There are many different ways to learn how to write a script, from taking classes to reading books about screenwriting, but I found a surprising source of education along my creative journey: directing a film.
I need to start with a disclaimer that the film is currently in post-production and I feel like the lessons will keep coming for years to come, but for now, I’ll go over what I’ve learned so far.
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Listen and Know When to Stop Listening
This may sound a bit out there or confusing, but there are a lot of voices in the room at any given moment during production. I was bombarded with questions from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep every day we shot and for many days during post. There were a lot of great suggestions, opinions, and insight and I welcomed all of them, but I also knew when to stop listening.
There can only be one vision in a film and as the writer/director, I had to make sure my vision was clear and coming through with every choice. The same applies to writing a script. You’ll get a lot of feedback (and you should), but at some point, the only voice you have to listen to is your own.
Great Casting Will Make Your Project
One thing you always run out of when shooting a low-budget film is time. You have to make the most out of your setups and out of each take. That’s where great casting comes to play. I chose actors that I trust to bring the vision to life and I knew I’d get something great.
Once the casting was solidified we had a table read with the actors. I listened and took notes and revamped the script. I also took all of the feedback the actors had for me and together we built a great project. And being done with casting meant that I could start shaping the dialogue to fit those actors. That’s something you can do on your own when writing; cast your movie and write for those actors. I guarantee all your character’s voices will become more clear.
I made so many script changes, a lot of them on set and on the fly. Some of them the night before we shot. The only thing I was unwilling to change was anything that had already been shot. And even then, as we were recreating the story I wrote with every take on set, I could see some things would need to be adjusted.
Directing a film is an exercise in letting go, problem-solving, and using the resources at your disposal.
The Story Always Comes First
I killed a lot of darlings in the process of making this film. Some of my favorite lines of dialogue were cut because the entire scene had to change for the sake of the story. Always focus on the big picture. What’s most important? The entire film working or my emotional attachment to a line of dialogue I thought was super clever? Didn’t I say directing a film is an exercise in letting go?
Remember to Have Fun
My talented lead actress and producer Bianca A. Santos gave me this pearl of wisdom one day after the shoot. “It all goes by so fast, enjoy the ride.” Wherever you are in the process of writing a script, remember that even though writing and making films can be hard work and make you feel very vulnerable and stressed, this line of work is fun and enjoyable. If you’re not having fun doing any of this, you’re taking it too seriously.
It’s not a requirement to direct a film in order to make it as a screenwriter, but it can definitely help you understand more about the script-to-screen process. And if making a feature-length movie intimidates you, try something more manageable — many screenwriters got their start in short films, so why not give it a shot?
Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.