What makes a great movie?
It all begins with the story. In film school, you learn that there are only 36 stories in the world and that every movie you see can be compared to each other. Despite this, there are millions of ways of telling the same story, so you should never feel like you are telling some one Else's story but your own. You make a story your own, by incorporating your experiences into the story. If you are a writer, chances are you write... a little everyday. If you have a journal, see if there was ever an event that was story worthy, that would make a great story.
Sometimes, our lives are not like James Bond's, or Indianan Jones', and our lives can be very boring. Take this boredom as an opportunity to think the classic phrase every creative writer should ask themselves on a day to day basis: "What if..."
For example, what if there was a boy, who finds a dog?
With this basic question, you can plant the seeds of imagination, and water it with more questions.
How does he find the dog? Does the dog follow him home? What kind of dog is it? Where does the boy live? Is his family rich or poor? what does his family think of him having a dog?
After answering questions like the ones above, you should find a conflict that the story should be about.
A Boy from a poor family from Mississippi, is followed home fro school one day by a stray Labrador. One day the Boy is bullied, by a gang of kids, and he is rescued by the dog. The Boy, knows he is not allowed to have pets or stray animals in the house (because his family can not afford a pet), so he decides to keep it a secret from his parents.
This is a basic idea from scratch, and it is a start for many ideas.
Another thing to keep in mind is the story's structure. There are four structures to a story: linear, meandering, spiral (cone), and branching. Linear is the basic, and most boring of the four structures, but make great short films. There is a single conflict with a single solution that is solved simply. But if you want to make a feature length film, you would want to use one of the other three structures. Meandering is the structure similar to linear, but with more obstacles to over come (Every Charles Dickens Novel follows this structure, as well as "The Odesy," "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" and the "Harold and Kumar" movies are just a few examples of this structure.) In meandering, there are a number of characters that get introduced to the main character (or characters) as the story progresses. Spiral (or Cone) structure is one that is repeatative and complicated. The story can either be going towards the center, of the spiral, or coming outward, but usually the better movies have the story's structure spiraling outward. If you are confused think of it this way, most of M. Night Shamalan's films (such as "The Sixth Sense") are structured in a spiral, because there are so many twists and turns that the story takes, and reveals more and more until the biggest twist of all happens in the ending. The final structure, is the branching structure, where as there are multiple stories connected to the same idea, or theme. One of the best examples of this would be "Tales From the Crypt," a classic British Horror film where five different people get lost in an underground cavern and meet a mysterious stranger who reveals each person's act of greed and the consequences for their actions.
Many story and structure professors teach of a fifth structure called "explosive" structure where as the story follows a pattern that resembles a dandelion head. This pattern does not exist! In order for such a story to follow this structure, all the parts of the story are not connected. No movie has ever followed this pattern and turned out good, but many believe that it is possible. But no matter how hard people have tried, no one has ever done it well enough to be a good story. So my advice is to stay with the four main patterns (given above).
In conclusion, the ending of the film has to be satisfactory. You need the main character to achieve their main objective, to change in a way that is satisfactory, and to tie any loose ends that the story might have. You also have to make sure that everything has a meaningful purpose in the story, otherwise why put it there? And if you have written the story, you can finally begin on the long journey of making a great movie.
Here are some writing prompts to work on, so you can exercise your creative mind:
- Write a list of 10 kitchen utensils and incorporate them into a story.
- A man walks down the street, and sees a mugging in process.
- Write poem that personifies an inanimate object, as an unsung hero.
- Finish the story about the boy and the dog (see above).
- Write about your most embarrassing moment, BUT have it happen to someone else.
- Write a list of 5 nouns that begin with D, 3 verbs that begin with H, and 2 adjectives that begin with B, AND incorporate them into a story about a dysfunctional family.
- "One day, I was walking past my play house when I heard a loud CRASH! I went to the play house and found to my surprise Max covered in modeling glue and glitter. I asked him what happen and he said..." Finish the story.
- Write about someone you know who has a special talent.
- Write about a Valentine's Day without mentioning: Love, cupid, hearts, couples, chocolates, romance, candy, cards, and/or flowers (of any kind).
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