shoot

Writing Short Films for Production

Marilyn Beker

Dettagli del libro
Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti

Informazioni sul libro

Write to Shoot teaches budding screenwriters and screenwriting filmmakers how to write a short script with production in mind. Beker instructs them how to showcase their strengths, tailor projects to shoestring budgets, resources, and practical production parameters without sacrificing the quality and punch of their screenplays, whether they're creating a sizzle short for an unproduced feature script, an independent creative work, or a soapbox to promote a cause. Write to Shoot: Writing Short Films for Production is a must-have guide for anyone who wants to be sure there will be no surprises on set that come from a script that's not ready for production.

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Tolstoy, in his book What Is Art?, explores artistic motives at the very onset of the work. He asks probing questions that all artists (and filmmakers are most definitely artists) need to ask themselves at the onset of careers or projects. The first of these comes down to “is it worth it?” That’s because he admits that art demands tremendous labor and sacrifices on the part of the artist and goes so far as to say that the making of it stunts human lives and transgresses against human love (Tolstoy, 2005, Chapter 1).
The clear answer, the one that bears no excuses, is that we do art because we have to. Something inside us compels us, and without doing it we can’t exist. This is the most basic and legitimate reason for making art. That applies, of course, to our writing, but does it also apply to our actually making the movie? That’s a more complicated question.
I admit that I was never wild about the production process. For me, writing was so much simpler … just me and a computer and my head. No wires, no equipment, no people to get in the way. And these things all do get in the way. It always amazes me that the production process is as complicated as it is. I’m certain in the future everything will be wireless and equipment simple … in fact, I dream about some time when we will simply sit down at some kind of machine and have it scan our mind as we think up movies that will automatically download onto a screen. Ah the glories of science fiction! Because I was born too soon, that isn’t possible right now. And so the complicated mess that is production takes over and often makes an even bigger mess of the wonderful movies we see in our heads.
The translation of thought into form is always a hassle. Think of the inventor who keeps making prototype after prototype to get his invention right and working. The movies we make are certainly prototypes, but alas, these “prototypes” can’t be easily scrapped. They are too expensive and too public. We’ve got to make them as good as they can be, and we’ve got to make them good enough for a market to accept. This is no easy task. And naturally, it’s a given that the movie we make is NEVER as good as the movie we thought of in the first place.
In order to get the thing made at all, we’ve got to first do some serious and often scary gymnastics that far outweigh the writing process. By creating a budget based on our script, we’ve got to figure out how much our movie will cost us to produce using software we might not be familiar with. That means the first step is to get familiar with Movie Magic or some other kind of budgeting software we can get our hands on. Once we have a budget, we’ve got to raise that money.
And then the real work begins … we’ve got to scout locations, lock them down, get permits, cast the picture, get equipment, solicit crew members (production designers, camera people, set builders, lighting experts, sound people, grips, etc.) … the list seems endless. And, of course, unless you can get these people to work for free (film schools are great places for just that reason!) you’re in for a whole lot of wallet opening.
Then we’ve got to actually shoot the thing in keeping with a schedule based on our script that we’ve made up beforehand (also to be mastered in software). And when we’re through with all of that, we’ve got to edit the rough footage and make sure the sound is perfect.
Finally, we’ve got to send the film to festivals, enter online contests and bang our drums in hopes of getting distribution. And if we’re lucky to garner some interest, we’ve got to parlay our movie into our next project. I’m exhausted just writing about this.
That’s why we’ve got to be sure that we really, really want to make this movie. To do that, we’ve got to examine our motives. Are we in it for the money? Well, there is NO money until we get it distributed and shown, but even then there may be little or no return, especially with a short. Because shorts are used as calling cards or sizzle reels, they are simply gateways to our next project.
If we are lucky enough to license shorts to a distributor, we will make only about $18 a minute total running time, plus 20 Euros a minute total running time if it also shows in Europe, etc., for a three-year period. This is fabulous if you can get it because your film will be seen and you may be noticed, but it means for a 15-minute film, the most you can make is about $600 (the Euro fluctuates so the figure is not exact).
It quickly becomes obvious that money is a poor motive indeed. If that’s your primary motive, your energy will usually flag when you do the budget and discover how behind the eight ball you are when it gets to just mounting the thing and how little profit there is for you in this budget raising. You can, of course, include a “salary” for yourself in that budget, but usually you don’t because that’s an overhead that will keep you that many dollars away from making the thing. Often, the above-the-line costs (writer, director, producer, composer) are the first budget items to go in order to trim down how much you’ll need to raise to get the project off the ground. So forget the money motive. It will make you quit before you start.
The fame motive? Ha! You won’t get famous until the movie makes some kind of mark and you get a feature made and even then, nobody might know you. Unfortunately, the people who get noticed are the stars of your movie and usually not the director. Especially not the writer! There’s that old Hollywood joke about the starlet who wanted a part in a picture and made a huge mistake by sleeping with the writer! As everyone knows, writers have really no power in the industry unless they start to be bankable. Then they can move to director status or command huge bucks for their work. But they are still obscure rascals who have trouble getting tables at good restaurants.
