All Making the Same Movie

Boilerplate for Compatibility:

Investors, crew and cast, before anything else, have to be willing to make the same movie as the director. Each person might have a different movie in their mind’s eye or might choose or omit a different shot or joke than someone else.  There can be as many approaches as there are people, so first thing’s first: Know what the movie is, who has defined the project, at least make peace with whose vision you are helping bring to life. If the director is trying to be the servant of many masters, chipping away anything that someone else might not like, it will be an empty final result.

If a director believes he or she is Kubrick, the crew usually will make that person’s life hell.  So I don’t think I am Kubrick or Spielberg.  I want to make sure that I am giving myself the best chance to to get across the movie that is in my head and in stages of imperfection like the script and storyboard sketches. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot trying to prove how I’m unlike the best directors and unworthy of directing the attention of the audience.

My plan for a low budget film is to respect the fiscally responsible Roger Corman approach and lock the script, storyboard every shot, and know before we arrive on set or location what the camera is going to do and what equipment will be needed to facilitate that.

The opposite would be to go forward with someone who either hasn’t read the script or doesn’t like it or outright objects to something in it and doesn’t believe in the director. In which case the writer-director doesn’t have a leg to stand on with that person, and who wants to walk into that burning house?

If someone doesn’t believe in the script and wants to infuse it with improvisation, it should be noted that any commentary track for a Christopher Guest movie mentions how long it takes to explore material through improvisation and then the year it takes to find the movie in editing.  If the main point of initiating a movie is that you want your screenplay to see the light of day, and you want to feel authentic about your writing credit, make sure it is known that you ban improvisation. Things will be discovered on a day even with a prepared and well rehearsed cast that might not be in the script, but the expectation of happy accidents do not have to define the project or put the director in the frustrating position of reigning people in to get them back on book.  You want to weed out people who do not like the script, or you will fall behind and go into overtime not for your shot list and the care of setting up a sequence but to placate the egos of actors who want to be de facto writers.

It will be interesting to learn the details of what happened on Solo: A Star Wars Story before Ron Howard was brought in to right the ship.  The version most circulated is that the original director Lord and Miller being improv wranglers on their previous live action movies were not used to storyboarding their shots and merely considered their process about riffing on scripts and generating material on set through improvisation.  This despite the fact that they were graced with a screenplay by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jon.  Each day, the budget went over because the directors went into overtime and held the crew due entirely to the indulgence in improvisation. The actors played along but one reportedly eventually mentioned to a producer (maybe Kathleen Kennedy) that this was going on and that Alden Eirenrich as Solo was being called upon to do a sort of Ace Ventura energy level that seemed contrary to the laconic Harrison Ford characterization. What is puzzling might be that producers would get continuity reports each day that would have stated for 90% of the shoot that they were going into overtime each day and this could have been caught and rectified. As an executive producer and co-writer, after reviewing the footage that had been shot, Kasdan objected to the freewheeling approach and wanted the directors to stick to the script.

It is vital at the outset, either overtly or covertly, to discover whether a collaborator believes in the project or the script.  In my own case as a writer-director I have had to nudge people towards telling me what they thought or exposing some other reason they might want to infiltrate the movie.  The last thing you want is the ground moving under your feet. Someone may object to a well-earned joke against an arrogant character.  I would rather take the heat of someone expressing outrage over a joke than let someone else’s sensitivity pre-emptively make it go away.

It is asking a lot to say tentatively to a prospective actor or crew member to read the entire screenplay, maybe 100 – 120 pages, to make an informed choice.  But that work pales by comparison to everything you will ask them to do in pushing through the schedule of shooting the movie.  This mostly applies if you have a subversive sensibility.  I today’s climate, that is bold.  But any element of a script can be upsetting to a crew or cast member or a segment of the audience, and they may as well address and confront that in advance.

It is one level of difficult to draw people with a general idea of making a movie, but the more specific your goals and in terms of locations and props and number of cast or the kind of script you want to get away with it will be more of a challenge. There is no point putting off that challenge and waiting for a conflict somewhere down the line.  It is vital to want to make the same movie, or to be willing to.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”

 

 

 

 

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jawsphobia

Filmmaker, from North Bay, Ontario, currently in Toronto. Graduated from Humber Film and TV Production in the Nineties. Made countless short films.