Looking behind the scenes of main-stream movie making is a fascinating activity. It’s easy to understand how the actual production costs so much – a major motion picture can cost between 2 to 50 million dollars!
Even though the days of ‘a cast of thousands’ are long gone, the number of specialised people need to make it happen has increased.
That said, the while process begins with a seed. An idea in someone’s mind that germinates for many weeks before it cautiously emerges on the written page, and many months before is bursts out upon the silver screen as a finished movie. Before anything can happen, the script writer must do his job.
In the US alone, hundreds of movies are made every year, not counting online streaming and the pace is increasing! Worldwide, India leads the pack with well over 1000 films released, then Nigeria and in third place we have Hollywood, with a little over 800 per year.
Incredibly, only around 50% make a profit. In fact, the top 6% make up most of this profit, which means that the blockbusters at the top of the pile make a lot of money, while the also-rans may make a little.
What Makes A Great Movie?
The obvious goal for any financial backer is to invest in a hugely successful movie, and their agents scour those script submissions looking for that one-in-a-hundred screenplay that has all the magic ingredients.
The only problem is that not that any people, inside or outside the industry, know what these ingredients are. We just know when we’ve seen a good movie.
Professional script writers often rely on a formulaic approach to their craft, which can come in different flavors. The basic idea of a compelling story comes from the writings of Aristotle, who explained that a basic story has 3 acts:
- Act 1 – The Set Up
- Act 2 – Confrontation
- Act 3 – Resolution
Act 1 is where the hero, close associates and the villain of the piece are introduced to the audience. We see his or her normal life and also get some insight into his personality. The is the place where the script write must make the audience really like the main character, and hate the villain.
It helps a lot if they can relate to their hero and maybe want to be him or her. The idea is that people watching the movie care about what happens to the actor and wants to follow the adventure to see what happens.
During this Act, there is an inciting incident. This is event which pulls the hero out of his comfort zone to take a journey or quest with an important goal in mind.
Act 2 forms the main part of any movie and is basically a series of challenges or barriers placed before the hero. It’s more satisfying if these challenges can be arranged by the main villain of the piece, but they could also be environmental, like raging storm.
Whatever the source, the challenges become more and more severe until the hero feels completely defeated and lost. The audience sees that he has no hope of beating the odds, or the villain, but secretly knows that he will – but how?
Act 3 sees out hero magically resurrected. The journey has given him new strength and wisdom with which to to overcome all the struggles. He knows that it all depends on him and he’s now ready for the final confrontation withe antagonist.
Defeating the villain’s helpers first, he finally grinds the bad man into the dust, hopefully destroying him altogether. However, it’s become commonplace to leave the villain alive to possible come back again to threaten the world.
In this way, the movie maker hedges his bet. If the movie turns out to be a blockbuster, the a second and a third could be produced in the future.
Script Writing – It’s All About The story
With this simplified, but tested framework in mind, the screenplay writer gets to work. This story-writing template is called ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and different writer have different forms, depending on their style.
There are many courses available for learning the basics of screen writing, but this approach goes far beyond knowing all about script formatting.
Whatever the style of writing, most writers agree that there are 5 elements that are absolutely required in a successful movie:
- The hero must be likeable. The audience want to follow him and see what happens in the story
- Conflict is the life-blood of any movie, if it is to hold an audience’s attention. Even disagreements between friends is a kind of conflict. Each scene should have some.
- Vary the emotional intensity. Stories have a natural rhythm. Every scene can’t be exciting or dull, but a mixture. In this way the audience has time to rest and draw breath before the next high.
- A scene should contain at least one surprise. A good writer makes the audience asks question at the beginning and answers them in surprising ways as the movie unfolds.
- The movie should have strong re-watch value. Does the audience want to see it a second or third time? If so, it’s a winner.