Do you have a film development process?

– Posted in: Producing Film / Video Productions

In this post, I share a method I use to evaluate ideas and move worthy projects through a film development process.

I’m an idea guy.

I like to explore new subjects. I like to dive deep and I like to talk about what I’ve learned.

I think this characterizes a lot of filmmakers. Ideas, often great ones, come to me daily. In my younger days, I’d start talking about them right away.

Here’s how it usually went.

Day – 1

I’d launch into a description of what the idea was, how it would work and why it’s great. Anyone who stood still long enough would hear my pitch. I wasn’t trying to sell them in the since that I wanted money – I just wanted validation.

I was excited and thought everyone would immediately see my idea as brilliant.

It was usually an idea for a film I had after seeing a cool location or stumbling onto a new micro-budget storyline.

Day – 2

Unfortunately on day two I’d revisit and abandon the idea.


I’d spent most of the night and all morning “realizing’ the flaws in my plans. I’d become depressed and feel like I was just treading water and going no where.

My point here is that using only unvalidated thoughts, I’d built and abandoned an entire startup idea in the course of twenty four hours.

Crazy – right?

Have you been there?

I bet you have.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re creative, ideas are a strength and a curse.”]

The problem with the scenario I just described was I never developed any traction.

This roller coaster ride was both exhausting and counterproductive.

I was wasting time and spinning in circles. It was to early in the process to consider the idea as brilliant or worthless, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

I finally realized that an idea can’t be brilliant until it’s been worked into something with form or a system that can be implemented.

  • An idea on it’s own has no value.
  • Value comes from creating.
  • Creating takes energy, resources and time.

I realized that what I was seeing was not flaws but gaps (missing pieces) in the final form. Of course, it was too early in the process for the gaps to be filled. I was having a development problem.

I was trying to skip the development stage.  

The development stage of creating is about discovering gaps.

In hindsight, I realize that I was trying to move from the idea straight into production.

As creators we need to:

  • eliminate the crazy highs and lows out of the idea process
  •  know which ideas to pursue and which to let go of
  •  find structure and focus

For this, I use a vetting technique that moves ideas form my mind to paper or a digital note pad. I use Evernote. I do this for all types of film, corporate video and advertising  projects.

It ‘s a fairly straight forward system of free-writing on topics related to the project. The process is is designed to give ideas substance and form prior to evaluating them.

Here’s what I include:

  • Name your idea. (This is basic but important.)
  • Decide what form it will be. A short film a feature film, an audio visual exhibition, a documentary
  • Freely write about what you want this project to do for you
  • Freely write about what you want this project to do for others
  • Freely write about what you think your audience will get out of it.
  • Freely write about the theme and a universal truth. Will they connect to it’s controlling idea.

* Don’t worry if a clear universal truth doesn’t emerge, just ask and write. No worrying allowed.
Free writing is a good practice for getting ideas out of your head and into a form that can be evaluated later.

The evaluating “later” part is key!

Don’t evaluate as you write, just free-write anything that pops into your head.  Start a separate notebook for this, it can be a paper notebook or a digital notebook.

The important part is that you can save and search these note for future evaluation or inspiration.[bctt tweet=”An idea needs to earn it’s way to the next level of completion. “]

You’re not committing to the project yet, you’re only committing to finishing the vetting process.

There’s nothing to doubt – not yet anyway.

Put the project aside for a couple of days. Try not to think about it, don’t work on it at all. After two days set aside time and return for the evaluation step.

If while evaluating you find yourself inspired do more writing. If you see gaps, fill them in. No pressure just react to what comes up.

Put the project aside for a couple more days and repeat the process.

At this point, you’ll have a more complete understanding and your decision to go to the next level or you’ll abandon the project. Your decision will be based on something other then emotion.

Remember the goal of this process is to determine if the project is going to be a good stepping stone for you. Will it create new opportunities.

[bctt tweet=”Filmmaking takes a lot of time, vetting takes relatively little time.”]

If we want to move beyond backyard filmmaking, we need to be strategic and leverage stepping stone films into new opportunities.

Are you ready to move to the next filmmaking stage?

  • How far do you want to go?
  • What skills do you have?
  • Where are you weak?

All these questions need to be asked in order to know what a stepping stone film looks like for you. I’ll write more on “stepping stone films” in the future.

DIY – Film School Home Work 

Take any idea and try this system today. At least start the process of free writing. You can do as little as ten minutes and come back to it.

Try it, Practice it. It works!

PS – Please leave a comment or ask a question. You’re input will fuel future posts and videos.