How Important Is The Script?

It might seem an odd question. ‘How important is the script?’ But more and more I’m seeing and hearing stories about times when changes are being made to the script on the fly, only for it to end up in the editing room and, suddenly, the story makes no sense.

The answer is: ‘It depends’. An appropriately odd answer to a strange question. But it does. Just like every script is different, so too is every production. I’ve worked on many of them now and there are elements that are the same, sometimes the same people crop up again, but at the end of it, it comes down to two things that define your production.

Your Producer.

Your Director.

The way that these two people handle their respective roles in the production are key. I’ve worked on productions with producers who expected everyone to put in 200% every day – resulting in a very harried and stressed office with an intensely high workload – and I’ve worked on productions with producers who demanded a high quality of work, but not at the expense of everyone’s sanity. Both got incredible results on the screen, but I can guarantee you there’s only one of them that I’d be working for again.

There are many elements that a good producer and a good director have. And one of them, in particular, is respect for the script.

Producers are usually pretty good with scripts. I’m seeing more and more that the head writer of a show is also an executive producer. You also usually have a second exec who handles more of the running of the show itself. Sometimes you don’t. It depends on the set up of the show. But, at the end of the day, the producer liked the idea enough to develop it into a script. They like the scripts enough to find the money to make it into a show. The producers are often there with the writers every step of the way writing-wise, to get the scripts up to scratch.

DSCF5426 copy

Directors don’t necessarily work like that.

In my experience, directors (particularly television directors) come on board at a later stage, once the story is outlined and (often) there’s already a shooting script draft circulating the production office. They offer notes, amendments come out – but on every show I’ve worked on, the director’s opinion and vision has been incorporated into every script (or at the very least, been discussed and then decided against).

What I have noticed is, once out on set, some directors like to riff on what’s on the page.

Just for the record, I don’t have a problem with this. I think that ad-libs and additional dialogue often need to happen to help get more deeply into a scene or perhaps suddenly a line of dialogue doesn’t make sense because of the location or blocking – things have to be changed for whatever reason. But when things are changed without telling the script co-ordinator or passing it by the writer, that’s when things become a little messy.

I worked on a show where this happened quite a lot. Lines got changed everywhere, action lines (or big print) stage direction got chucked out and new stuff brought in. The director was only directing two episodes in a series of eight, but they didn’t have any regard for what had come before or what was coming after. They changed things without thinking about it.

It meant that, come editing time, that the scenes shot didn’t really resemble anything that was scripted. Dialogue that was supposed to continue over from one scene to another got cut, so there was no real link from one scene to the next. A character who has no technological know-how began to brag about their prowess of finding the right website – whereas in other episodes, they can barely figure out how to turn on a computer. Timing and tension of scenes got all scrambled because the rhythm was thrown out of whack with all the changes.

All these ‘small’ changes on set had big consequences for the story. It meant that plotlines that were supposed to start, didn’t. That incidental line of dialogue they changed? It was actually a seed for a storyline that pops up again in a later episode. That line of big print they ignored? It completely throws out the pace of the scene because there’s not enough movement. The poor editor was tearing his hair out.

So the answer to ‘How important is the script?’ is ‘It depends.’ It depends on how well you know the rest of the story, not just the stuff you’re shooting at that second. It depends how well you know the characters – their backstory as well as what comes next. It depends on whether you’ve checked changes with the script department or the writers and make sure they’re all okay.

It depends on how much homework you’ve done and how much respect you have for the other people in your team. Because if you make a change and it is the wrong change, it can have serious implications on many other people and their workloads.

Respect the script. Every word on the page has been written for a reason – so make sure you know what that reason is before you begin changing everything.

Don’t forget, if you want another pair of eyes on your work, I provide a script reading service that might help you get the best out of your script! Check out my prices here.

End Of An Era

It’s with intense pride, relief and joy that I’m happy to announce that the With A Little Help From Our Friends DVDs have been posted (and hopefully most arrived by now)!

They were posted out last week and I’ve had some people telling me that they’ve shown up on their doorsteps, which is really wonderful to hear. It was a bit of a process putting the DVDs together – designing the covers, printing, trimming, fitting the sleeve; designing the DVD menu; burning each DVD individually and trying to work out what design to put on the DVD itself. In the end, I was inspired by my sister who joked I should draw stick figures on them, which made me realise that I’d saved the figurines from the Indiegogo campaign pitch video.

The Indiegogo pitch video
The final DVDs

Once they were all packaged up at ready to go, I had to work out the best way to distribute the 40 DVDs around the world. I figured out that to send all the UK parcels individually to the UK would be the same price as sending them in one hit to Craig to post out again, so I decided to post them all from Australia. Some needed scripts, some were solely DVDs, all were hand addressed and packaged with lots of love and care by yours truly.

