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.

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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.

Production: Day Two, Part Two.

For Day One, Part One, click here!
For Day One, Part Two, click here!
For Day Two, Part One, click here!

Sorry for the delay between posts – I’ve only been able to grab snippets at the computer for the last fortnight. Where we we?

Oh, the choir practising Christmas Carols or suchlike out in the back studio when we were gearing up to shoot exteriors.

Jamie, Jim and I went to have a look at the set to figure out how we could shoot it. It was pretty easy to see how it had to be done for the closer shots, so we decided to shoot a wide shot where sound was irrelevant whilst the songs were thudding nearby. After a quick two takes of that for coverage, we pushed in for the closer shots.

Incredibly, the choir took a break when we first started to roll camera. Instead we had to deal with planes, buses, sirens, motorbikes, trucks – anything that is a vehicle that makes a grumbling noise to ruin our sound we got. And when the traffic was quiet, the choir started up again. Craig decided that as we were only going to be about 30 minutes shooting, he’d ask them to take a break until then.

He must be one persuasive guy, cause it worked. We managed to shoot the final scene of the film (although not of the day) really quickly thanks to actors who consistently hit their marks, a fantastic crew and Jim’s awesome walking skills for eyelines. After we finished up there, we told the choir to continue and we headed inside to shoot the last few shots for Markus and Danny.

The thing I’ve learnt about shooting in November is that apparentely November 12 isn’t too early to put up Christmas decorations. We had to, very carefully, dismantle the Chrissy decos from the next location and put them all safely away so that we could shoot and not date the film at any particular time of the year – especially as the costumes didn’t match an English Christmas movie (which was suggested, that we change the time of year but I vetoed that idea very quickly).

Another short scene, consisting of three shots. Four takes per shot and bam! The boys, Danny and Markus, were wrapped for the shoot! It wasn’t over for the rest of us, though, and we moved into the theatre to set up for the final scene to film. It was the conversation between the two girls and we were filming it on a stage. The only thing is that the stage looked like a black room if we were punched in too close, so Jamie stuck a wide angle lens on the front of the camera and there were suddenly red seats in the foreground.

This scene was a little tricky to film because there was a lot of movement in Lucy’s blocking. Jamie had to do a lot of nifty pull focusing throughout each shot to make sure it all came together well and we did cover the scene quite thoroughly to make sure that we got everything that we needed. In amongst church bells ringing on a Sunday afternoon and car alarms going off – both things we couldn’t have predicted but it just goes to show you that location recces at the time you’re planning to shoot are really important! – we managed to finish shooting the scene. Both the girls were great – barely any giggles and they took on board my direction really well.

Then it was all over and we were packing up to get out of there!

It’s a bit crazy looking back to think that we shot a whole short film in two days. It was a fantastic experience for me and hopefully for the rest of the cast and crew as well. We’re in our first week of post at the moment, so I’m hoping that the editor will have something to show me soon but I’ll let you guys know how we’re getting on, of course!

Production: Day Two, Part One.

For Day One, Part One, click here!
For Day One, Part Two, click here!

Day Two dawned chilly. I woke up early as I wanted to hit up our location at about 8.30am to start dressing the set – it was the one day that we had proper set dressing. I’d mocked up a bunch of posters for a noticeboard with varying design degrees to properly make it feel as though the set was a theatre academy. Trivia note: all the names barring four are names of backers of the film. So if you chipped in before the shoot, your name may well be in the film!

Abby (Victoria Smith) and my rad production design.

Knowing that we would have to motor fairly quickly through the day, I was keen to get there before the call time to start prepping things. The location contact said before he left that he’d be there from 7am and I knew that some people would show up a little earlier than the 9am call time, so I thought if I got in there early and started up, we’d manage to get the day off to a good start.

That kind of thinking is all well and good in theory, but when I showed up to the location around 8.30am and it was very much locked and empty and Jack (who had been dealing with the location) was twenty minutes away, I’d definitely say that I was a little concerned about starting on time. It was just after 9am that the location contact showed up and Jamie and Jim (DOP and camera assistant) were both early, so we very quickly chose a corner of the room that took our fancy and began to light it and dress it.

