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Opportunities exist today that never existed years ago. You can now buy a movie camera for under $5k that is theatrical quality. You can hire actors and crew for a fraction of what it used to cost! Why? Because the amount of work out there is less, and the money behind that work is significantly less. Filmmakers are excited about making films. This sometimes leads them into the number one problem of indie films: weak scripts. It’s tempting to assume that your skill as a director, editor, and perhaps actor will cover for that. Unfortunately if the script is flawed the final product will be as well.

There are two wants to consider: what the character wants in general, and what they want within each scene. If you don’t know that for each of your major characters, it’s time to go back to daydreaming and figuring it out. It’s not necessarily the case that they have this want at the start of the story, or that their “want” stays the same.

Making them talk

When you get to know your characters you should reach the point where you can hear them talk in your head. How they speak and what they say will reflect their backgrounds, education, and the people they hang around with. If your characters sound too similar, a simple technique to overcome this is to coming up with a metaphor for each character, or a figure from history or films or novels.

The Best filmmaker follows these rules:

Rule #1:There are no rules. There are as many ways to make a film as there are potential Filmmaker. It’s an open form. Anyway, personally never presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do anything. Therefore, disregard the “rules” you are presently reading, and instead consider them to be merely notes to myself. One should make one’s own “notes” because there is no one way to do anything. If anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far away from them as possible, both physically and philosophically.

Rule #2: Don’t let the fuckers get . They can either help you, or not help you, but they can’t stop you. People who finance films, distribute films, promote films and exhibit films are not filmmakers. They are not interested in letting filmmakers define and dictate the way they do their business, so filmmakers should have no interest in allowing them to dictate the way a film is made. Avoid sycophants at all costs. There are always people around who only want to be involved in filmmaking to get rich, get famous, or get laid. Generally, they know as much about filmmaking as George W. Bush knows about hand-to-hand combat.

Rule #3: The production is there to serve the film. The film is not there to serve the production. Unfortunately, in the world of filmmaking this is almost universally backwards. The film is not being made to serve the budget, the schedule, or the resumes of those involved. Filmmakers who don’t understand this should be hung from their ankles and asked why the sky appears to be upside down.

Rule #4: Filmmaking is a collaborative process. You get the chance to work with others whose minds and ideas may be stronger than your own. Make sure they remain focused on their own function and not someone else’s job, or you’ll have a big mess. But treat all collaborators as equals and with respect. A production assistant that is holding back traffic so the crew can get a shot is no less important than the actors in the scene, the director of photography, the production designer or the director. Hierarchy is for those whose egos are inflated or out of control, or for people in the military. Those with whom you choose to collaborate, if you make good choices, can elevate the quality and content of your film to a much higher plane than any one mind could imagine on its own.

Rule #5: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, and clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what JeanLuc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

The conclusion

The archive stores your materials free of charge. You the filmmaker retain the copyright to your work, even if you donate your physical film or video to the archive. Outside organizations must still obtain your permission to publicly screen your work, and you may still negotiate a fee as a condition of granting permission for screening.

Your story doesn’t have to have a happy ending for your protagonist, but it should be a happy experience for your audience, in that it should leave them feeling that the ending makes sense. Unfortunately, too many films have stupid endings. Here are the main ones to avoid: The convenient coincidence. With no foreshadowing at all, it turns out that one of the villain’s henchmen was working for the FBI all along, or a neighbour happens to drop by just in time to call the police, or the lights go out just as your guy needs to get away. As mentioned above, the rule is that you can use a coincidence to get your protagonist into trouble—but not to get him out of trouble.

It was all a dream. Or a hologram. Or an alternate reality. It feels like a cheat (because it is). The last minute change of heart. This can work if you’ve laid the groundwork for it, but not if it’s sudden and unmotivated by anything but the need to end the story. If you master these elements—strong characters, good dialogue, and a plot that builds to a satisfying conclusion, your script and eventually your film will stand out from the competition.