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How to Make Your First Movie - Phase 1: Writing

The screenwriter Gene Fowler once said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Here’s how to make the process a little less painful.


  • Step 1: Decide on source material Decide if you want to write a script from scratch, or adapt some other work, like a novel.
  • TIP: For adaptations, you’ll need to secure rights to anything that’s not in the public domain. Be prepared to pay dearly for the rights to popular books.
  • Step 2: Learn script formatting Learn how to format a script. This is very important—many studios won’t even look at a script if it doesn’t follow industry standard rules for spacing and style.
  • TIP: There are many scriptwriting programs that will automatically format what you’re writing, as well as adapt previously written scripts to the standard style.
  • Step 3: Brainstorm Come up with some ideas for a script. Everyone has his or her own creative process, but most people find that sitting down at a computer without some ideas just leads to writer’s block.
  • Step 4: Be realistic Be realistic. Don’t limit your imagination too much, but if you’re planning to film your own movie, remember that a sprawling war epic with battle scenes and period costumes is going to be difficult on a $50,000 budget.
  • TIP: Follow the old adage, 'Write about what you know.' But beware of writing about yourself—most people are not nearly as interesting as they think they are!
  • Step 5: Develop your characters Think about your characters before you start. Develop them deeply and then imagine them coming into conflict in interesting ways. Once writing, a good trick is to avoid having them say exactly what they’re thinking—how often does that happen in real life?
  • Step 6: Write a first draft Once you’ve got some ideas, sit down and write a first draft. Don’t obsess over the details or try to edit at this point; just get the framework of the story in place.
  • Step 7: Critique By yourself, or with the help of your director or others whose opinions you admire and trust, critique the draft. Only accept the unvarnished truth; you want a good script, not insincere compliments.
  • TIP: Listening to others' advice is tricky—if you don’t think something is a good idea, don’t do it. But at the same time, be tolerant of criticism and open to suggestions.
  • Step 8: Write a second draft Write a second draft of the script, based on the feedback you’ve received and your own assessment of the first product.
  • TIP: Because movies rely on spoken words, pay close attention to your dialogue. A conversation between two people might look fine on paper but sound stilted and fake when spoken aloud.
  • Step 9: Critique it again Critique the second draft. Ideally, you or your partners will be more satisfied with this one, but if you’re not, don’t get discouraged; many scripts go through dozens of drafts.
  • Step 10: Write a final draft When you’re happy with the most recent critiques and you think you’re close, make a final draft of the script. It’ll probably still change, but calling it 'final' will give you a sense of accomplishment.
  • FACT: Sony spent $20 million on the story rights and $10 million on the screenplay for Spider-Man 2.

You Will Need

  • A formatting and pagination guide
  • A realistic sense of limitations
  • Source material
  • Script formatting software

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