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How to make your movie

Updated on July 6, 2016

A step by step guide in bringing your independent film to life.

So you"ve got a movie idea, but don't know where to begin. All you really just have in it's rawest form is just an idea. No sense of how to shape your story, characters and forget about shooting editing and marketing your film.

Have no fear moviemaker 101 is here. We provide the education products and support for the novice to experienced filmmaker. Visit for more info.

The process has many intricacies but can really be summed up in 3 simple steps

Step #1 Pre-Production

Step #2 Production

Step #3 Post Production

Step #1 Pre-Production

In the pre-production phase lies the genesis of the filmmaking production. Here is where you plan your shoot assuming something resembling a script has been flushed out...OH that's right you've just got an idea.

Before we even go into pre-production of shooting your indie let's complete your script. It's suggested to create a synopsis/character page first. In your "synopsis/character page" would be a 1 paragraph description of your story and of your characters. Possible backround information, age and psychology of your characters are often included.

Once this is complete a suitable draft of your script needs to be flushed out.

The commonly used formula in writing a movie script is the Three-act structure.

The three acts are setup (of the location and characters), confrontation (with an obstacle), and resolution (culminating in a climax and a dénouement).


Maybe you already have a clear idea for a movie and know exactly who it will be about. It would be healthy and helpful to fill out a film synopsis/character profile in order of understanding your characters and plot theme better.


Movies are mostly about confrontation, conflicts and problems. If there's no conflict, if everyone's happy and there's peace and love on Earth, then there's no story. Nothing is happening. An audience has no reason to sit through your film. Your film will be about your hero's struggle to get past these roadblocks and reach their goals and/or solve their relatable problems.


Resolution usually occurs within the third and final act. In this third act (the end of the story) the conflict comes to a full head and your protagonist deals with it head on. The resolution defines how the confrontation has been solved and may or may establish how the characters are going to go forward.

Besides the three act structure, it is also common to utilize a four or five act structure in a screen or teleplay. Though certain screen/teleplays may include as many as twenty separate acts.

  1. a call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline,
  2. a road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails,
  3. achieving the goal (or "boon"), which often results in important self-knowledge,
  4. a return to the ordinary world, as to which, again, the hero can succeed or fail, and
  5. application of the boom, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world.

The scriptwriters Bible: Blake's Beat Sheet

What if you have some idea but don’t quite know where to begin with your story structure? Los Angeles based screenwriter, Blake Snyder has probably formulated the most practical plot structure template, “Blake’s Beat Sheet”.

Scriptwriting programs are already formatted and have many other tools.

Scriptwriting Software

Final Draft- Final Draft is the industry standard software for screenwriting. It encompasses all of scheduling, formatting, script sharing and intuitive writing features necessary for your master script.

Movie Magic (ScreenWriter)- Of all the screenwriting software choices only two are considered industry standard. One is Final Draft, and the other is Movie Magic Screenwriter by Write Brothers, Inc. Movie Mgic is the official screenwriting software of the Writers Guild of America East and other film organizations - and for good reason.

Celtx- Celtx is the only software available that is free. It integrates with free online and cloud-based resources and syncs with your mobile devices, so your creative projects are always available and safely stored online in the cloud, as well as on your home PC and smartphone or other mobile device.

Microsoft Word- Newsflash, you can always format Microsoft Word to write your script then later change it to a PDF to protect it from changes. You just have to take the time to format the correct font size, indentations and style to accommodate your tools such as Character, Dialogue, Action, etc. Below is a tutorial of how to format word for scriptwriting

If you are shooting independent and money has a limit you may want to think about limiting your narrative film to under 30 minutes and documentaries to under 60 minutes. Make sure you “write to shoot”. For example if it’s not in your budget to shoot a car chase scene with explosions then don’t write it in the script. If you’re truly shooting a Gorilla Indie focus on your compositions, short powerful dialogue and a strong story.


If you are shooting a narrative you need to cast your characters or for a documentary your subjects. Your goals are to get the best out of your actors and your doc. Subjects talking about what you want them to. Before you look to hire friends and family, look for local union actors by holding auditions or acquiring talent through social media or actor sites/pages. Consider friends and families only if you’re confident they can “kill” the role then it’s your job to direct them. To shoestring a crew you need at minimum a cameraman, sound and lighting person. One or two people can fulfill these roles but maintaining these 3 elements are key.


Identifying your locations before shooting will be a good idea. If there are several locations it would be idea to have them in close proximity of each other in order to cut down on your strike/set-up and travel time. You should be able to get more capture time if you can make this happen. ex. (office building location used as apartment, work office and parking lot exterior) equals 3 shooting locations in the same proximity). Other logistics include completing equipment and props checklists. Equipment should also be tested prior to shooting to avoid technical delays.

Shooting Schedule

It would be in your best interest to formulate a shooting schedule detailing the pages you plan to shoot, the times, actors needed and locations. With an efficient schedule your Production Manager/A.D and/or P.A can assist you in getting mostly all of the shots you need in a sensible time. A general production Break Down Sheet is attached as a writeable PDF. breakdown sheet.pdf.

Step #2 Production-Filmming

Shoot The Film You Budgeted For

Don’t try to shoot a big studio film without studio money, and don’t get hung up on what camera you’re using (4K, Red, DSLR or film). Be realistic and let the budget and story of your film dictate the camera and aesthetic. Work within those parameters and if you can’t, than rewrite a script that does. Remember, the audience only knows what you choose to show them and telling a good STORY will always win.

Shoot to Edit

As a filmmaker you should already have your story in mind. If you can visualize as an audience member how you want your story to play out, you don’t have to waste time recording scenes of things you don’t need. Your shooting schedule can be lean with you only recording what you need (main shots & b-roll included).

If you don’t have a budget to compensate your cast and crew it’s essential to feed them, provide a reel and respect their time by being organized and streamlined. Spend time casting the right actors (not just friends), go with the flow, and have fun. It is possible to find good actors by putting the word out, SAG actors even! If you post to the right social media/actor sites and your local film office website, you’re bound to attract quality talent. It may be a good idea to even host a casting call. Most importantly have fun and relish the moment.

Digital technology has made it possible for films to be shot and edited (even with believable special effects) for minuscule budgets. Entire feature length films can be made for the cost of the catering budget in a traditionally funded and produced industry movie.

Step #3 Post-Production

So, you’re looking to do your own editing. The process of non-linear video editing can be a never ending learning process. Hard cuts and basic fades should be mastered initially. Make sure your PC or Mac computer have the minimum specs to edit smoothly and store your video clips. Video requires tons of memory (especially high definition video). Practice the process on Windows Media Player or I Movie to get the general rule down of creating a timeline, transitions and editing clips. All editing programs have tools for cutting/moving and adjusting clips.


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    • moviemaker101 profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      great information


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