Victoria and I had decided the day before that she would plait a scarf into her hair (see above), which proved to be reasonably tricky to do. She tackled that whilst we prepped the set and tried to decide whether a jaunty angle for notices actually worked or not. I decided that they didn’t.

The morning started to run away from us a little and we were suddenly running around forty minutes behind schedule. This scene was a little finnicky to shoot – there were particular moments that were important to get within their own shot and not in a wide or a mid shot. And, regardless of the promise that we were to have the place to ourselves for the Sunday, we managed to have about three people open the creaky door in the middle of a take. It’s Murphy’s Law that they never managed to walk in when we weren’t rolling, always when we were.

But, regardless of that, we were suddenly moving along quickly. Markus and Victoria were getting through each shot in one or two takes (with rare exceptions for interruptions leading to a third take), we were catching up to where we were supposed to be and Danny and Carolina had appeared ready for their afternoon of shooting. After Markus and Victoria had finished falling in love, we called in Danny and Carolina to film one shot before we broke for lunch.

Running an hour later isn’t catastrophically bad. But when I went outside to have a look at our next location and could hear a thumping of a choir practising Christmas carols in the studio out the back of the theatre, I couldn’t help but laugh, albiet slightly hysterically. Sound issues plague every shoot, but this one seemed to be injecting absolutely everything into our Sunday to see what we could take.

But for now, it was lunch, so I was off to munch on some M&Ms and go over what else we had to shoot for the day.

Oh, and be teased for being Australian. You get used to it after awhile.

Production: Day One; Part Two

Catch up on Part One here.

Knowing that Markus had the kind of giggles that makes everything hilariously funny, I took him out of the room, off set and calmed him down away from the rest of the cast and crew. He managed to regain enough composure to continue on with the scene – he admitted later that he stood in a spot where he couldn’t see Danny before he walked in for every take after that.

We started to power through the scene. Victoria, who was due to shoot her scene at around 3.30pm, showed up at 3pm, as we’d asked, but as we were running a little behind schedule it gave her time to tweak her costume and make-up. So we continued, moving onto close ups of the boys to give us coverage for the scene.

It was during Danny’s close up that a sudden burst of voices ruined the take. I poked my head out the door, expecting the voices to be walking in and out of the theatre opposite – but there were two singers who had parked themselves right outside the door to the room we were in (so close that I actually hit their chair with the door when I opened it). I asked them to move whilst we were shooting and they, thankfully, did so.

About five minutes later, the band started up.

We had two shots left to shoot in that location, so we decided that the best way to get around it was to just go for it and cross our fingers that we got a few clean versions. Amazingly enough, we did, so we wrapped our first location and moved downstairs to set up for the next one. The next was going to be quick – it was only three shots – but as it was late in the day, it meant that we had to shoot night for day because England is annoying and loses daylight astonishingly quickly in November (it was around 5pm and it was nearly pitch black outside already).

Jamie and Jim managed to set up the lights so that the inside looked fine and Jamie framed out the windows and we were ready to rock and roll. We shot that scene very quickly and without too many hold ups and we were going to move on when we realised our next location was right under the theatre where the r’n’b band were rehearsing.

In a blindly hopeful moment, I asked Jack (the soundie) to have a listen and see if we might be able to get away with shooting something. He walked away and I apologised to Victoria for keeping her waiting for so long. Jack reappeared and said it was impossible. We had no choice but to wrap early, so I made the decision to start at 9am the next morning instead of 11am to get the scene we couldn’t shoot then done in the morning.

Unfortunately that meant that Victoria had come up to High Barnet for no reason which I felt awful about, but she was wonderful about it and once we packed up and got out of there for the day.

We’d had a few setbacks on day one and even more to shoot the next day, so I knew we had to be focused to get through everything we needed to and get everything shot. But day one was done and for now, I could let myself relax for a little while until reviewing scenes and shot lists for day two.

Production: Day One; Part One

Day one of With A Little Help From Our Friends was a late start.

Because the location we’d managed to get was a theatre school, they had students in there until 1pm. So we scheduled the call time to be at 1pm on Saturday and we planned to wrap at 5pm and shoot two (and a bit) scenes.

