The Perilous and Inviting Path
of Film Production

By Alan Denman

Are you a feature writer with a good idea but struggling to shape it into a script you can sell?  Are you a budding producer with a great project but frustrated and confused where to go next?

For writers and producers there are a stack of challenges that appear on the path from page to production: what are the key elements in a successful story? What makes it commercial? When do you know if a script is developed enough and ready to show to a director, actor or financier? How do you get the project funded? What are the steps all the way to completion? and what are the pitfalls producers must avoid?

Information – useful, solid information – is power. The more you, as a writer or producer, understand about the filmmaking process the more you will be able to shape and hone your project right from the start.

There are essentially four stages in making a film: DEVELOPMENT, PREPRODUCTION, PRODUCTION and POST-PRODUCTION. Each stage is complicated, requiring a range of skills and knowledge and an ideal sequence of action, but first let’s just look at Development.

Development usually involves a close working relationship between writer and producer. This can be regarded as a sort of marriage, a relationship of some significance, as it is likely both parties will be working together for a good while, years even. Yet writers and producers tend to be very different animals, so it is vital there is a mutual understanding and respect for each others’ talents. Writers need to be open and flexible and producers must tread gently at times, especially if major changes to the script are required.

In the Development stage careful reports and analysis are used to develop the initial script and strengthen the story, remove weak or unnecessary elements, and increase its commercial potential by adding such things as a touch of comedy, a love interest, more action scenes, more suspense and so on.

(You could argue that there is a stage prior to this – the writing of early drafts by the writer on his/her own. Even this should not be done in isolation of practical and commercial considerations. Writers would be wise to study production and marketing as well as the craft of screenwriting, so that they understand from their very first line who they are writing for and to be mindful of practical constraints such as the number of characters and locations, special effects, stunts and action sequences. Successful writers understand that all screenplays have a context – the film industry. It is not a novel. For a script to have value – i.e. be optioned, sold or produced – it has to fulfill certain commercial criteria.)

The script is the blueprint, a set of instructions to the director, composer, actors, production designer, etc which they can take and implement. It’s a bit like a machine with different parts that each has to be shaped by different, highly skilled workers. With a good blueprint everyone will have a clear idea of what they must do and the overall construction will be very effective.

Many films fall down because they have not been sufficiently developed. So, vital questions for both producers and writers to ask in this crucial stage are: is the script commercial? Is it developed enough that an actor will want to star in it or a financier fund it? Is it a story that will appeal to film-going audiences? For writers immersed in the process of creating imaginary characters and storylines it is often impossible to stand back and take a more objective view, so it is vital that the producer has a strong development background as well as having a network of script readers he or she can trust.

Just getting the script to this point is a big achievement. It may take many drafts, hundreds of hours of writing and discussion, months and years. If you have got this far, well done, you’ve covered the first lap. Now take a deep breath and get ready for the next one: Pre-production.


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About Alan Denman

Alan Denman is an award-winning British writer, director and producer with his own production company, Stinging Bull Films. He is also an experienced film teacher and script consultant. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles. More information about him and his courses can be found at:  www.script-to-screen.com

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The Perilous and Inviting Path of Film Production