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Sally Best
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Filmmaking

Filmmaking (often referred to in an academic context as film production) is the process of making a film. Filmmaking involves a number of discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through scriptwriting, casting, shooting, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques. Typically, it involves a large number of people, and can take from a few months to several years to complete.

In this stage, the project’s producer selects a story, which may come from a book, play, another film, a true story, original idea, etc. After identifying a theme or underlying message, the producer works with writers to prepare a synopsis. Next they produce a step outline, which breaks the story down into one-paragraph scenes that concentrate on dramatic structure. Then, they prepare a treatment, a 25-to-30-page description of the story, its mood, and characters. This usually has little dialogue and stage direction, but often contains drawings that help visualize key points. Another way is to produce a scriptment once a synopsis is produced.

Next, a screenwriter writes a screenplay over a period of several months. The screenwriter may rewrite it several times to improve dramatization, clarity, structure, characters, dialogue, and overall style. However, producers often skip the previous steps and develop submitted screenplays which investors, studios, and other interested parties assess through a process called script coverage. A film distributor may be contacted at an early stage to assess the likely market and potential financial success of the film. Hollywood distributors adopt a hard-headed business approach and consider factors such as the film genre, the target audience, the historical success of similar films, the actors who might appear in the film, and potential directors. All these factors imply a certain appeal of the film to a possible audience. Not all films make a profit from the theatrical release alone, so film companies take DVD sales and worldwide distribution rights into account.

The producer and screenwriter prepare a film pitch, or treatment, and present it to potential financiers. If the pitch is successful, the film receives a “green light”, meaning someone offers financial backing: typically a major film studio, film council, or independent investor. The parties involved negotiate a deal and sign contracts. Once all parties have met and the deal has been set, the film may proceed into the pre-production period. By this stage, the film should have a clearly defined marketing strategy and target audience.

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