Filmmakers sometimes make you feel like making a movie is like searching for the Holy Grail. Only the worthy need apply.
I have been involved in filmmaking for over a decade, with hundreds of projects, and the question I hear the most is, “How do I get started?”
You have inspiration, or an idea, or maybe just passion, but where do you go from there? There is an article that I have seen pop up periodically on my Facebook feed. The article is called “Sixty-five steps to being a filmmaker.” Anything that I have to do that takes 65 steps I can pretty much guarantee will not get done, so how about three steps instead?
Spark off your inspiration (Is this a good idea?)
I had an actress come to me with the first 20 pages of a new screenplay. When people ask your viewpoint it is a holy thing. I was honest and told her I hated it. It felt cliché and had none of her in it. I knew she was hilarious and drama followed her wherever she went. I encouraged her to write about her own relationships. So about three months later she sent me an amazing screenplay that was 100 percent her. It had emotion and romance and it was damn funny. We co-directed and I produced it for practically no budget because we were not going to let a little thing like poverty slow us down. Now it is available all over streaming platforms. I cannot tell you how crazy it was to turn on Epix and see our film sandwiched between Jeff Bridges and Dolph Lungren.
Every creative project starts with an idea and the best ideas are personal. They come from history or trauma or the imagination, but the first thing you have to figure out is: “Is this a good idea?” Just because it’s an idea doesn’t mean it should become a film. See Hollywood for examples.
Everyone is convinced they are Shakespeare or at least George Romero. We need other people and creatives to give their take on our concept. We need wisdom to come from everywhere. Float your idea and see if it excites others. If people’s first reaction is that sounds exactly like something that already exists then maybe reconsider. Negative feedback is not a reason to stop, it a reason to evolve.
- Start the fire. (What is my part in this process?)
Once you have decided that your idea for a creative project is a good one, you have to figure out if you should write it.
You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille…that is the only line the original writer of the country song “Lucille” wrote. The first line of the chorus. That was enough to make him a multi-millionaire. In movies, you will see “story by” or “based on” credits. That means they had an idea that got expanded on by other artists. Creating art is discovering your part in it. Should somebody else write this? Direct? Produce? We all want to hold on to our baby but if you ever read the special thanks on the end credits, “it takes a village” to raise anything, including a movie.
In all likelihood, you will not be a one-man/woman show. You need other folks to partner with to see your vision come to life. Everyone you include brings something unique to a project. When you share your concept with someone and they get excited about what they can contribute that is combustion. Partner with people who are better, smarter and think differently than you. That’s a team.
Keep the fire burning (How can I make this more personal?)
No project is one idea. They are dozens. That is why the more of yourself you put into it the more alive it becomes. If you think of the moments or people who amazed, enthralled or horrified you, that is a great place to add your touch on a story. It has to become uniquely your voice. When you get stuck just come back to your own experience.
There also are times to walk away from a project until you have an experience that will inform it. It’s like not cooking until you have all the right ingredients. Sometimes we mistake a creative blockage for a needed time of incubation. Then you experience something new to bring back to your idea. You will see it’s time to incorporate that new moment into your story. If you let inspiration have its way, it acts as a lightning bolt.
You can do it, too. If there is something you feel like you wanna say, you can make something that says it.
I can promise there is nothing like creating something that wasn’t there. It’s a chance to bring something new into the world. For the next 62 steps, there is an article I could recommend. Better yet, let’s make a movie instead of talking about it.