With several bags packed full of these, I trundled down to the post office to send them out. And ten minutes after I arrived, they were gone! Off to all corners of the world – from Moonee Ponds to Maidenhead, from Denver to Pontypridd.
It’s a strange feeling, having done everything now. The film is officially finished. The perks have all been sent out. I’ve had some wonderful emails, tweets and phone calls congratulating me on the film – some even with favourite quotes included, which does wonders for your self esteem as a writer and your appreciation of your wonderful actors who can deliver a line (Markus, Danny, Carolina and Victoria, I’m looking at you!).
So now, as ever, the next step. The next step in this case is to have a look into festivals that might be options to enter the film into. This is alongside writing other scripts and also toying with the idea of the next short film, one that I want to be bigger, better and stronger than With A Little Help From Our Friends. But right now, I’m going to focus on writing my comedy feature film and co-writing my television sitcom pilot and continuing to blog about random things that occur to me along the way.
Thanks for being a part of the With A Little Help From Our Friends journey. I can’t quite believe it’s over, but it’s been absolutely incredible!
Alli x

With A Little Help From Our Friends – Update!

I know what you’re thinking. It’s been a billion years since we shot With A Little Help From Our Friends, so why haven’t we seen anything in awhile? I want to thank everyone for their patience and support whilst we’ve been waiting for this to come around.

And it has come around.

I’m very pleased to announce that With A Little Help From Our Friends is finished.

And, to prove it, here’s a sneak peek of the DVD cover:

For all our backers on Indiegogo who gave us more than $10, look out in your inbox for the link to the completed film. For those who gave us more than $25, I’ll be in touch soon to double check your postal addresses to send the DVDs out to.

It’s been a long time in the making – but it does go to show that filmmaking is a long process. And I know for next time to schedule my post production a lot better so that it’s not as time consuming the next time around.

And despite how long it’s taken, it’s been a fantastic process! I’m looking forward to doing research into festivals over the next few weeks, once I’ve sorted out sending out the last few perks from the campaign.

Thanks again to everyone who got involved and helped out – we could not have done it without you. Hopefully it’s a little film that will make you laugh and you enjoy watching as much as we did making it!

When All Else Fails

I thought it was time for an update on With A Little Help From Our Friends and how it’s going in post production. I’ve had a couple of people ask me about it, so thought I’d give you guys some updates on where we’re at.

The cut is picture locked. This means that there will be no more edits to…well…the pictures. It was a bit long so I, with a slightly heavy heart, cut a few sections and the running time is down to around six minutes, which I think is a good length for a comedy short film. The sound is locked too, I just need to track down some credit music to run over the end of the film. I’ve been trying to hunt out a colour grader for the past few months and, after a couple have fallen through, I’m going to try to do a basic colour grade myself. If anyone knows anyone else who might be interested in helping out, any suggestions would be much appreciated!

It is tough going when you don’t have much incentive for people other than a great project and showreel material. It’s even tougher when you have to rely on other people to get your film finished and they don’t come through so that things drag for months and months. It is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast in some ways when you’re working with friends of friends on a favour.

So, when all else fails, it’s good to have the skills to do the job yourself.

I’m not suggesting that you become an expert in every single aspect of filmmaking. But I’ve found that a small amount of knowledge of the other areas of the job really helps for cohesion when you’re working together. I’ve worked in lighting departments before, so I know the simple things like don’t ever touch the lights. EVER. I’ve had great DOPs who were willing to teach me little bits and pieces about white balancing and focus pulling. I’ve cut several projects before so I know that sometimes the best way to get things done is to give your editor an idea and a deadline and let them work themselves.

That’s not to say if my DOP pulled out, I’d immediately step behind the camera. Not at all. But if his camera assistant was still there and wanted to have a shot, I’d be happy to let them try and work closely with them to make sure they were across everything (which they usually are. Camera assistants generally rock).

So, with slight trepidation, I’m going to attempt to do a basic grade on the film this week to get it properly locked before going on to hunt out music.

Wish me luck!

(Seriously though, if you know someone who might be interested in helping out, I’d love to have a chat.)

Post Production Update!

Sorry for the delay on the blog post over the past fortnight. I could regale you with reasons why I haven’t managed to write anything but that would waste perfectly good time when I could be telling you about all sorts of fun stuff that’s been happening with the ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ edit!

