Girls Make Movies

A Follow-Your-Own-Path Guide for Aspiring Young Filmmakers


By Mallory O’Meara

Illustrated by Jen Vaughn

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Make your own movie from start to finish with this entertaining, practical choose-your-path nonfiction guide to the world of filmmaking, from the critically acclaimed author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon

Girls belong in the world of filmmaking. While we see them acting on-screen, there are also countless women working every single job possible behind the scenes as part of the film's crew. Are you a girl who is interested in film making? Do you wonder how you actually make a movie? Well, this is the book for you.
Girls Make Movies puts you in the driver’s seat as you create a fictitious zombie blockbuster and are guided through each stage of production and learn about the processes, techniques, and people involved in making a Hollywood hit. Luckily, every path through this nonfiction book results in the film being made, but you will be asked to make choices that will affect the outcome of the movie. Will you shoot on location or on a studio lot? Use practical or special effects? Hire a greensperson or a someone to do pyrotechnics? The choices are up to you!

Written by critically acclaimed author Mallory O'Meara and paired with eye-catching, graphic illustrations by popular comic book artist Jen Vaugh, this unique, practical book provides young girls with advice and inspiration while offering a sense of adventure as they learn how to create a movie! 





The first thing we need to do is turn that idea into a screenplay. A screenplay is like a map for a movie, and the woman who creates it is called a screenwriter.

Although we are talking about movies, screenwriting includes any type of writing for the screen, whether it is for movies or television, fictional films, or documentaries.

Even if you already have a rough idea of what happens during the movie’s plot, you need a lot more information to make it. A screenplay not only plans what the movie is about, but it also provides the actors’ lines (a.k.a. the dialogue), as well as directions for their action and important information about how the movie is going to be made. How long will the movie be? What are the characters like? How many actors are needed? Where does the movie take place? A good screenwriter answers all these questions, and more, in her screenplay.

A screenwriter might work alone, or she might have a writing partner or even be part of a writing team. Being part of a writing partnership or team means you are a cowriter. For example, the movie Bend It Like Beckham was cowritten by Gurinder Chadha—she also codirected it!

Some screenwriters create screenplays from original ideas, like Melissa Mathison did with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Other screenwriters adapt their screenplays. Adapting a screenplay means taking a book—or an already existing story—and turning it into a movie. Many movies start as adaptations from books, video games, and even amusement park rides, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise. They might be sequels to or reboots of existing movies.

That’s why there are two screenwriting categories at the Oscars: Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay!

A screenplay can go through many drafts before it reaches its final form. Depending on the movie, this process can take weeks, months, or sometimes even years. Good things take time!

Okay, so let’s say there’s a screenwriter who wants to write an original screenplay about… zombies. Even better, teenagers fighting zombies. Her screenplay will be called Sasha Versus Zombies, about a teenage girl—a YouTube makeup star called Sasha Screams, to be more precise—and her friends who survive an undead invasion in their small town by disguising themselves as zombies with Sasha’s special effects makeup.

Now that the screenwriter has her main characters and a basic idea of the plot, she’s off to the races and can begin writing the screenplay. Screenwriters need to write in a specific format so that all the information is easy to read and find by other people, so unfortunately, Sasha Versus Zombies can’t start out with “Once upon a time…” If the screenwriter were just writing a fiction story, it would look like this:

Sasha woke up in her sunlit bedroom. She got up to look out the window and muttered, “Another beautiful day in Boringville.”

But in a screenplay, or script, it would look like this:


Sasha wakes up in her bed. She gets up to look out the window.

Another beautiful day in Boringville.

The reason for this weird format is to show whether a scene is inside or outside, what location or set it’s in, and also what time of day it is.

That’s what INT. stands for, interior. It would be EXT. if it was set outside, for exterior.

When you read this scene, you know that it’s shot inside Sasha’s bedroom and it’s morning. These are really important details to know when filming a scene.

The general rule of screenwriting for movies is that one is roughly equal to one minute of screentime. With this format, anyone can tell how long a movie is going to be by the length of the screenplay. If Sasha Versus Zombies ends up at ninety pages, it will be about an hour and a half long.

