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Beginning Feature Film Writing - Writing to Shoot

Should a writer create with reckless abandon? Not always. Paula Landry examines the importance of writing your screenplay, thinking like a director or a producer.

Should a writer create with reckless abandon? Not always. Paula Landry examines the importance of writing to shoot your film, thinking like a director or a producer.

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Writing to shoot is a fun, achievable goal. Whether you are a screenwriter, or a hyphenate such as writer-director, or actor-writer-producer, there is a benefit to learning to write a feature film with the goal of shooting it. In the context of your goals, here are some points we’ll consider:

Should a writer create with reckless abandon? Not always. Paula Landry examines the importance of writing to shoot your film, thinking like a director or a producer.
  • Why it’s important
  • Your role
  • Game plan Inventory – people, places, things you have, have access to, your people can secure for you Tally your favors Consider: idea, premise/theme, genre, audience, timeline Brainstorming ideas Outlining story

Why it’s important to write a feature you can shoot

This may seem obvious, but I love asking the obvious questions. Why should you write to shoot in the first place? There are many different opinions, but one of the most common reasons is that you don't want to wait. The filmmaking process can take a long time, you want to grow your skills, credits and career as well as be proactive, and writing a feature film that you will make gives you an obvious target to aim for.

Waiting is frustrating, especially for artists. The collaborative nature of movies emphasizes this in particular, so writing a feature and then shooting it gives you a finished screenplay, then a completed film. It’s a great marketing tool as well as learning experience.

Writing Low-Budget Sci-Fi

More than ever, producers, distributors, and content curators are looking for affordable projects, so honing this skill can serve you in the long run. Whether you sell the script, completed screenplay, or remake rights, affordable high-quality writing is always in demand.

Constraints and parameters will guide you creatively through this process. Specific guidelines and limitations – (like, we’ve only got the use of my aunt’s house for a week while she is gone on vacation, so base the location of the film there) end up being tools that drive you in a particular direction. These restrictions actually will keep you focused while challenging you at the same time.

woman in mustache

Your role

Decide on what your role in this process will be, in order to make informed writing choices. Maybe you’re a writer with a yen to produce or perform, or showcase a certain facet of your writing.

Before you set out, consider your role, are you a writer or hyphenate?

  • Screenwriter
  • Writer-director
  • Actor-writer-producer
  • Writer-producer

Once you’ve clarified your role, you can emphasize what aspect of that you are good at. So many people today are doing multiple things when it comes to their film and TV career, that this may be something you’re thinking about. By clarifying this to yourself, it will help you in the process because these choices will point you in a certain direction.

If you’re not sure, take stock of what you envision yourself doing through this process and what you hope to achieve as your ultimate goal. This project can be a milestone, one more script under your belt, or can be a tool to further multiple aspects of your career.

Putting Out Last-Minute Fires During Pre-Production

Get a Game plan

Creating a basic game plan consists of 6 simple steps.

    1. Inventory – people, places, things
    2. Tally your favors
    3. Consider: idea, premise/theme, genre, audience, timeline
    4. Brainstorming ideas
    5. Outlining story
    6. Write your script


The first step is taking inventory of resources that you own, or have available to you, that may be used in the script and subsequent film when you make it. These things may consist of locations you have, or have access to, or other items, locations, props, that others have who will let you use in your movie.


Your second step is to tally your favors so that you may have more resources, whether that is actors you know who have real chops and you want them to be in your movie, or maybe key crew or personnel. Especially when you write with specific people and their skills in mind, make sure those people are on board for working on your project.

Basics & Ideas

Consider, as your third step, the basic ingredients of your script, chose a genre and premise, write for a very specific audience, and then develop a timeline for you to get your script completed. Once that is done you can move onto planning to shoot your feature.

With the essential creative ingredients, a genre, theme, idea, and target audience; start brainstorming a bunch of ideas and test them on as many people as you can. Get feedback as you’re developing the ideas in order to improve your character’s intention and obstacle in your story (see Aaron Sorkin in for more on that) then chose the best of the bunch. Keep the other ideas in your folder for a rainy day, or use in other projects.


Outlining is a critical step. Every writer has their own outlining process, from finding the best idea to generating that into the spine of your story. I'm certainly not going to teach you screenwriting from scratch here, there are many fantastic books, software and all kinds. I’m confident you’ll try a bunch and find a method that works for you. As a suggestion, the Blake Snyder SAVE THE CAT is popular, as also Maryland Horowitz's FOUR MAGIC QUESTIONS. But however you do it, work your outline and put together the beats of your story so you know how it will work, before you sink tons and tons of time into actual writing.


Then, of course, write your story and keep it lean, tight and narrow in scope. Use few locations and characters, work your situations and dialogue to extremes so that they rock and avoid the expensive stuff, such as:

  • an army
  • children
  • animals, period pieces, action, stunts, expensive set pieces, elaborate makeup, VFX,

Keep it affordable – which is few characters in massive conflict, whatever that means to you. Watch several great indie movies, some Roger Corman and Troma Films, and any play adapted to film.

This is a fun and exciting step to take and I know you’ll rock it. Have a great time writing this and let me know how it’s going!

Recently, I created a more extensive video tutorial on this subject that you can find here: if you’re interested! Also, please sign up on my website for filmmaking freebies.

All images are the work of the talented Ryan McGuire

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