However, Jack had been told on Friday afternoon that they’d hired out the theatre to a (wait for it) r’n’b hip hop band from 1pm -6pm who needed to rehearse, after assuring us that we’d have the place to ourselves for the weekend. They figured because we weren’t actually shooting in the theatre that day, that it would be fine.

The issue here, of course, was that we weren’t shooting a silent movie. As the location was on a main road, traffic noise was bad enough as it was, so the added DOOF DOOF DOOF of bass and drums wasn’t exactly a welcome addition to the soundscape.

There wasn’t much that we could do. We decided that we’d shoot as much as we could and if we had to, shuffle Sunday’s schedule around slightly to shoot a little bit more if we had to.

I headed up to High Barnet at about 11am. I wanted to be there early just in case things went entirely pear shaped and as it got closer to the call time, the more I just wanted to be on set. On the tube ride up, I went over shot lists and schedules and wished that I had reception on the Tube in case anything went horribly wrong. Nothing did. I caught up with Jack and we went and got some lunch (I had an idea for another short in the meantime) and by the time we got back to the location, we could go in.

But we couldn’t start doing anything until the kids were out. And the kids weren’t out until around 1.30pm-ish.

Everyone else was on time though, so we set the actors up in a room with the unit and drinks and I took Jim and Jamie around to show them where we were going to be shooting. After being unable to find a lightswitch for the room (hey, it was behind the desk at reception and nowhere near the room, okay?!), we decided the room was too echo-y for sound, so we changed our minds and chose the room we’d set the actors up in (the ‘green room’, if you will).

After dressing the set, I left Jamie and Jim to light the space and I took Danny and Markus (Des and Max) into the theatre to refresh the scene in their heads. We were going to shoot the entire scene in one go in a wideshot/two shot first, then punch in for close ups and then pick up any other sections that needed a little more coverage.

The boys ran the scene on the stage (which I told them was the girls’ set for the next day. Cue violent jealousy). Because we’d had the opportunity to rehearse, it was a matter of running the scene and only slightly tweaking their performances, as well as taking the chance to discuss alternate options in the week since the final rehearsal. Both Markus and Danny are fantastic actors (I always have to bury my face in my script when they run it to keep from laughing aloud) so it was a matter of them finding the rhythm and beats again. I didn’t want to run it too many times without the camera rolling as the scene can become too rehearsed and stiff, so we headed back onto set.

It was already 2pm by now, we’re already running an hour late. There was the added pressure of the fact that the r’n’b band who were going to ruin our sound hadn’t turned up yet so it became a little bit of a race to see how much we could get shot before they showed up.

But we were ready to go, so we started rolling.

The trouble with shooting a comedy is that the script is funny.

Luckily, I had crew who were focused enough on their individual roles that no-one burst out laughing on set.

However, that didn’t stop Markus from getting the giggles.

We’d done about three takes of the first shot when halfway through, Danny stopped, confused as Markus completely lost it laughing.

We’re running an hour and a half late, my lead can’t stop laughing at my script and the band have finally showed up.

And we’re only two hours in!

We’re Wrapped!

Wow.

So it’s two days after we’ve wrapped and the dust has settled and all the cast and crew have headed back into normality. The shoot went really well, regardless of problems that cropped up here and there and we got everything we needed to shoot shot, so that’s always a good thing.

I am still trying to collect myself afterward (jumping straight back into work the day after the shoot is a cool reminder of the fact you should always give yourself a day to sleep!), but the next few posts will be a break down of how the shoot went, so keep an eye out for them this week.

The indiegogo campaign is still running for another week and a half and now’s the time when we have to start paying for everything. There’s still time to get on board, just check out the campaign and contribute!

For now, I’m going to leave you with an EXCLUSIVE behind the scenes shot – the cast and crew of With A Little Help From Our Friends (click the image to make it bigger).

From left to right: Victoria (Abby), Carolina (Lucy), Jack (Sound), Markus (Max), Alli (Director), Jamie (DOP), Jim (Camera Assistant), Danny (Des) and Craig (First AD). Photograph courtesy of Oli Lewington.