A screenwriter includes only a small amount of description in her screenplays. Instead of writing:

Sasha excavates herself from the warm depths of her bedding. Her quilt is fluffy and stitched with huge sunflowers, like a soft field of petals. She pulls back the quilt and covers her mouth while she yawns, her golden nail polish sparkling in the early morning sun.

She can just write:

Sasha sits up in bed and yawns.

She doesn’t have to worry about costume details for Sasha, or what her bedroom is going to look like, or how the camera is going to move in the scene. The director, with the help of other women on the team, will make those decisions. So, the screenwriter gets to focus on the story, the dialogue, and the action.

Does this seem fun? Does becoming a screenwriter sound like a job for you? Learning how to write a screenplay is easy, and to become a screenwriter, all you need is a cool story idea and access to a computer at home, school, or your local library. If you want to learn more about how to write and format a screenplay, then you can look at the resources page at the end of this book (132) and find a list of free online resources that will help.

Okay, now that we have a finished screenplay, we are ready to move on to the next step in making a movie, and the fun can really begin.


Invasion of the Movie Snatchers

WHEN THE SCREENWRITER FINISHES THE SCREENPLAY, SHE SENDS it off to a team who will bring the story to life. They’ll take the information and outline she has provided in her script and run with it.

The first person to read the screenplay will be the producer. She has one of the most important roles on a film crew and is responsible for getting the movie made. A movie producer is sort of like the manager of the movie, and they have a lot of responsibility. Producers are responsible for the budget, or how much everything is going to cost and how much everyone on the team is going to get paid; they are also in charge of the movie’s schedule and making sure everything happens on time. They bring the movie’s crew together and hire each person, plus make sure everyone is doing their jobs the right way, at the right time. A producer is one of the only people on a movie, besides the director, who’s involved from the very beginning to the very end.

Producer Nina Jacobson has worked on movies like The Hunger Games and Crazy Rich Asians! In 2012, she told Collider that making successful movies is about making something that audiences “like and want to see more of” and that producing The Hunger Games movies was all about focusing on making the best movie she could.

Movie producing is the perfect job if you like being in charge, but it also comes with a ton of responsibility. You’ve got to be really good at communicating, being organized, and solving problems. But if that all sounds like fun to you, then being a producer will be a blast. It’s exciting to see a project you put together turn into a finished film.

While it sounds like a difficult job, it is not difficult to learn how to be a producer, and you can start by planning a movie in your own backyard. If you, or one of your friends or family members, wants to make a movie, then you organize how, when, and where the movie will happen. And, congratulations, you’re a producer!

Alright, so the producer gets the Sasha Versus Zombies script from the screenwriter, which is about Sasha, a sixteen-year-old who lives in a small town outside of Los Angeles. Sasha and her three best friends—Maddie, KC, and Charlie—are all getting ready to shoot a new gory makeup video for Sasha’s YouTube channel when they notice some people shambling down the street… and they don’t look so good. Sasha’s parents are on vacation, so the foursome needs to figure out what to do all by themselves. After the group takes down one zombie in the backyard, Sasha has an idea. Using her makeup skills, she’ll disguise the group as undead, so they can all escape the oncoming horde and get to the high school, where the town is gathering for safety.

The producer absolutely freaking loves the script. Now that the producer has a great story, she approves it and next needs to find someone to direct it.

If a movie is a ship, then the director is the captain. She’s the person who is at the helm of the project and makes the creative decisions about how the movie is going to look. Not only does the director creatively guide the movie, she also is responsible for overseeing and working with the rest of the crew to create it.

A film crew is made up of many departments, such as lighting, sets, and makeup, and each department has a person who supervises it, known as the department head. Each of these department heads are responsible for a single aspect or element of the movie, and the director oversees all the department heads. She helps coordinate all the ideas and creative choices everyone working on the movie makes, from the cameras to the costumes.

