The first and most important step to making a great movie is writing the screenplay. Without a great script, nothing else matters.
The best actors, the finest crew, and the most expensive equipment in the world can’t make a great movie out of a crappy script. The script can’t be good, really good, or just needs a few tweaks… it has to be great.
I’ve been writing anywhere from 6 to 18 hours a day, sometimes more, for over a month and it’s still not done. Almost, but we’re not quite there yet.
Writing the screenplay is both exhilarating and challenging. Every scene has to be created knowing that it is going to cost time and money to shoot it. Unlike the original that I wrote so many years ago, I’ve been very methodical in how I write this new screenplay. That’s not to say I am following a formula, I’m not, but before a single word is typed I work out every detail I can think of to make sure I can actually film it. If I can’t shoot it, it doesn’t belong in the script.
I’m not working with a big Hollywood budget so I cannot write ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ scenes and then wash the technical issues and problems away with a money hose. I don’t have a money hose, every problem and situation has to be solved creatively to make sure the final screenplay is both exciting and attainable.
Location, Location, Location
The fewer the locations the better… at least financially. Every new location requires travel time, set up time, blocking, lighting, rehearsing, shooting, and then tearing it all down again to move on to the next location. In the novel I wanted to take the reader on a visual tour around my beautiful island. The scenery here is stunning and I wanted to share as much of it as I could without turning it into a travel book, but this is not the novel and those amazing views and backdrops simply take too much time out of each day to get to the location, get set up and shoot. I had to cut a lot of stuff but that’s all part of the movie making process, and one of the reasons why movies are never the same as they books.
Sculpting the Perfect Story
When I sat down to write the first draft I wanted to retell the story exactly as it was in the book. I knew it wasn’t possible but I had to start somewhere. I didn’t bother writing in the ‘impossible shots’ because there was no point, I also cut some characters that were not essential to the story. But for the most part it was the retelling the original story only in a screenplay format. I wrote it knowing that on the second pass a lot more would have to be cut. It’s called my ‘First Draft’ but I actually went over it several times, start to finish, tweaking it and making cuts as needed. When I was happy with it I sent it to four friends who agreed to beta read it for me to help me make it even better.
While the screenplay was in their hands I took a couple of days off to clear my head, then I got busy working on the second draft. As I heard back from them with their great comments and suggestions I worked them into this new draft.
It occurred to me that “Robin” will be played by a young girl roughly aged 10-14. I can’t have mini monologues for her to perform, that’s asking a lot from a young actress. Because Robin is a computer I can’t “dumb it down” either but I need to break it up with more than reaction shots. Other characters had to interact verbally so we could shoot the scenes in shorter takes. That way my young actress doesn’t have large chunks of dialog to memorize.
This draft also went through several revisions before I considered my second draft to be done. I did not send it to be read because the beta readers need a break too so I went directly into writing the next draft.
The Third Draft
Today I completed writing the third draft and I must say, it’s a pretty damn good script. It’s certainly a “shootable” script as is, but who wants that? I want a great script, not just one I can shoot. From a time and budget standpoint there’s still too many locations so I need to figure out how I can cut back on a few of them without taking away from the overall story. I also did several more rounds of aggressive dialog tweaking because dialog is so important.
It’s eight-thirty in the morning and I’ve been writing nonstop since yesterday afternoon, I need to take a break and get some sleep. I’ll do one final check later today then I will send this draft off to my beta readers to see how close I am do being done.
I know I should update this site some more, add a few more Wiki pages for the characters and so on and I will get to all that, but right now getting my screenplay to the Final Draft stage is the most important step because without that, there is no movie.