The best advice I ever received came from a dear friend and talented writer, Scott Tipton. After spending the first few encounters of our relationship stunned into silence, I finally worked up the nerve to socialize like a normal human person. He asked what I did, and I said--too confidently--"I'm a writer."
"Oh, so what have you written?"
"Man, I got ALL these great ideas. And I'm going to get to them one day."
He chuckled and chortled and patted me on my silly head, and then he told me a hard truth. "Writers finish."
There were more words exchanged. I'm not a robot. But the crux of the story ends there. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was lying if I said I was a writer. I had not finished.
This simple truth follows me wherever I go, and applies so aptly to everyone in this crazy industry of entertainment. You say you are a director, but what have you directed? You call yourself and actor, but what have you done to build your reel? Succinctly put, what are you accomplishing that furthers your career?
With this in mind, we're going to talk about finishing something.
How to Make a Movie in 5 Easy Steps
1) Write a Script
This is the hard part. Use everything you know about story structure, character development, and the art of the Narrative to write an original story.
Nope, that's too hard. Let's try this.
Pick an idea that inspires you. I mean something you can't stop thinking about. Something that keeps you up at night. Something you could rattle off in thirty seconds or thirty minutes with equal clarity and detail.
Good, write that shit down. Write it down hard. And don't stop writing until you've finished. Seriously. I don't care how bad it is. Finish the damn script.
FINISH THE F***ING SCRIPT!
Wow, that first draft sucks, right? No worries. Edit. Edit some more. Rewrite Act 2, because it was garbage. Completely scrap Act 1 and try again. Lose the best friend. Kill off the love interest. Bring the love interest back because you were playing into sexist tropes. Rewrite all female introductions because you wrote with a male gaze and its cringe-worthy.
Wait...let me read that part again...okay...hey, this is pretty good!
Now rewrite one more time.
2) Assemble a Crew
Do you know how many people are involved in making a movie? A crap ton. In fact, it is always more complicated that you can imagine. That's why, as writers, this really isn't your job. You don't know what you don't know, and you're liable to screw this whole thing up.
Get a Producer. What's a Producer? Go watch the movie "The Producers." Okay, that's NOT what a Producer does, but wasn't that movie great? Underrated, right? Sure, it's not as snappy as the Broadway version, but...okay, I'm getting off topic.
A Producer will help bring in the right talent. They'll help source a Director, a DP, an AD, a Second Unit Team, and the hundreds (or dozens, or five) of other people needed to make this thing happen.
Or, and this is a huge OR, grab some friends. Every phone in existence has a camcorder built in. Grab some friends and assign them roles. Someone holds the camera, someone yells action, and someone acts.
Speaking of those jokers...
3) Get Actors
Quick, no thinking, jump right into this next sentence with gusto:
Did you cry? On cue? Was it believable? Did it drive home a point? No? Then you aren't the lead in this movie. GO HOME YOU QUITTER!
Okay, let's take a step back.
Acting is often seen as something anybody can do, and that's true. Anyone can act. It's just lying, right?
But if you want to have your characters come to life, to emote, to draw in the audience, then you need real actors. People who dedicate their lives to this craft.
It isn't just about saying words and hitting marks, it is about becoming another person. It's about shedding the outer layer of your normal personality and embodying a stranger--often someone who has never existed before.
Not everyone can do this. That's okay. Find people who can.
Also, and this is important, know the difference between an Actor, a Star, and a Celebrity.
Anthony Hopkins is an Actor. It doesn't matter what role he gets, you BELIEVE him in that role. He can emote more with the twinkle of an eye that you could with your entire body. You could be surprised to discover that he played a character because he dissolved so completely into the role.
Meryl Streep is an Actor (the term Actress is falling out of style). She can be thirty different people just by smirking a different way. She becomes a character so perfectly that it boggles the mind.
The Rock is a Star. He's a solid actor, and entertaining as hell, but you always know it is the Rock. You're never surprised to discover that a character was, in fact, the Rock all along.
Angelina Jolie is a Star. She's great at finding emotional beats, reading her lines like a pro, and connecting with audiences. But you always know it's Angelina.
Kim Kardashian is a Celebrity. I don't know why, I don't care, and we should just move on.
Anyway, hire actors.
4) Finish Shooting
I've been involved with about a dozen films at this point in my life. Half of them finished production.
Your Director should plan out all the necessary shots required to piece together a film. If they don't, then your Producer should step in and do some producing.
After days of intense film making (or hours, I don't know what you wrote), you will have completed principal photography. Now it's time to edit that shit together.
You need a good Editor. More than that, your Editor and Director need to get along, because they're about to spend the next few days/weeks/months living together in a small booth that reeks of farts and electronics.
As a writer, you may be invited into this magical box, but most likely not. Give the Director space, and be ready to grab them coffee and donuts at a moment's notice.
5) Screen that Shit
So you made a movie. Cool. Now what?
Show it off.
In fact, you should schedule a screening at a local theater. For a few hundred bucks, you can buy a single screen for you, friends, and a bunch of strangers to sit and watch your film.
Do that. The best criticism you'll ever get is sitting in a dark room while a group of people silently reject your ideas.
Or they enjoy it. That's good too.
Last night, I screened a movie I co-wrote with my partner Sam. When the jokes landed, I did a little dance. When a laugh came at an emotional moment, I cringed. When the audience gasped at a twist, I swallowed an entire bag of popcorn.
You cannot explain just how it feels to watch your nonsense words on a big screen for the first time, so trust me on this. It is a life-changing experience. It is a feeling I chase every day. It's why I write.
So that's it. We made a movie in 5 easy steps. What are you waiting for?