The director has a pretty big range of responsibilities because there are lots of choices to make and details to keep track of. How are the actors doing? Does the set look okay? Did the costumes turn out alright? She’s the one calling all the shots.

Are you interested in directing something? A director can start at any age and with any level of experience or learning. No matter your background, all you need is a plan to get started and some sort of camera—even a smartphone.

Pandora director Brea Grant says, “Directing is a ton of fun. As a kid, I always wanted to be an actress because I would look at the screen and say, ‘Well, who did this? I guess it’s the actors!’ I didn’t know anything else. Once I got older and realized there was this whole job where you could make movies happen, then I got interested in that. My father always said I was going to grow up and be a warden because I’m so bossy and stubborn. And I found the next best job was making movies!”

The producer is the person who finds and hires the director. Finding the perfect match for the screenplay is extremely important. She might already have someone in mind when she reads the script, or she might take a bunch of meetings with potential directors. The producer will consider questions like, Has this director worked on a movie like this before? What sort of style and artistic eye does this director have? And, of course, would this director be interested in this story, and does she have a strong vision for what the movie will be?

Deciding which director to pair with the script has a huge effect on the movie. It’s one of the biggest choices a producer can make. After all, it will be the director’s vision and creative ideas that guide the whole movie-making process.

If the producer was interested in some high-octane action, she might consider Cathy Yan, director of Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Or if she was interested in a more character-driven story, she might consider Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle in Time. One director could pitch the producer on a version of Sasha Versus Zombies that is dark and scary, really leaning into the zombies and horror parts of the story. Another director could pitch the producer on a version that’s fun and silly, more Shaun of the Dead than 28 Days Later.

Like the producer, a director is involved in the entire process and is one of the few people who are part of the team from the very beginnings of development all the way to the final version. These two women are the main forces driving the movie forward, with the producer overseeing all the organizational tasks of the film and the director handling all the creative decisions.

After having a bunch of meetings and hearing ideas from various directors, the producer will choose the one she thinks is the right fit for Sasha Versus Zombies. Then, once the director is hired and joins the team, the producer meets with the director and the screenwriter together. During these meetings, they can talk about the movie and the director’s vision and ideas, so this way, if the director thinks any changes should be made to the script, the screenwriter can work on them before the movie is developed any further.

Does the development stage mostly involve a lot of meetings? Yes. Are they fun meetings because the producer, director, and writer are planning a movie? Also yes.

The screenwriter, producer, and director all have the most responsibility in shaping the film, and once they’re all on board, projects like Sasha Versus Zombies can go forward and start becoming less screenplay-like and more movie-like.

Now that the core team is established, they can move to the next stage of moviemaking, which is known as pre-production. Or, if they think Sasha Versus Zombies needs a bit more development, they can bring someone else onto the team to help them out.

Sometimes, it helps to know ahead of time how some of the sets and characters are going to look before the film moves to pre-production, so the team asks a special type of film artist to create illustrations from the director’s ideas for sets and characters. This means development will take a little longer but there will be more help with planning and bringing the director’s vision to life.

What do you want to do next?

A. Figure out how the movie is going to look! Flip to the next page.

B. Move to the next moviemaking stage! Flip to here and learn about pre-production.


The Artist with All the Gifts

FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION, AND HORROR MOVIES OFTEN USE imaginative elements like unicorns, spaceships, or zombies. Maybe even zombie unicorns, or zombie unicorns on a spaceship. Whatever the case may be, it’s helpful for the team to decide what those specific elements are going to look like early in a movie’s development.

Often, paintings and drawings of special characters, monsters, sets, and scenes are made to help the team visualize and discuss what materials and people are needed to make them. They also give the whole film crew a better idea of what the director wants the movie to look like. These paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other pieces of art are called concept art, and the person who makes them is called a concept artist.

The goal of concept art is to help explain or communicate ideas, for the director to show to other people working on the movie to share what she envisions. If the concept artist is successful, that piece of art will give the other people working on the movie a good sense of what that scene is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to feel, whether that is scary, exciting, or romantic.

