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Filmmaking entails more than a Screenwriter typing “FADE IN” or a Director yelling “Action!”

And that’s a good thing.

Though the world of filmmaking is a competitive one, the landscape of it is vast. It needs not only Screenwriters, Directors and Actors, but also Storyboard Artists, Cinematographers, Editors, Composers and more. All these people make up the workforce of the film industry, which becomes abundantly clear when considering the various stages of filmmaking.

That’s why we’re breaking down those stages of filmmaking to show all that it takes to get a film from script to screen, as well as the many opportunities for those looking to be part of it.

The 5 stages of filmmaking include:

  1. Development
  2. Pre-production
  3. Production
  4. Post-production
  5. Distribution

Throughout this blog, as we discuss the five stages of filmmaking, you’ll hear from experienced Director Mike P. Nelson (Wrong Turn, The Domestics), and first-time feature Directors Cassius Corrigan, whose Huracán landed on HBO Max, and Seth Savoy, whose Echo Boomers script netted enough buzz at Sundance for stars Michael Shannon and Alex Pettyfer to sign on. You’ll also hear from Producer Lindsay Lanzillotta (The Invitation), who serves as Head of Distribution for The Film Arcade Carousel, where she helps independent filmmakers distribute their films.

1. Development

In the world of filmmaking, development refers to the stage where the script is written and then rewritten… and rewritten… and rewritten. In other words, the script is developed to a point where it’s ready to be produced.

Development can last from a few months to a few decades. Yes, you read that correctly. Some scripts do indeed take that long to make it into production, especially when you take into consideration the multiple steps that usually comprise the development phase.

And don’t forget to add in more time should another Writer(s) be brought on board to revise the material or if a production company or studio decides to put that script on the back burner to focus on producing other projects ahead of it.

What does it mean to be a filmmaker?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

To me, being a filmmaker is about finding beautiful, honest moments. Making the audience really step outside of their comfort zone and rethink what they believe.


What makes someone a good filmmaker?

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

I think a good Director is somebody with a strong point of view. There are Directors who get the job done and know how to tell a story; they’re the easy kind of “for hire” Directors that can fill the shoot and do the job. But then there are the great Directors who have a point of view and own it. They have a specific style or voice. When you’re watching their films, you feel that voice, that attention to detail and story.

The great Directors have a very specific mind towards storytelling or towards style. Those are the ones I look at and say “Okay, that’s what I want to do. I want to have that voice.”

[The awareness of that voice has] helped me land work and helped me in conversations with executives and Producers. You go into a room and an executive questions what you’re doing with a movie. For instance, with this last one I did, Wrong Turn, they’d ask, “Why isn’t the violence really coming through as we’re looking through the dailies?” And I’ll say, “You have to trust me, and here’s why.”

Then I’ll go through how I plan to assemble it in the edit and that we’re not necessarily making a splatter film where we’re ripping arms out of their sockets and showing it from four different angles with blood spurting all over the place. I’ll explain to them that they’re not seeing that because that’s not what we’re doing. It’s not that kind of movie. We’re going to be doing something that’s a little more grounded, more realistic, and you’ll see that when it’s put together.

Give a strong point of view and own it. That’s a huge strength. A Director being wishy-washy is the scariest thing for any executive. If I was an executive and I had to hear that, I’d be nervous, because that tells me my Director is trying to cater to what I want. But I think it’s important for Directors to listen to executives. Some executives have very good points.

As an artist in general, if your work is put out there, you want your work critiqued. Let’s say you write a script and you send it to a buddy. They’re going to tell you things that are useful, and they’re also going to tell you things where you’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s not the movie I’m making.” And you can just go, “Cool, thanks for the feedback.”

You take the stuff that works for you and that’s telling the story that you want. The stuff that doesn’t fit, you don’t need to worry about that so much. Put it to the side and just say thanks for the input.

Writing

First, you have the Writer drafting what is called a spec script, which means a script that they are writing on their own with no payment or direction from a studio.

However, if a Writer is hired to write a script, it may go through considerably less time during the development phase, as those attached to it can skip the pitching step.

What are the five stages of filmmaking?

Anna Keizer

The five stages of filmmaking are:

  1. Development
  2. Preproduction
  3. Production
  4. Post-production
  5. Distribution

Pitching

This is the period when that Writer and perhaps their representation are trying to pitch that spec script for option or purchase. This in itself can take years.

Revising

Should that script get bought or optioned for a period of time, then you might have Producers and Studio Executives weighing in on what needs to be revised to make that script screen-ready.

It’s important to note that even when a Writer is hired by a production company or studio to write a script, they are not exempt from getting rounds of notes, which may extend the development phase.

What skills do you need to be a filmmaker?

