Want to be a Filmmaker? Start with Script - Day 15

(Credits - ThoughtCo)

There's an enormous pool of resources on the A-Z of filmmaking on the Internet, but I can throw in my own perspectives and tips on how to get started as a filmmaker, since I was requested to do so and thought, well why not? I'm going to give examples in both Urdu and in English so that this can be helpful for people trying to make short films in the local Pakistani market as well. Here's my short breakdown:

Start with the script.

Whatever you choose to bring to the audiovisual medium, no matter what its duration may be, you should have a written script at the backend. For fiction this is essential but even for non-fiction films such as documentaries, or even content on YouTube and other platforms, a script can be really useful. So, how does one go about writing a script? This is in itself an entire study and a career called screenwriting, but you can get started with a few basics:

  1. Identify the protagonist(s) (the main character) in your story, and clearly define his/her wants or desires which will drive him/her in the story. Flesh out this character in detail, first envision and then write down his or her characteristics in detail using a character questionnaire.

  2. Identify the genre of your film. Is it romance, sci-fi, documentary, romcom, action, horror? Clearly look up film genres and choose yours. It can be a mix of genres as well.

  3. Choose one or more themes that your story will be playing with. For example, your story could have themes such as coming of age, good versus evil, society, philosophy, etc. These themes will help construct the events that will take place in your film.

  4. Identify other characters; write short descriptions of them as if they are real in your mind, and define their relationships with the protagonist i.e, how will they play a role in the story of the protagonist? Will they be opponents, friends, parents, colleagues, bosses, or chance encounters in the protagonist's life? Identifying these characters earlier on will help guide your script better when you get down to writing it.

  5. You now have your protagonists, other major and side characters, the genre and themes, as well as the desires of the protagonist. Now you must put obstacles in the path of the protagonist. These will literally create the drama that is required to make a story, well, a story, because without obstacles there is no conflict and without conflict, you would merely be narrating events that happened to a character. The obstacles can be of different types. For example, it can be family, society, nature, time, the person's inner mind itself, a rival or an antagonist, a disability, race, gender, etc. The goal is to play sequential obstacles in the protagonist's path so that he/she is tested each time and this is what makes the viewers hold onto their seats in curiosity and anticipation as they watch the film. Writing a script is just like designing a video game; you need to make the main character(s) face various challenges that increase in intensity until they finally make it to the end.

  6. With all of the above in mind, you can now start developing your script. Don't worry about the formal format yet, just start writing. Once you can clearly picture who your protagonist is, what they want, and how they're likely to behave in different situations, you can start writing scenes for your script. For scenes, you should pay attention to three things: setting, description, and dialogue. The setting is when and where the scene is taking place. The description outlines how things will look in your scene and is important to write down for the film team to then translate onto the screen from the script. The dialogues are, as you know, the conversations shared between the characters or even self-talk.

  7. You're going to have to break down your script into scenes for structure and divide the story by location and time of the day (setting). So for example in the first scene, we may see the protagonist walk towards the bathroom mirror, early in the morning, and comb his hair. Here, we can tell that our character is in a bathroom (location) in the morning (time). Knowing these two elements, we can write the headings (sluglines) of each scene in our script. So, for the scene above, we get the slugline:


The breakdown of this slugline is, INT for interior, as opposed to EXT for exterior, meaning we will see an interior location on the screen in this scene, the location is a bathroom, and the time is morning. These constraints help us define a scene, and we continue to do this for each subsequent scene. Ultimately, the script is a series of scenes, with a beginning and an ending scene.

Now, you're ready to write your first script. I'll give you an example using all the steps I've mentioned above to write a small scene in a script for a film. Be sure to give your script a title too just as you would your film, so let's get right into it.

Film Title: "Nadia ki kab ayegi baraat?"
Genre: Drama
Theme: Love

NADIA (28 years) walks into an ATM. She punches in her security code as her phone starts to ring. She receives it and puts it in speaker mode.

Nadia, Kidher ho? Jaldi ghar pohancho, warna bara masla parr jayega!

Don't worry Samia, mai ghar aake sab ke saath deal karloon gi.

Kab tak deal karti raho gi? Mama ko bhi toh kabhi humari baat sun leni chahiye na.

Don't be stupid yaar. Mama nahi badlein gi, har wakt wohi dramay.. chalo aati hoon.

Nadia cuts the call, as she receives a text message on her phone from ASGHAR saying, "Nadia, zaroori baat karni hai. Call me asap." She glances at the text, withdraws money, and walks out.

This was the opening scene of the film that I just made up on the spot. I had a clear idea of who my protagonist (Nadia) was and who some other characters in her life were, one of whom, Samia, her sister, plays a small role in this scene. I also know who is going to pose obstacles in the way of what she wants, which is marriage, and that the antagonistic force is her unreasonable mother.

Even though this was just one scene, you need to set up your story to pull in the viewer and hook them in from the start. Start your opening scene by letting the audience know who they're going to be rooting for in the film / whose story they're going to be following, state the major features of the protagonist such as their age and other physical features important to the story, and use dialogues and settings to lead up to the next scene. You can now build upon this scene to write the next scenes until you reach the last, with your selected themes, genre, characters, obstacles, and how the protagonist will overcome them or won't. It's all about the journey, and that's what the viewer sticks around to watch.

Hope that helped!

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