Beginners Guide to the Business of Creating a Film
These are some of the basic first steps when starting out writing feature films.
Watch Films: Do you want to write feature films? Watch them, learn from them. Watch short films if that’s what you’re interested in. Watch both New Zealand films and international films. Watching films educates your taste, helps to prove & disprove film theory. It also helps to learn what works and what doesn’t in story, character and even basic entertainment.
Study The Market: New Zealand movies are generally made on smaller budgets than the US market. Most local films are sole or partially funded through the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), who are a government funded agency with a limited yearly budget. Making most films in NZ requires you to create within our local parameters - Cast, Crew, Locations, Budget etc.
Practise: Write a film script. Finish it! Write another. Finish that one! Most writers have several ‘spec’ scripts in their drawers. Get feedback from people who know good writing (script consultants one of the best ways to get unbiased feedback - see NZWG Reader Services). Read film scripts and compare the scripts to the finished films. Compare adapted scripts with the original work. Screenwriting books and courses can also help you hone your craft.
New Zealand has a small screen industry and a small yet growing number of writers in New Zealand that earn enough from writing purely for film to earn a living wage. If you persevere and work hard, it is possible to make a career from being a scriptwriter in New Zealand.
Most scriptwriters in New Zealand tend to write across mediums – including television, film, theatre, radio, prose, print, new media – or pick up other industry based jobs (director, producer, editor) as it provides a diversity of income and avoids literally putting all their income eggs in one basket.
Career Check – International Market
If you want to have a career in the international market, you will first need to have some credits and accolades that you can market yourself with in those markets. You will also need to secure a US Agent (or UK Agent, depending on the market you are most interested in working in), and get the correct visa or working papers to work in that territory.
Studios and producers will not read scripts unless submitted to them by an agent. Many agents will also not read unsolicited manuscripts. To get an agent you will either need to (a) find an agent that accepts unsolicited submissions and send them your script or (b) get a referral by someone who already has an agent. Check out the website of the Writers Guild in the country you’re interested in submitting work to for information on local agents. If you are an NZWG you can book in a Career Checklist session.
Writing a Script
Your ultimate initial goal should be an industry level completed script. Anyone trying to judge your work will want to see a completed script so they get a full idea of your talent, voice, style and the story.
Often reading scripts of films in the similar genre that you wish to write in can help you begin. Many writers first create a treatment which is a prose telling of the story – this gives you a blueprint upon which you can expand. You can download or buy scripts off the internet or, if you are an NZWG member, borrow scripts from the NZWG library.
Reading books on writing and writing courses can help if you need some extra guidance or to help push past problems that might cause blocks. Working with a Script Consultant can also help with assisting you move the work forward creatively.
There are various hands-on short film competitions such as the 48 Hour Film competition that can help you hone your short film writing skills.
Film scripts come with fairly standard specifications. They should be no shorter than 90 pages and no longer than 120 pages, appropriately formatted and comply with standard industry specifications.
How to Format a Screenplay
A4 plain white paper
12-point Courier font.
Two punched holes (standard).
Two brass paper fasteners – often called ‘brads’.
8.5 x 11 inch plain white paper.
12-point Courier font.
Three punched holes (standard).
Two brass paper fasteners/brads (¼” to 1″ long, size #5 brads) – put through the top and bottom holes leaving the middle hole empty.
Writing programmes, like Final Draft, can assist greatly with formatting. Final Draft scriptwriting software can be purchased from the New Zealand Writers Guild and screw type brass brads are available from the Writer’s Store in L.A. online .
Where Can I Send My Work?
Before you send your work to anyone register it with the NZWG. See Script Registration.
Producers & Production Companies
A list of Producers and Production Companies in New Zealand is available from the Guild for members only. Please request this from Guild HQ.
Before you send your work directly to any Producer or Production Company you will need to ask if they are willing to receive your materials. Sending unsolicited (unrequested) materials will often end in an upfront rejection.
When choosing which producer or production company to approach, see what type of work they are currently producing and ensure they work within a similar nature/genre to the type of project(s) you have. Reality TV Producers may not be as open to receiving a horror feature film - for example.
I’ve Sent My Script To A Producer – What Happens Now?
If the producer isn’t interested or available to take on any new work, they will let you know. Normally allow about a month for response.
If they are interested they may decide to option the work. They may also ask you to retool the script to better suit them or the funders. In the latter case they may engage your services to do that work by contract. If the script receives NZFC funding you will likely be hired to further rewrite it – this is known as ‘development work’.
The Guild can provide advice on contracts and rates.
Public Funding Bodies in New Zealand