A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie, Part 1: The Idea


A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie is a written series by Erin Bagwell the director of Dream, Girl and the founder of Feminist Wednesday. To view the whole series click here.

Part One: The Idea

The first thing you need to make a movie is a really powerful idea. I am using the word powerful intentionally because the idea should send a supercharger to your brain. It should keep you up at night. It should make you nervous. It should feel like a secret. It should also feel like it’s such a good idea it must have been done before. Some ideas feel like lightening bolts, but others are like familiar lovers that whisper casually in your ear.

The difficult part about getting an idea is you don’t have any history with the thought- you have no way of testing it, your emotional loyalty to it, your endurance to the topic, or if there is any interest in said idea by your audience. This is why ideas are tricky, they just appear like feathers on a hiking trail, and it’s up to you whether or not you want to save them for your collection. The other thing about ideas is you have to be clear and open to receiving them. If you are so busy, so overwhelmed, so entrenched in your life, it’s hard to be open to receiving beautiful ideas. You must make yourself available to the universe. Some artists wear fancy outfits to attract ideas, some people take walks, I like to meditate to clear my mind in the morning. You should find what works for you.

My Big Idea:

I’ve had a lot of good and bad ideas in my life. When I was in high school I dyed my hair brown (bad idea), but in college I made a documentary about studying abroad in Spain (good idea). The best creative idea I think I have ever had was to make Dream, Girl. Dream, Girl is my documentary film- the film I directed, edited, and created. It’s my first feature length film and it premiered in May 2016 at the White House. It’s even been seen by over 20K people in 81 different countries.

But ideas don’t only come to those who are open, they come to those who are ready for them.

Ever since I was a little girl I love to create things: paintings, dance routines, plays, but my whole life changed my sophomore year of high school when I discovered the power of film. At the Buffalo Academy of Sacred Heart in Buffalo, New York my english teacher Mr. Sweet gave us an assignment to make a movie. He wanted us to construct a story with a beginning, middle, and end- and share it with the class.

My group of friends got together and wrote out a Charlie’s Angels-esque story where one of the angels was actually the villain and in the end of the story she betrays her sisters and we discover her real intentions. My little brother had gotten a video camera for his birthday so I was automatically nominated as the team lead, and my brother helped us film our story. It was so much fun- we had costumes, and props, we ran around my neighborhood and it all felt so exciting.

But my favorite part (and still is today) was what happened after the cameras stop rolling. The mystery that occurs while you are editing, the slices of footage that come alive as you put them side by side in the editing room. In our tiny cement-walled basement I edited our video, shaping our story, and telling the journey of these three spies.

The day of our presentation to the class I felt nervous. What if people wouldn’t like it, or worse what if they didn’t get the twist ending? As the classroom lights dimmed and the projector played I could feel my palms get sweaty with anxiety.

I remember sitting in the back left corner of the room watching people react to our story- and at the end of our movie, when it is revealed that one of the angels has been double crossing them all along the energy in the room kicked up, my teacher stood up, and the other girls starting shouting “Oh my god!” “Wow!” “Ah!” Their enthusiasm sent a shot to my heart that I’ll never forget (that I can feel now as I write this). It was magical- to emotionally connect with someone through something I had created. I had never felt anything like this before, and I knew I would chase that feeling for the rest of my life.

So twelve years later in January 2014 when I got the idea to make a movie about female entrepreneurs, was I ready?

Hell ya I was.