FROM CONCEPT TO FINISHED FILM: A step-by-step guide for making your first feature film. Part 1.
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
So you want to make a movie but just can't figure out how to start? Perhaps you have an idea but you're not sure how to turn that idea into a screenplay? Or you have a screenplay but the thought of transforming words on a page into images on a screen seems like an impossible task?
In this 10-PART SERIES I will guide you through you the creative process of turning that first spark of an idea into a screenplay and then turning that screenplay into a feature film ready to take the festival circuit by storm.
I did it with my first film REMARKABLE POWER! starring Evan Peters, Kevin Nealon and Tom Arnold. The tinsel-town themed dark comedy was invited to over 40 international film festivals and won numerous awards including BEST FEATURE, BEST DIRECTOR and BEST ACTOR (Kevin Nealon).
And I'm in the process of making a second feature - a film adaptation of my ten-year passion project in the making - the critically-acclaimed multimedia rock show PARALLEL WORLDS.
This trial-by-fire series will use the making of Remarkable Power! and Parallel Worlds: A Rock-n-Roll Love Story as case studies for two different approaches to an independent film production. Remarkable Power! was made for just under $1 Million and was financed by a pair of investors. Parallel Worlds' micro-budget was a mere $45K and was self-financed. Remarkable Power! was a SAG project featuring trained actors. Parallel Worlds managed to slip under the SAG radar because we hired non-union/non-actor musicians in the lead roles.
Whichever path you decide to take is up to you. It all depends on your personal filmmaking goals and mindset.
MOVE OVER HOLLYWOOD.
15 years ago I was facing the dilemma every aspiring filmmaker faces. I desperately wanted to make a movie but it seemed Hollywood's doors were closed to people like me. Sure, there were the exceptions - the video clerks turned film auteurs, the film school geeks now making huge action films and the lucky few who managed to get a movie into Sundance....but for the rest of us getting some production company to finance our movie and ignite our careers seemed like a never-ending uphill battle.
My writing partner and I even had a pair of Hollywood agents sending us around town but every meeting seemed to end the same way. "We loved your script but it's just not right for us at this time." Our agents kept hounding us to do things the traditional way - keep writing scripts and eventually (maybe) somebody would give us a chance to make a movie.
But that possibility seemed to grew more and more distant as the months and years went by. So....we said screw it. We don't need Hollywood's approval. We don't need some production company's green light. We're making this movie one way or another and we won't let anybody or anything stand in our way. Am I your personal hero yet?
"The joy of the creative process, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day is the sublime path to true happiness." George Lois.
STEP ONE. FIND YOUR "WHY."
The first thing I always ask an aspiring filmmaker or screenwriter is WHY? Why do you want to make a film so badly? Ask anyone who has ever made a feature film and they'll tell you it's like going to war while getting a root canal. It's frickin' hard work and it'll eat up a couple years of your life and maybe even your life savings. So why are you doing it?
Is your dream to make a million dollars and walk red carpets? Do you crave adoring fans and thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram? Do you want to feel successful, validated and accepted? Who doesn't?
But if that's your primary reason for becoming a filmmaker (or any artist) then you might want to take a good hard look at your motivations because let me level with you. The odds of top-tier success are very slim. Like super slim. Could you be one of the lucky few who break through and end up on the cover of Variety? Of course. I actually pulled that off when I sold a TV pilot called DARKSIDE to FOX years ago. Front frickin' page.
You know what? It felt pretty damn good. And if you follow the advice in this series, work your ass off and have a bit of luck on your side that could very well happen to you.
But don't let superficial goals like that be the primary reason as it will undoubtedly led to failure. Why? Because your primary motivation should always be first and foremost - THE CREATIVE PROCESS ITSELF. Prioritizing the creative process is by far the most effective way to find success and personal fulfillment in any art form - let alone one so brutally demanding as filmmaking.
Here's why and I'll make it #$%& simple.
IF YOU THINK PIPE DREAMING ABOUT FAME AND FORTUNE IS GONNA GET YOU THROUGH THE MONTHS AND YEARS OF WRITERS BLOCK, COUNTLESS ROUNDS OF BRUTALLY HONEST FEEDBACK, THE DEPRESSION OF WATCHING YOUR FIRST ROUGH CUT, REJECTION LETTERS FROM FILM FESTIVALS YOU WERE JUST SURE WOULD LOVE YOUR FILM AND FEELING LIKE A COMPLETE FAILURE AND FRAUD....YOU'RE LIVING IN A FANTASY WORLD.
HERE'S THE REALITY:
If you're not absolutely in love with the process of story-telling, imagining, inventing and creating then please find another hobby. Because what separates those who ultimately succeed from those who fail is an intensely burning fire, passion and love affair with the creative process itself. If you wake up each morning and can't wait to get back to your script, to the set or to the edit bay then you're on the right track. If you get lost in FLOW and forget to eat lunch while writing dialogue or putting together a scene in Adobe Premiere Pro then you just might have the right mindset for being a filmmaker.
WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT? Because great artists aren't motivated by becoming rich and famous or being told how awesome they are or getting invited to all the cool parties. They're motivated by the sheer joy they receive from participating in the creative process. They're inspired by the amazing feeling that comes from their labors of love connecting with an audience on a deep, spiritual and emotional level. That's what gets real artists out of bed each morning! And that's what keeps them pushing through when everything seems lost - and believe me, it undoubtedly will at some points.
Your passion is what connects your art to an audience's heart and soul.
As counterintuitive as it might sound, that passion and joy for the creative process itself is the key to any financial gain you might eventually receive from your art. Why? Because unless that passion and joy doesn't smack viewers right in the face - nobody will pay a dime for it. No festival will accept it. No streamer will buy it. No YouTube viewer will click SUBSCRIBE. Period.
So if you think you have that inextinguishable fire burning inside you then let's do this thing.