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

People skills are good. Being able to communicate your ideas well is one of the biggest things, both verbally and visually. I come from a one-man-band-type background. I learned all aspects of filmmaking. I learned to direct. I edited my own stuff. For a lot of it, I would shoot my own stuff, too.

As I started making bigger things, I didn’t shoot my own things and would hire somebody like a Director of Photography where that was their focus and they could be that specific eye. They could be a person that I collaborate with. Ultimately, coming up in filmmaking, I wanted to learn how to do it all so that I understood it all. That’s been very helpful moving forward. Understanding all those departments and what they do so that you know how to communicate with those people: that’s been invaluable.

I remember with the first feature that I did, The Domestics with MGM, that was often a question. This first-time filmmaker with a budget now, can he get his ideas across? Can he communicate? Does he know how a film set runs? And I knew how a film set ran [because] I’d been doing it for so long on a smaller scale. You have different departments, you give those people the ability to execute their craft, and you work with them and collaborate. They started to see that and thought, “He’s fine. Go do your thing.”

Sometimes someone comes in who wants to be a Director and has a vision for a story but they’ve never worked with those types of teams. It all comes down to how you communicate. Communicating your vision is one of the most important things. So is getting your hands dirty in all those different departments and understanding what they do.

2. Pre-Production

You might wonder, “How does any movie ever get made?” after learning about the common trajectory of the development process and understandably so. But the good news is that once a script get a green light and the attached filmmakers can begin, the next stage of the filmmaking process—pre-production—typically goes faster depending on the material getting produced.

The scope of the movie will somewhat impact this stage of the filmmaking process. For instance, the pre-production needs for a huge tentpole film like Avengers: Endgame might be more intensive with its huge cast, crew and budget than Booksmart, another film that came out in 2019 that did not have quite the same scope or need for special effects.

That being said, regardless of the size of the production, many pre-production needs remain the same.

How do you become a filmmaker?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

To become a filmmaker you grab any camera you can find and shoot as much as humanly possible. Mastering photography helps you as a Director and since we live in a digital age, there is no excuse to not shoot as much as you can.

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

It’s going to sound super simple, but just by doing. I did go to film school. I got a four-year degree at the Minneapolis School of Art and Design. But that was very much just the beginning. That was like a kick in the pants for me.

I was always making short films and making little movies with my buddies on the weekend and stuff like that. Film school for me was like: okay, I’m going to get serious about this and learn this. But it wasn’t until after film school that I really started to develop my style. I feel like that’s the true test of the people who make it and those who don’t. The people who make it continue on. They continue to create. Not for anybody else, but for themselves.

I wanted to break into the film business so badly. In my mind that meant that I needed to write a script that somebody out in LA or Hollywood was going to like and going to help me break in. I was writing scripts trying to fill them with everything that I thought everyone would like.

That was the wrong move. As soon as I left all that behind, as soon as I sat down and realized that I just needed to tell stories that I liked, that’s where my voice started to come through. That’s when people started to notice.

A lot of the films that I started to make with that mindset weren’t films that were necessarily typical Hollywood kinds of stories. But I wanted to make them and I wanted to do them in my own way, where nobody else was telling me how I had to do it. I just focused on the way I wanted to do it. And when I did that, when I forgot about making it for somebody else or having to appease someone … that’s when this short I put online got noticed by a guy who asked if he could put it on his website. It was Todd Brown from XYZ films.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my future Agent saw that film. Sure enough, four or five years later he signs me when I get my first movie deal. These are the movies that have created the path for me.

The Domestics came from a short. It was a short that I wanted to do. I wanted to create this world. I was very inspired by the original Mad Max from the ‘70s. I wanted to make my own version of that and tell a story of a husband and wife going through a divorce during the apocalypse. What does that look like? I didn’t worry about what anybody else said. I made it in my own way.

And sure enough, it went from somebody seeing the short and saying, “You should write a script,” to actually writing a script, to a Producer asking if I had any scripts laying around, to him taking it to somebody else and saying, “I want to make this.” It just snowballed.

Anything else that I made that I was making for somebody else, whether it was a commercial job that I got paid for or a script or a short that I thought was going to be important and was going to make waves: all that stuff just disappeared. It didn’t mean anything. It completely vanished. Nobody cared.

Continue to make stuff. Even if it’s not great. As long as you care about it and it means something to you, people will take notice.

I had this short called The Retirement of Joe Corduroy, which was kind of my love song to Charles Bronson in Death Wish and some of my favorite ‘70s horror films. That’s the film through which I found my future Agent at the time.

I remember I would go to LA and stay with my friends in their small, broken apartment for a week. I would tell my Agent “I’m going to be in LA in a couple of days, wanna