The Seven Rules That Must be Followed in My Film World

A stack of produced and unproduced scripts.

Stack of produced and unproduced scripts. © Carl Jameson 2015

There are seven rules in my world and they must be followed. I tried to make up ten rules, but only managed to think up seven. That’s enough rules for a good blueprint to guide my actions and as time goes on I bet I can come up with three more. The world in this case is a new screenplay.

I’ve written screenplays for years, most of them are gathering dust on my bookshelves. They need rewrites: have plot holes, need deeper characterization, understandable motivations and less explosions.

Since I’m a filmmaker too I’ve been able to foist some of my work on the film festival crowd. I’m looking to do it again with a new feature film. It’s a lot of work, but I’m serious about my next script. I can tell I’m serious because I’m procrastinating by writing this blog.

If my role were that of a screenwriter only I wouldn’t be overly concerned about budget or other matters like locations, shoot days and scheduling. (The likelihood of a script with no thought to budget being produced is the subject of another blog.)

In this case I’m going to make the film myself, from script to screen, so I’ve come up with rules for my film world. The rules limit my story, but help me by setting the creative boundaries early. It’s the, “keep it simple, stupid” principle.

1. The story will seem realistic, although the look may not.

The places in the story will match the characters who live, play and work in them. They will be actual homes, workplaces and towns. They might be propped and plumped, but the film will be shot on location and not in a studio. That said, I will likely choose a visual palate for the film that helps reinforce the story with colors, depth and editing style.

2. The story will take place in the current day.

That’s a basic rule for a lot of films. That way there’s no historical or futuristic locations, props or hairstyles needed. Bad wigs aren’t pretty and neither is a cheap set.

3. The film will run about 72 minutes – 80 minutes on the outside.

The longer the film, the more it costs. Seventy-two minutes can seem like a character-driven eternity or a plot-driven rush. I am leaning toward using more images and less dialogue for practical and aesthetic reasons. I’ll need to balance all those elements with the theme.

4. The time range of the film will be no more than a week.

This is a serving suggestion to keep the story taut. It could be a month, but the idea is to keep the story limited to a shorter shooting schedule, especially if the film ends up with a lot of outdoor scenes.

5. The amount of main characters will be limited to about five.

Actors are the best thing about films. They take your story and breathe life into its characters. One of my favorite things to do is work with actors, but they cost money. They also have schedules. Schedules that never seem to match. They also eat food, have egos and are disruptive on set. The less of them the better. That was a joke. Really.

6. The shots will be mostly medium and tight shots.

The wide shot can be used to establish a location or to let the actors play a scene without a lot of editing, but they will be used sparingly. It generally costs more time and money to light a wide shot and to people it with background players than to use a medium shot in the same location, especially if the location isn’t all that unique.

7. Locations exist or are known to me in advance.

Simple. I know some locations and have access to them. Why not write to locations that are easy? If I come up with others I need I can get them too, but it’s nice to have them worked out in advance.

Now that I have the basic rules of my film’s world down I need to answer more production questions about how many scenes take place in the day vs. night, in interiors vs exteriors, and the like. Each answer shapes a creative vision for the film.

There’s plenty more to go…I’ll share more as the project continues. Meanwhile, back to some client work.

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