The biggest hurdle to communication in the early stages of building a cast and crew on a small film especially is the desire to draw people in. Some people will treat a polished final draft of a screenplay as if it is a stem cell that doesn’t know what it is and allow each new member of the team think a proposed movie might have any number of contradictory goals. This can only delay someone withdrawing after having invested his or her time and your own. So it makes sense to be as clear as possible.
It is preferable to make no movie than to make the wrong movie. We must all want to make the same movie. From a writer’s perspective, all cards are on the table so there is no mystery about what movie the writer wants to make. The script will decide who is appropriate for it. Everyone has a copy of the script available to read. If anyone declines to read it, they may as well not be involved rather than be a place holder for someone who might be a better fit. If they read the script and find elements “problematic” or “punching down” by their definition or “triggering,” the writer or director can be advised of this but most likely nothing will be changed to align the project with each actor or crew member’s personal or peccadillos or level of “woke” sensibility. The movie may even intend to subvert the controlling ideas of the day. To ignore character and context, and to assume that anyone who identifies with a segment of the population is a critic-proof permanent victim class rings false. Just as a victim of assault may feel a loss of autonomy and control over a situation, that person may act out in future years trying to exert an over-correction of control both on intimates and on society in general, as word-police or worse. Just because a movie or a song is interpreted negatively by the triggered individual does not mean it should be banished from the public sphere. The presenter or author of the work and fans of it may not own the public sphere but neither does the loudest minority who seek to erase it from their awareness. Instead of a psychiatrist, a generation of people (not just the young Millennials and post-Millennials but a sizable number of late thirties and forty-somethings settling into their bitterness).
If the director has storyboarded the movie, using the beats within each scene as currently written to determine the correct use of the frame – and by extension set and location layouts – any prospective cinematographer will have to be okay with that kind of direction, the direction of the audience, in other words actual movie direction as opposed to simply running the office or the set and talking to the actors. It has been said by a Marvel director that sometimes he is given storyboards generated by someone else and told, “Just shoot this.” At the other end of the spectrum, you have Zemeckis who might include second unit close-up cut-ins like feed at a drain but they are considered “Bob’s shots” because they are part of his storyboarded design of the sequence and Tarantino who doesn’t even have a second unit because he claims something like, “If it is shot without me there then it is inherently inferior.” As arrogant and self-serving as these matters might seem, I delight to hear about them. Your sacred duty is to the work you actually generated, whatever came from a sweet spot in writing and preparing to direct, what some
people call the vision. Comedy groups, especially improvisers, believe in the hive mind or group connection of those involved in a show so they can listen to each other and be attuned for their own place in the flow of an exercise. This would have little or no relevance to my own movie projects, except that each person involved should have read the script, liked it, and be able to make an informed choice as to whether to collaborate and be my accomplice in perpetrating a movie. This means not riding the breaks (being tentative) by the time the shoot is scheduled.
Too often, something that seems unrelated can derail a project. Does the girlfriend or boyfriend of a collaborator have an influence over their participation? Chances are that if you are saying anything interesting or provocative it will be enough of a find if you are communicating well with a handful of people and it would be asking a lot to expect that every influence in a performer’s life will reinforce it. I think it is only fair to put the controversial or incendiary stuff up front and not hold off on it like layers of the onion to test everyone’s limits. Better to have the script in its best form and make sure that any group reading is not a cold reading. Any speed bumps should be known to the actors and by the time there is a table read it should be to help get the juices up and get everyone even more sold and pumped for the finished movie. If the flow is halting and people are texting and missing cues, the energy of the piece may be lost and the potential not represented in its best light. Some scripts are meant to be heard or performed, and some that make bland movies because they have too much dialogue make for great readings and cinematic scripts that are almost entirely visual make for poor public readings.
I once wrote a place-holder for a cleaning lady character who hated to get dirty. I had meant to say pristine but instead described her hand as “perfectly white” and forgot to put ** marks on either side of the place-holder so it would leap out when looking it over before submission to a readers group. Unfortunately that little kind of misstep was misinterpreted. As bold as I like to be with subject matter and jokes, I have to be especially careful to scour the pages for anything that is not pristine.
Right now I am at a stage where I have bursts of clarity and focus to generate pages and get closer to what I want to complete but I have also let myself be demoralized having in the past relied too much on the seeming interest of others in whatever project I was putting together. It is vital to make sure that the work stands on its own because the writer won’t be doing a running commentary every time the film is shown and cinema’s very underpinnings and references that hold it up as a form of communication with grammar have been compromised by the influx of audience members who simply by their year or place of birth will not know the prerequisite references that support a story or trope or joke. So much of my own work has been in flux trying to accommodate that and keep it simple.
It used to be that the number to beat was the youngest age like a Steven Spielberg or Xavier Dolan wunderkind but it is getting so I might be a contender for oldest breakthrough. I know that I won’t be satisfied with anything less and there won’t be a time to put it aside anymore than I can put life and identity aside. But it is also time to collate and file and retype what is already promising. That might mean I can not afford much more indulgence of movie watching. I may not even be able to enjoy movies fully again until I have made more progress. And at the same time I am so up in my own head that I sometimes can’t even be sure I am crossing paths with someone I know out of context. And a small interaction or non-interaction can cycle around in my head and rob me of more pragmatic output.
This blog post is pretty much the kind of thing I have to say when I have nothing to say. To compose an actual manifesto for a film just might read as insulting to all concerned. Even though it might weed out anyone who really wants to infiltrate the writing or directing or steer it off course in terms of ideology. It might just attract a more subversive tact. I would not want to pass the buck about a project I complete. I’d like to know it reflected me. But I can see that if team building or casting is outsourced or even the duties I would attribute to a producer, then it will come back to my laziness or naive approach to the areas where I am weak. Obviously if writing and directing are my only focus I can’t throw a wrench into the production end with my mediocre math or logistics. I know even trying to round up six people for a table reading and lining it up for schedules or switching a date around fills me with fatigue. Maybe because I don’t like living on a telephone, and also because it is a taste of how easily one element or person can fall out ad prevent it from happening.
Better to have someone else make the calls, even if they have to be formally employed. Also, I have a couple of people I am aware of with toxic interest in me and who have actively persuaded one or two people from abandoning a project. Until I have a hit man on retainer, that can be an X-factor on any project I do. So there has to be a work-around. Anyway, still pushing forward. If I feel writer’s block, there is no shortage of stuff to proof-read.