Aug 18, 2009

How To Write A Blockbuster Movie

The biggest question of all, when it comes to making your own film, is how do I write a movie? This may seem an overly simplified question, but whatever idea or story you are working on, this question keeps coming up. Even through the shooting process, you are wondering to yourself, "Is this interesting? Is the story working? Is there suspense? Is the story clear? Are the characters intriguing? Is this plot point clearly identified? Will the audience be engaged? Will they be confused?"

It goes on and on. I'm not going to spend time on how to choose an idea or a theme that intrigues you. For this article, I'm going to assume you have one. If you're like me, it comes to you when you're thinking of something else, or you read or see something and you think, "That is a great idea. I can see that as a film." The more visual the idea, the better.

There are many schools of thought on how to write a story. It goes on and on. Someone will say it takes months, but then you read in an article that writer/director John Hughes wrote his scripts in a weekend. It all depends on who you are and how well you've thought out your story. I'm sure James Cameron takes many months. John Hughes takes a weekend. Time is inconsequential. If you are ambitious, you can write quickly, and do rewrites later. As Neil Simon says, it's all in the rewrites. Don't worry about the early drafts. Expect them to be crap. But finish them. Finish them.

After film school, and reading hundreds of books, I can advise a few shortcuts that are actually, sincerely helpful. This is the list:

Read "The Writer's Journey", by Christopher Vogler. (It will break down why stories work, on a mythical/dramatic level. Very inspiring, with lots of film references and plot breakdowns of "Wizard of Oz" and other classical scripts.)

Read "The Art of Dramatic Writing", by Lajos Egri. (Recommended by many filmmakers, an indispensable guide to building your story around the main character and escalating the drama as the story unfolds.)

Watch "Power of Myth" series, as presented by Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell (available for instant download on Netflix). Campbell is George Lucas's hero and mentor. This is in-depth, cerebral, heavy stuff, but incredibly inspiring. I watch it every few years and always learn more. Filmed at Skywalker Ranch.

Read any book about the writers/directors you love and their creative process.

Watch you favorite films in the genre you are writing for and break them down into an outline, scene by scene, and noting the time in the film that each event occurs (which would correspond to the page number of the script, in theory).

These are the most helpful and inspiring books and videos that I have read in my lifetime, and all more inspiring than anything I learned at film school in New York. There are many other books that people plug (like the Syd Field books), but I'm not going to recommend those, because as a writer, those books analyze storytelling from the outside in. In other words, they analyze the stories after they are written, instead of looking for processes by which they were written. When writing a story, I have found I'm more interested in materials that talk about writing from the "inside out". In other words, how to turn an idea into a story, and how to revise it once I've got a sketchy idea.

I hope these guides help you. Good luck to you on your writer's journey.