Fame’s a lousy reason. I know that you don’t believe that fame can be a burden, but trust me it’s no picnic. If you do happen to get famous, your life will change drastically. No more walking down the street incognito. No more hanging out at your favorite coffee shop. No more shopping for groceries. Every moment your life will be plagued by paparazzi and hangers-on. Of course, some of you might relish this thought, but take it from me, it can be invasive and downright creepy.
In my own life, I know firsthand what that’s like. My sister, Jeanne Beker, is a famous media star in Canada and parts of Europe. She gets recognized and greeted everyplace she goes. And the freebies she gets are great … complementary desserts and drinks at restaurants, the best tables, the kindness of strangers … but it’s not always great. For example, we were at a restaurant and about to take our first bite of lunch when two people showed up and asked for a picture with my sister. She graciously put her fork down, got up, and complied. Then they insisted she go outside with them and take a bunch of pictures for an album they were putting together. Some nerve! But the worst was when our father was dying in the hospital. We were sitting in the private waiting room, devastated, when a woman barged in, ran up to my sister, and ignoring all our tears, yammered on about getting an autograph! A most horrible and distressing moment. But, of course, if you’re craving fame none of this will mean anything to you. So if that’s your motive, prepare to wait a long time to get it. If you have patience, that may be a good motive, but it doesn’t cut it when you’re broke, eating Top Ramen, and spending all your time in the editing room!
So what motivation does work? Passion! Passion for your future, passion for your art, passion for the story you need to tell, and passion for the process. In an interview with me, Marshall Nord, president of Shorts HD, said,
[P]assion will get you through all those sleepless nights of work. If you think you can spend your time doing anything other than your short film then go do it because you’re going to get chewed up. It’s not an easy process. Now that being said, it weeds people out but go into it with your eyes wide open and lots of passion.
That and commitment will take you a long way. Belief in yourself and your story is all you really have, and if you have that, you have it all. But keep in mind that in addition to that passion you’ve also got to be able to commit. Because the filmmaking process is so rigorous and demanding, you’ve got to make a commitment to yourself and your story early on. If you don’t do that, you won’t end up making a film at all.
For example, I had a student in my graduate thesis class who was both brilliant and talented. He had ideas coming out of his ears and was a fabulous writer. But he was also a neurotic commitment-phobe.
At the start of the class I ask students to come up with three ideas for a short film that will become their final thesis project. This student came up with 40 ideas! And what’s worse, he couldn’t commit to any of them. He made himself (and the rest of the class) crazy worrying about which project was “worthy,” and finally when I put my foot down and made him choose one, he kept on writing different versions of it. When he was asked to do one short script of no more than 15 pages, he wrote six different scripts on the same subject of 40 pages each! I was boiling with frustration but so was he. He kept wanting me to tell him which movie would “work” best, but unfortunately in filmmaking there are no guarantees.
We work through the story and the script, developing it as best we can, until we get a draft we must commit to and bring into the production process. But we can’t do that until we first commit to the idea and to the script.
Finally, that student was able to commit to a script that was 17 pages long. Only trouble was that he wrote three versions of that one. In the end he had to be threatened with failure that would have prevented him from shooting his graduate thesis project in order to make him commit to a final version. And even then, I believe he truly didn’t commit to it. He hasn’t made the film yet, but I predict that the production process will be nearly impossible for him because he has trouble making decisions (obviously), and making decisions is what screenwriting and directing and production is all about.
In fact, making decisions is what art is all about. The artist makes decisions based on an inner feeling, on an insight, or on a sense of proportion or “rightness.” Slightly different versions may be trotted out, but each variation finally gets closer to the real and right one. The refining process takes place in smaller and smaller increments where areas are reworked and “fixed.” It doesn’t take place by continually throwing out projects and starting anew. Sometimes, throwing a project out is necessary, but only after the revision process has been exhausted, and even then I’m not sure that it’s a smart move. Sometimes artists get lazy and frustrated and sick of what they are working on. That’s a sign that they need to back away for a while until they can look at the project with fresh eyes. It can take weeks, months, or even years. Often, coming back to a project after a long time makes you realize that it was pretty good after all. And if not, the time away makes seeing the places that can be fixed clearer.
The important thing is to stay with the core of the story. I get lots of students who want to quit after a few revisions or when they come up with something they think is insurmountable. I tell them that nothing is insurmountable and that the answer is in there somewhere. They just need to tackle it with new eyes and insight, and sometimes that takes fortitude and stick-to-it-ness. My motto is never give up! If you believe in the project, and if you are convinced it’s a story that needs to be told, there is always a way to make it work.
So you need to commit to your idea and your script. You may have doubts—that’s only natural—but until you have a story you love and a script you can make ready for production, you are nowhere.