We are getting much closer to a picture locked cut. We’ve got to a point where it’s cut to the script (and even cut a little shorter than that), but we’re concerned that the running time is too long (and, yes, you can call seven and a half minutes too long). So I’m waiting on feedback from a few more people and then really looking at what we can take out structurally that won’t hinder the overall story.

I’ve got a sound designer doing a mix on the sound – as we’re not putting anything back in and only taking things out from here on in, I don’t feel like this is a waste of time. I know that it sometimes can be, to send a sound designer an unlocked cut, but when he gets back to you and tells you he’s got two days to work his magic, you don’t say no.

The next step is colour grading, which I’m not one hundred percent sure how we’ll tackle yet and, obviously, getting the cut locked. It’s definitely not too far away at all and it’s been a fantastic learning curve – particularly in how hard comedy is to make! So much depends on timing and every single person in frame acting all the time (you’ll be surprised how often a joke falls flat because one extra in the background isn’t giving the right reaction. Luckily this didn’t happen for us as we couldn’t afford extras, but I have definitely seen it happen). And, of course, the timing of the jokes in the edit can effect it enormously.

In other news, I’ve been asked to read the entries for the London Screenwriters’ Festival’s free script and filmmaking competition: 50 Kisses. Write a two minute script or make a two minute film and you could have your film premiered in a London cinema on Valentine’s Day 2013!

Off to watch the edit again. What to cut?

Post Production – The Long and Winding Road

It seems like it’s been awhile since there’s been an update on the film, but rest assured there is progress. The editing process is taking a little longer than imagined, due to people getting sick, people travelling abroad for work, getting new eyes onto the project…

It’s now four months since we wrapped the shoot. Time did that thing where it sped up without me realising. But the film is in the hands of a new editor and I’m due to see a new cut next week which I am very much looking forward to. It needs a lot of work to really help the jokes shine out of it and ramp the pace up, but I’m positive that between Adam and I that we’ll be able to put something together really nicely.

The other element of post production that is unusual for ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ is the fact that we are having to organise and send out some of our crowd funding perks. The first ones went out a few weeks ago – if you contributed $50 or more to the film, you would receive a handmade thank you card from yours truly. I spent a creative and slightly sticky Saturday afternoon creating these:

And judging by the tweets, texts and comments on Facebook I got, they were a massive success. The personal touch was something that people seemed to really love and as no two cards were the same, it was a definite unique stamp that helped to signify their involvement in the film. I’m glad they were so well received as I really do appreciate everyone chipping in to help us out where they could.

I’ll have more news for your guys on the edit in the next fortnight once I’ve caught up with Adam and we’ll see where we’re at!

New Year, Moving Forward.

Welcome to 2012 everyone!

I know I’m a little bit belated with this, but I’ve had a wonderful festive break from blogging and am now back to whipping the film into shape.

Where are we at? I hear you ask.

We are currently at the beginning of post production! I met with Dan, the editor toward the end of November and we walked through the rushes. It was a great meeting and Dan made notes, we all laughed at the amazing acting skills on screen and talked about the general tone and feel of the film. I gave him the most recent copy of the script to put together a rough cut on and we decided that we would go from there.

There have been various delays – the two big ones, obviously, are Christmas and New Years, as well as Dan being packed off to Italy for work and me getting ill just before Christmas – but we both got through it and that resulted in the first rough cut of the film hitting my inbox at the start of last week.

It was both daunting and exciting to watch.

Watching the first cut is terrifying, in essence. Every single problem you talked about around a table in pre-production, made a split second decision about on set in production is suddenly concreted on screen in front of you. You notice every single thing you never did on set – was that cable always in that corner? Why didn’t we move it out of the way? You notice everything that’s wrong continuity wise. You hear every extra noise that wasn’t there before, you see all the shifts in light, the differences in performance. How the rhythm of the cut is wrong, there are pops in the sound and for a split second it looks like the actors break character. You almost watch with your hands over your eyes, because it’s slightly horrifying.

Then you spot a sparkle in the performance. You laugh. You gasp. You grin madly because you can see the potential in the film, the diamond in the rough. The lighting looks amazing in this shot. The sound is crystal clear in this entire scene. God, that shot was so difficult to get but it completely paid off. The look on his face is hilarious. The look on hers is beautiful.

It’s about trimming and shaping and pruning the cut until all of it is full of glee and delight. Or shock and awe, depending on what kind of film you’re making. Just finding the right emotion of the scene, the comedy in the beat, the horror in the darkness. Pin-pointing the best way to get across the message of your film.

That’s where we’re at right now. I’m meeting up with Dan tomorrow to go over the cut and we’ll move this bad boy forward and keep shaping, sculpting and trimming until we find the cut that really zings with the rest of the film.

This is the really exciting part.