Concept artist Karla Ortiz helped develop the way characters look in Marvel movies like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. She illustrated Shuri flying through the air to fight an enemy, Thor standing in his cool superhero costume, and Doctor Strange floating down from above with his big, red cape. These pieces helped the whole filmmaking team behind those movies bring those costumes, characters, and scenes to life.

To get started, the concept artist will create sketches inspired by what she reads in the screenplay and hears from the director. Sometimes, the work she needs to do is simple, such as a single character standing on an otherwise blank page. Other times, the filmmakers need something more elaborate, like a whole scene that depicts a lot of actions and many different characters. It all depends on the project!

For a film like Sasha Versus Zombies, the director wants some zombie concept art, so she meets up with the concept artist to talk about what kind of zombies she likes from different movies or comics. The two then think about what might be best for the film.

Maybe the zombies still look fresh, so they are still held together and not too scary. Maybe it would be more fun if they’re really far gone, all rotten and gloopy. But, if the zombies are going to be chasing teens around Sasha’s town, they probably need to still look sort of like people and not be too gross. It’s hard to chase after someone when your arms are rotting off, after all. Zombies that can’t chase you aren’t very scary.

After lots of good discussion with the director, the Sasha Versus Zombies concept artist gets to work creating a bunch of sketches of different versions of zombie scenes from the screenplay. Then the director chooses the one—maybe more than one—that best matches her vision for the film, like a sketch of zombies banging on the windows of a high school building. The zombies in the illustration wouldn’t be too rotten but would still be scary because they look strong enough to bust down a door. The concept artist also creates a few other pieces that depict Sasha’s idyllic little town… but with serious undead creepiness taking over. Which is just like what the director saw in her head when she read the script. Perfect!

With a visual direction in mind, the concept artist creates even more art of different characters and scenes, then sends them on to the director and producer to be reviewed and approved.

A. Now that the concept art is figured out, you can move to the next stage of making a film.

B. Head into pre-production by flipping to the next page!


The Nightmare Before Production


So far, so good.

While the development of a movie can take a really long time, the pre-production stage is a much quicker process. Pre-production usually takes weeks or months, instead of months or years. It’s like how it might take months to think up a good idea for Halloween but only a few days to make the actual costume. With the screenplay finished and the creative direction decided on during development, it takes less time than you’d think to make what is needed to bring that screenplay to life.

When a movie enters pre-production, one of the first things that happens is the producer creates a script breakdown. This is a big list of everything that is needed, from either a creative or technical standpoint, for each scene in a movie. It breaks down, page by page, all of the zillion elements, like actors, location, props, and costumes, that are required. The script breakdown is one of the key tools used in pre-production, and it helps all the members on a film’s crew figure out what they need to do or make.

Even a scene that seems simple, like Sasha and her three friends running down the street from some zombies, can require a lot of elements. For example, for this scene the script breakdown would include:

Four actors to play Sasha and her friends

Costume, shoes, hair, and makeup for each actor

Several zombie actors or computer-generated zombies

Costumes, hair, and makeup for the zombie actors


Cameras to shoot the scene

Sound equipment

A neighborhood location for it all to take place

That’s a lot of stuff for just one scene! So this is why it’s important to find a very organized producer to keep track of everything.


  • “The breadth of information is impressive and will offer readers a greater understanding of and appreciation for the work that goes into filmmaking as well as the skills required for each role . . . future filmmakers will find this a good starting point.”
  • “This bright, breezy, and informative manual walks young women (or any reader interested in the nuts and bolts of film production) through the tasks involved with making movies . . . enthusiastic and encouraging.”

On Sale
May 23, 2023
Page Count
144 pages
Running Press Kids


  • “The breadth of information is impressive and will offer readers a greater understanding of and appreciation for the work that goes into filmmaking as well as the skills required for each role . . . future filmmakers will find this a good starting point.”
  • “This bright, breezy, and informative manual walks young women (or any reader interested in the nuts and bolts of film production) through the tasks involved with making movies . . . enthusiastic and encouraging.”

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