We’ve all been there, when you’ve exhausted your ideas and hit writers block – or have a great brainwave for a screenplay but you’re not sure how to go about writing the script around it. Whether you’ve decided on your main character or you’re dead-set on a certain location, how do you make sure that your story idea is innovative, engaging and captivating on screen? Welcome back to the stage, Dusan Mrden and Kathryn Butt, your favourite film fanatics and dessert lovers, here to lend a helping hand with some key ways for you to formulate and progress your next script. So, let’s get cracking…
When you are starting to develop your script or trying to think of a story to tell there are many things to consider beforehand:
List everything you have access to
K: When you’re working on a budget, it’s important that you understand your own budget restrictions and work around them. Be as crafty as you can. Find ways to make your budget work for you. A great way to do this is by considering the FREE resources you have available around you before writing. Perhaps it’s a woodlands at the back of your neighbour’s house, or an actor you know that would be perfect in your film. If you can lower the costs at the script-level, then you’re still able to tell the story you want to tell but in an affordable way. It’s also a great way to get experience – if you’re not sure on your main idea that you’ve worked on, why not experiment with new ideas and learn your craft whilst doing so.
D: When I was at film school we had to think of what we had available, because our resources were limited. But it was a great exercise in producing your own work. It was also helpful because you have a starting point – think of the room you have available, and what would/could happen in there? Does it start from a dark room or an interestingly lit room? Does it start from an actress you know and her acting ability? Is it your local pub you go to with your friends? The sky is the limit, as long as you let your creative juices flow.
Make sure your protagonist goes from A to B.
D: I was taught many different things from many different industry professionals while studying filmmaking, and many of them had a good point. What I learned was a helpful tool to making a watchable short film is focusing on the development of the story and the characters. Your short film shouldn’t be overly complicated and full of unnecessary details or characters development. Make sure that your story goes from point A to point B. Your lead character should go through a journey – or a change. If you don’t want them to change, make it so that their surroundings change at the very least.
K: Even if your narrative is cyclical or non-linear, there needs to be a clear goal that your protagonist is constantly aiming for. Think of Memento, even though it’s told in reverse and the narrative ends as it begins, we have a clear idea of where the story is going. If your character lacks a goal, it’s harder to create inciting incidents that test the character’s resolve and the end goal.Also, it’s important you know where to start in your story. A common downfall of scripts is that the filmmakers are unsure of where to start the story. You can have the best idea for a story, however, if you don’t have a clear start and end point, your idea can get lost if you don’t know where to start to make the most of it.
Screenwriting is re-writing
D: As with most things in life and art, screenwriting boils down to re-writing your story and script. Try and start from your logline, and the rest will come naturally while you develop it. I went to art school for 10 years, and have learned that getting to where I desire to is all about making mistakes and then just ploughing through. You will rarely get to write a masterpiece from the first try (maybe when you are well into your career), but until then just write and re-write.
K:…Unless you count our trailer “Completely Not The Post” (watch the video for incredible story writing inspiration.)
Surround yourself with creatives
D: This is something that is probably the most important thing of the filmmaking process. Spend time with writers, screenwriters, actors, filmmakers and any of the people inside or outside of your life. Listen, watch, observe – and a story will come to you. Did your friend tell you an interesting story? If it’s a short film, it can be one situation in time – it doesn’t have to be feature length and long. People can be very inspiring, so try and use their stories to your advantage.
K: Seek out networking events in your area and get involved in as much as you can. The more people you have around you that you trust to give you constructive, honest advice on script drafts or first cuts of films – the better. At Raindance, we run a monthly networking event called ‘Boozin ‘n’ Schmoozin‘ to encourage creatives from every department of the filmmaking process to interact and meet new people and create new projects.
Don’t be afraid to show your script to others
D: When I was at film school I was very caught up with listening to other people’s advice on the script i was directing, and it was difficult for me to be objective. While directing a short film I was told by a mentor to focus on the character development of my antagonist and try and make him more likable and human. While this is good advice to consider, I didn’t realize at the time it didn’t really fit into the whole aesthetic of the film I was trying to make so the advice actually worked against me. I learned that in a short film sometimes it is best to leave things black and white, and not dwell too much on developing something the audience will not have time to get invested in because of the length of the film. I learned to always listen to other people’s opinions and take what I need from it in order to make the script I want.
Find visual/aural inspiration
K: Whether you’re adapting your film from a book or poem – there are always other mediums through which to gain inspiration. It could be from a song or album that conjured a storyline in your mind, or it could be through images or a mock-up poster. A great way to get feedback and gather ideas is to put together a moodboard and show it to others to see what kinds of ideas arise. It could help you decide on a genre and even your characters – having a focus group to help you realise your own ideas is a great resource.
Draw from your life experiences
D: Many times I have used the stories and situations family members have told me to create unique characters. It started off with a family relationship – how my mother felt about a certain family member or what I was going through with a friend. An inner monologue of your thoughts can be a good starting point. Take an opinion you have about something or someone, and see what other kind of situation you can put it into and create a unique situation that’s different, but has the essence of something real – coming from an honest place.
Listen to what’s happening in the world
D: Read the news, listen to the trends, think about current topics and what is happening in the world and in the industry. Give important topics a platform with your film, and people will be interested to see a different point of view. Don’t think about what has been done many times before in the sense that people will think it’s tiring to watch. Every story and every style has an audience, and can always find it’s way to where it’s supposed to – as long as it comes from an honest place.
To find out more about scriptwriting, why not attend our Write and Sell the Hot Script course?
Find out more about Kathryn Butt here!