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Indie Film - Develop the Idea

Updated on September 11, 2015

Develop or Die

So you have your idea. You know what you want to put to media, but you don't know what the first steps are in making an idea a reality.

Take heart, I am here to draw you a map for the journey.

First you need to have a synopsis. You want to state the story in just a few paragraphs. No deep details--that's for later. You want a basic, bare bones statement of what the story is saying. Work on the synopsis until you can get it down to one to four paragraphs in length. Make it clear enough and short enough so you can easily repeat it to a person and have them understand what your story is about.

Next, you need to keep the ideas for your individual scenes in order. Get some 3x5 index cards for this purpose.

You will write down a sentence or paragraph on each card that describes the individual scenes. NOTE: a scene is considered a change in time or place. If you have a sequence (a group of scenes which go together) you will have a new scene every time you go from one location (the villain is outside, stocking the lady of the house) to the other (the lady of the house is inside, getting ready for bed). A flashback is a good example of time dictating a new scene. It's as simple as that.

Now, you have your 3x5 cards and have your whole story in its basic form, you will want to write your treatment.

The treatment is a much more detailed telling of your story. In it you will explain certain parts of the story--such as character descriptions, object and location descriptions, and motivations--in more detail, even using photos or drawings to show the details of what you are describing.

The treatment will be about 25 to 30 pages long and, if you were trying to get backing for the film, would be the device used to gain that backing.

Since you are making the film yourself, we will skip this information and continue with the development phase of the movie.

Sometimes a distributor will be contacted at this point. You already made your One Sheet. Now the distributor, should they decide to work with you, will begin the job of finding the market and planning the advertising for the movie. This is seldom done with Indie movies that don't have a suitable budget.

Synopsis, scene cards, and treatment. Next comes the actual script!

There are too many things to explain about writing the script. My favorite and probably the best series of books on screenwriting is by Syd Field. It explains the "paradigm", or basic structure, to writing the screenplay. The approximate locations of the first and second plot points, the way you can take the story in the Second Act and turn it around so as to create the tension for the climax, in Act Three, where we also find the resolution.

Here is a basic representation of what you will learn:

The "paradigm" or basic script structure.
The "paradigm" or basic script structure.

The page count is, as I said before, an approximation of where you will find the major parts of a screenplay. Many popular movies have put these milestones in very different locations with great success. They are only guidelines, but you may wish to stick to them until you have learned them well enough to change them.

So, how do you write a script? You just need a typewriter, or word processor and the correct format. And I mean the CORRECT format. One of the best ways to cause trouble down the line in all phases of production is to have a script that is not properly formatted. Camera people, editors, actors, everyone is used to seeing a script done a certain way. Therefore, the proper format is not negotiable.

If you have MS Word and wish to use a wonderful template that contains all the major formatting, then you can look to ScreenPro. It's inexpensive and very useful. You may also be able to find something for free by searching MS's Word database. In any case, the proper format is as follows:

Page: The page should be formatted to have the top and bottom margins at 1 inch each. The left and right sides should be at 1.25 inches. The printed pages should be punched on left side with standard notebook paper spacing and brass "brads" should be used to hold the pages together.

NEVER use any other method to bind your script unless you are intent on having it thrown away without being read. Even if you are producing it yourself, you should use the proper method of binding so it is easier to make copies, add edited pages, and navigate within the bound material.

(NOTE: you never remove pages that have been edited. You simply add the new page after the one being replaced and put a big "X" on the face of the old page.)

Master Shot: Main heading that tells you if you are inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.), at which location you are, and what time of day it is (as applicable). Written like this:


This will begin on the very first space of the page with no indent nor justification. A blank line will ALWAYS follow.

Action: This paragraph or paragraphs describe action, scene setups, characters, and props as needed for the scene. It begins on the first space of the line and goes to the end of the line. There is no justification nor indents, and each paragraph is ALWAYS separated by a blank line. The paragraph will look an awful lot like this one does. Normal capitalization and punctuation rules apply.

