If you’re a new or struggling filmmaker, you’re probably wondering what is an effective creative process or, at least, an easier one. For most people, the film industry seems to be purely based on crowd pleasing and pure fabrication. However, the actual processes behind the scenes do require some precision and objectivity. If you’re going into the film industry expecting it to be as easy, carefree, and gratifying as the Average Joe may think, then buckle up for the tremendous amount of work and thought that awaits you. The secret behind how a filmmaker can make vivid stories, cohesive plots, and even likable/relatable characters is because many take the time to study those aspects beforehand. Research plays an important role in filling out the prerequisites of writing and design behind a film. A good or successful film is not made purely from the talents and imagination of its creators (though, those are incredible X-factors). It requires proper analysis and evaluation in what the filmmaker is trying to achieve. Here are the top reasons why research is important for screenwriting and filmmaking:

#1 - Evaluation of Content and Effort

The film industry is engrossed with sensationalizing life and history. It is all about connecting the audience with new ideas and perspectives so as to entertain or provoke free thought. However, there is a stigma about the film industry inaccurately portraying science and history that arguably diminishes a film’s quality. Now, we know there are movie buffs and critics out there scrutinizing the slightest aspect of every movie; and when it comes to a misquotation or continuity error, they will have a field day. Still, as harsh as critics and our movie buff friends may be, they just want the best narrative possible, and that isn’t achieved necessarily with an open-mind. For the audience, a movie not only entertains but also educates and advocates the ideas it represents. Considering their cultural influence, it is the filmmaker’s responsibility to evaluate the referenced material as much as possible for the sake of creative integrity. Information doesn’t always have to be accurate but a message and intention must be made clear. This kind of consistency can’t be truly achieved without research being done for authenticity. A filmmaker must ask themselves what kind of story do they want to tell and how and why is it going to connect the audience.

#2 - Background Research and Believability

The most obvious choice behind doing background research is to evaluate and maintain accuracy. This provides the film with some veil of credibility to make the ideas appear viable and the portrayals as realistic. The filmmaker, when referencing non-original material, is essentially borrowing the ideas. To this extent, the filmmaker is judged by how well they utilize the referenced material relative to common knowledge. In addition to considering audience expectations, it is always useful to look into the specific background of your project, whether it be into the basic sciences or even cultural lore.

Here, it is important for the viewer to recognize and associate with the content. The more a movie betrays one’s expectations of reality, the less accessible the film becomes. Consider audience expectations like you’re considering your film’s genre. Horror and comedic movies have different expectations of effectiveness. One may not simply call a slasher film funny or a buddy comedy horrifying. Accuracy is all about congruence with the expected norm. It is not a bad thing to challenge these expectations, especially in something as creatively open as film, but doing a little research is the least one can do to consider their audience’s expectations.

#3 - Characterization

Film and television are at a descriptive disadvantage compared to books. Books are able to directly point out the thoughts of the characters and writer. However, the big screen requires a more immediate response from actions and visuals to connect with the audience. In the screenwriting format, you are required to characterize and address characters based solely on objective description, since you can’t depend on the interpretations of your staff. Here, it is the goal of the writer to convey as much subtle detail as possible in their characters to more effectively personify them.

In such a case, research plays the role in developing realistic and detailed characters. Studying the subtleties of human actions and personality can help define who your character is and what they can do. For a lot of writers, it is difficult to actualize what a person might actually do in a given situation. Would they smile? Would they run? What does a crying face look like? These aspects may seem commonplace, but they are defined by a menagerie of different contexts all subtly defining the dynamic of your character. These details range from one’s culture to even their psychological state when it comes to considering their personality. It may seem like a lot to consider when just going into your characters but a detailed personality can really define a film. If your character lacks a tangible personality, it’ll be harder for the audience to identify motivation; if there is no motivation, then there is no conflict; if there is no conflict, then there is no story. Characterization is all about using the literal response to define the figurative.

#4 - Inspiration

If you’ve ever suffered the curse that is “writer’s block,” then you’ve experienced that hollow trek back to the writing desk that mocks your mental state. Within the vacuum of this uninspired creative silence, a little reading or studying can help a writer get back on track. Research plays a foundational role in writing in the way that it can inspire or support new ideas. For many writers, for a novel or script, research is a prerequisite to the creative process that forces one to evaluate how much they really know about a subject and whether or not they feel comfortable with that knowledge. By assessing the key details, you’re providing yourself a clear focus to build the creative process on.

Sean Cubillas

Hey, I'm Sean Cubillas. I'm an English Major taking classes at Saint Edward's University. I like to write essays and articles about film and television, but I aspire to become a screenwriter for cartoons.

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