From Storyline to the Big Screen — Filmmaking 101: the Development Stage
Everyone loves a good movie. Whether it’s the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up or has you keeled over in laughter — movies are like extensions of the imagination brought to life.
Surprisingly, this is all planned. Every shriek, giggle, tear and every emotion in between. That’s the beauty of film: from the storyline to the big screen, every detail is considered and is meant to immerse you into the film experience. That’s why filmmaking and movie-going are such a big part of culture.
A film is a living, breathing aspect of imagination brought to life before our eyes. Films make the impossible seem attainable, escaping reality achievable, and exposes us to beautiful places, people and languages we’ve never seen or heard before.
Ever wondered how all of that comes together?
Whether it starts as an idea on a napkin or in a writer’s room with several contributing creators gathered around to brainstorm and plan, film creation develops through different stages beginning with development and ending with distribution — where it lives on forever.
7 Stages of Film- From Storyline to the Big Screen
We’re starting a new series for our community, where we’ll explain in detail all of the phases of filmmaking. In this blog, we are exclusively exploring the development stage of filmmaking. Let’s dive in.
Development is where it all begins. This stage mainly consists of planning and conceptualizing a script, based on a book, another movie, a true story, or can even be an original concept.
J.K. Rowling started her ideas for the Harry Potter series (which later turned into one of the highest grossing film franchises of all time, earning more than $7.73 billion worldwide) on a napkin!
The development stage of a film is the bones of the process; the foundation of the film.
The development stage of the film production process begins with:
- creating the storyline
- devising a draft of the script, and
- determining the financial logistics of the film.
The process for getting the pitch right in this phase can take months to even years! Then there’s the budget to plan for and nailing down the storyline. All of these things must be considered and outlined in great detail before moving forward.
The outline is a key factor in securing funding. That’s because the financial logistics of producing a film begin well before the final pitch. A great idea is only the beginning.
Once Upon a Time
A film cannot be created without an interesting story! Great producers begin with choosing a storyline. As mentioned before, this can be an original idea, originate from a book, be based on a true story or can even be a spinoff of an existing movie.
The producer takes the idea, evolves it, scrutinizes over it, creates edits and makes changes, and adds in fresh perspective and ideas before proceeding to the next step in his or her process: mapping out the storyline.
Introducing the screenplay. This component of the development stage of filmmaking is an indispensable tool and is broadly considered one of the most essential steps in the process.
The screenplay synopsis is the key to securing funding. Screenplays include loglines — a one or two sentence summary of your film conveys the story’s premise while providing enough emotional insight into the entirety of the storyline that readers immediately resonate and are left craving more.
Generally speaking, the logline introduces the main character or characters, the challenge or the central conflict and foreshadows why or how the character will overcome the conflict. Loglines are brief, to the point, yet captivating.
After the logline comes a broad(er) synopsis that consists of one to two pages that explores the main plot of the film and showcases the leading characters. Stellar synopses use simple, descriptive language, gives the character(s) substance, begins building connection with the reader, and leaves room for some imagination.
With the thousands of films being pitched to networks, Hollywood and big screen competition is high. Any successful producer/writer/filmmaker knows a killer, well-prepared synopsis better ‘wow’ the people providing the money to make the film a reality.
Before anyone commits to reading a full 30+ page script, they want a little taste to make sure it’s something they would like to order. Once a buzz is created, the producer moves onto thinking of his script as a visual story (film), rather than a written narrative.
The third step in the development stage of filmmaking is the step outline. This is something film writers do for themselves to make sense of the story and where it will go visually.
Essentially, it involves creating an aerial view of the film. First, the script is dissected, scene-by-scene and mapped out to create a dramatic structure from beginning to final scene.
Some outlines tend to be very distinct to the writer/producer and can include specifics such as characters involved in scenes, the locations of the scenes, and scene transitions to mood and subtext of the dialogue.
However, the step outline is not to be mistaken or confused with the fourth stage of the development process: the treatment portion.
The treatment of the proposed film is a detailed summary that acts as the bridge from scene cards to the screenplay. It reads like a good short narrative written in the first person, with little dialogue and builds on the events as they happen, in the present.
This is an essential step in the development process as these storyboards are used to create visuals and images that begin building the essence of the film.
A film’s treatment must embody the story’s tone, convey the most critical, emotional and/or powerful scenes, and sequence the key story points.
Above all else, a film’s treatment has to depict the entire film to produce a successful screenplay — the next phase in the development process.
Lights Camera Action
Keep in mind: by the time one reaches the screenplay stage in the development phase of filmmaking, no funding has been obtained. It’s still uncertain if audiences will embrace the film.
However, the screenplay is like a “flash draft” that a writer/producer creates. It’s a rough draft where the entirety of the story begins to come to life. Where the movie begins being built.
Most of the time, screenplays are written, then rewritten, edited, reviewed and then rewritten again. More often than not, more than one writer is modifying or critiquing the script at one any given time.
The Green Light
The moment for which all producers and screenwriters are holding their breath. By this phase in the development stage, months on end have been spent preparing the perfect pitch, obsessing over every detail, and networking in overtime in hopes of getting their project greenlit.
This is also where financing comes into play.
Financials play a crucial role in the development of a film, as finance can be a major obstacle within the film industry. Selling the idea and generating as much funding as possible increases the potential for a more successful project. Often networking begins long before the screenplay is written and the pitch has been rehearsed. Producers generally pour major efforts into film festivals, networking at conventions, and lobbying film councils.
Hollywood is a tough business and film studios look for more than just a good storyline, they look at the genre, the audience, success and budget of similar films and potential actors that could be involved and possible directors.
But when the development stage is handled with care and finesse, and the movie pitch has strong legs to stand on, sparks fly, and the green light is given. Words on paper will become the images on the big screen that keep audiences on the edges of their seats!
Creating quality, emotional, and response-provoking content that feels tangible is its own experience. The process from getting from idea to movie is an artform in itself. Evolution happens behind the scenes. Ideas come to life on a page. Following these steps in the development process breathes life into words on paper and leads to the visual, imaginative experiences we see on screen.
Captivated? Intrigued? Want more information on what it takes to bring a movie to life? Subscribe to our blog and check out next week’s post detailing the pre-production phase of movie and film creation.
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