Motivation Analysis Exercise

Here’s a little exercise you can use to help you determine your motivation and whether it’s strong enough to help you survive the writing and production process.
  1. 1 Be honest. List all the reasons you have for making this movie.
  2. 2 Look over the list and beside each reason put a number out of 100 that reflects how strong that reason is. For example, money: 75, fame 20, love 90, getting Hugo to love and notice me 100, and so on.
  3. 3 Now look at each reason and analyze honestly what result you might expect, that is, the return on your energy investment in that particular reason. For example, if Hugo never noticed you, it may be likely that he will notice you when he sees the movie. But realistically, if he didn’t love you before, it’s very unlikely that your movie will make him flip out over you. And if it does and that’s the only reason he loves you, he’s a shallow lad indeed.
It’s important that you are extremely realistic during this process. No cheating or dreaming.

Hurdles Exercise

Once your motivation is clear, consider the hurdles you will have to jump to get the movie made.
  1. Write down all the skills you need and have to make this movie.
  2. Write down all the skills you need but don’t have to make this movie.
  3. Write down the people in your life who will be affected (and to what degree) by your involvement in this work.
This portion of the exercise is important because it will affect your entire life and well-being.
  1. If, for example, you are married with three kids and have decided to quit your job to make this movie or mortgage your house, your significant other may not be too thrilled. Will that person be okay with having to earn all the money and do all the chores, etc., to keep your household afloat?
  2. Will your significant other be okay with you working with members of the opposite sex for hours on end, or is that person insanely jealous and/r insecure?
  3. Will your parents be okay with you moving back home and spending all your money on this project?
  4. Can you stand not spending an extra cent on anything else like entertainment, incidentals, and fun?
  5. If you don’t succeed and the project goes belly up, will you be okay with losing lots of time and money?
  6. Can you live with failure and flops?
  7. Can you handle being laughed at, scorned, ridiculed, or misunderstood?
  8. Can you handle being lauded, applauded, and revered? (This may seem easier than handling flops, but in reality, it can be just as devastating in different ways.)
  9. Do you have enough good friends and contacts to help you make your movie?
  10. Can you call in favors and are you good at getting deals?
  11. Do you have the physical stamina, energy, and good health to push yourself to the limits?
  12. Do you have a good sense of humor?
  13. Can you solve problems quickly?
  14. Are you a take-charge person?
  15. Do you get overwhelmed easily?
  16. Are you too hard on yourself?
  17. Are you too demanding of others?
  18. Are you too demanding of yourself?
  19. Are you a practical person?
  20. Are you realistic?
  21. Do you have some understanding of human nature and technology?
  22. Are you forward thinking and good at anticipating needs?
All of these are psychological mine fields that, if ignored, will mess you up in the production process for sure and, yes, in the writing process as well. Because when you write with production in mind, you need to be able to create doable scenarios that you can visualize working. And you need to have the confidence to know that you can get them to work in spite of messy circumstances and problems that might come up.
Writing for production is about anticipating problems and solving them in script, and taking that script into production sometimes requires adjustments and even more problem solving. If you don’t have the personality that can cope with whatever is thrown at you, then perhaps, as Tolstoy says, making this kind of art is not for you. Better to know that before you start than at the end of a long and painful process that might devastate you, your finances, and your family.
If you haven’t thrown this book down and run screaming from the room, if you’ve carefully analyzed yourself and seen that you are up for the task, it’s time to get busy and find your story.


Tolstoy, Leo. What Is Art? New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005.

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  5. Contents
  6. Preface
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. Introduction
  9. 1 Why?
  10. 2 What?
  11. 3 The Short Answer
  12. 4 The Short Bible
  13. 5 Money Changes Everything
  14. 6 Killing Your Darlings
  15. 7 Budget Tourniquets
  16. 8 The Shooting Script
  17. 9 Your Type
  18. 10 Bankroll
  19. 11 Getting Seen
  20. 12 Be a Ninja!