Remember that newly introduced characters and any sound cues there may be, including music, are always in all capital letters to make them obvious and easy to find during post production (work done after the filming is finished). This is very important for post production. More on that later.

Camera Suggestions: Sometimes you will want to tell the director how to use the camera to shoot a scene. DON'T! Not unless YOU are the director. Camera Suggestions are just that. You can put these in to suggest a change in view or a movement that is necessary to keep the scene in the right mood. Some examples of Camera Suggestions are MOVING, HIGHER ANGLE, MONSTER'S POV (Point Of View).

As with Master Shot, the words are in all capitals and unjustified. No punctuation is needed. Remember the blank space following the direction.

Character: When a character speaks, the line is indicated by their name in all capital letters beginning at the 2.25 inch mark of the page.

If a character speaks from off screen, (V.O.) appears after the name. If a line of Action separates one part of a character's dialogue from another part, their name is followed by (CONT'D) when it appears next. The same cannot be said for a character's next line if separated by another character's line.

Stage Direction: When an instruction is given for a specific character's line, it looks like this: (shouting)

This may be anywhere in the character's line and will begin at the 2 inch mark of the page and continues to the 4.75 inch mark. There are NO blank lines after Stage Direction unless the Stage Direction is the last sentence of the character's line.

Dialogue: This is what the characters say. The dialogue will start at the 1.75 inch mark of the page and continue, unjustified, to the 4.75 inch mark of the page. Separate paragraphs in a character's lines will be separated by a blank line. A blank line will also come after the characters last word and the following script element. There is NO space between the character and their lines of dialogue.

Transitions: These include "CUT TO:", "CROSS FADE:", and "FADE OUT:". They are right justified and have a blank line following them. Use them sparingly. Directors don't like to be "bossed around" too much by the scriptwriter.

With that being said, here is a sample from my script, Akumu:

Click to view this page in its original size.
Click to view this page in its original size.

The exact spacing is not the imperative thing here. It is what is perceived on the page. If you are off by a few sixteenths of an inch one way or another, it won't matter. Make sure that you have all the basics and that they look clean and neat. Remember I said CORRECT formatting, not EXACT formatting.

You will only print on one side of the page when the script is finished and you will always want the page number clearly visible. The bottom, right corner of the page is where it should located.

The black dots represent the binding holes and the little arrows in each corner shows the outer edge of the text area.

Remember to always use the 12 point Courier font. Another way to get into trouble in production is to have the wrong font. Courier is simply easier to read and is the Industry Standard (the last I heard).

Now that you know the basics of getting your script together, you need to sit down and write it. Again, I cannot go into much detail here since it is such a deep subject and needs an article all of it's own.

Refer to any of the many books on script writing that you can find at your local library. Again, I suggest Screenplay: The Foundations of Writing by Syd Field and his follow up book, The Screenwriter's Workbook. These are two of the best books I've found on the subject.

Later, if you decide to sell your script instead of produce it yourself, you may also want to read his book, Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood and Jennifer Lerch's book, 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader: Writing the Screenplay the Reader Will Recommend.

I own all these books myself and have found them invaluable in preparing my scripts.

In my subsequent article, I will begin addressing the next step of the movie making process. Pre-production. This is where things begin to get a little complexed, but doing it right will make the rest of the process less complicated (and less stressful!).

                                                                 FADE OUT:

A Character's Look

The way a character looks and acts are important things to remember when developing the project.
The way a character looks and acts are important things to remember when developing the project.


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    • RGNestle profile image

      RGNestle 7 years ago from Seattle

      Take a look at the books I mentioned and you could be on your way to writing them. I'm sure you can find them in your local library. If you get serious about writing for the silver screen, you will probably want to get your own copies too.

      All the best! Thanks for the comment!

    • profile image

      dracaslair 7 years ago

      i wanna do screen plays