Monday, August 1, 2016

#8 What Happens to a Script

What Happens to a Script

I thought the script would be the easiest part of our project. After all, we were just making a “trailer” to raise money for a future project. 

I researched trailers and watched trailers at movie theaters to get a feel for them. Looked pretty simple to me. All that was needed was to slap together enough pieces to give a general idea of the story with a few action and comedy scenes thrown in.

I wrote a trailer script about four months before we met in July to plan the making of our trailer/movie. The director told me that while the thirteen pages of scenes I had jumbled together was O.K. (he’s so polite - it was a mess) that we might be better off making a short film “based on” the longer script instead of a traditional trailer. 

That made sense. A trailer would be seen only as a part of fund raising efforts such as Kickstarter. A short film (a complete, coherent story) could do that and also be submitted to film festivals, reaching another important audience.

We began passing drafts of the script back and forth until we had an eleven-page script that seemed to tell a complete story including some of my favorite comic scenes from the longer script. 

We completed this rough draft in a few weeks, just in time for auditions. That was helpful as it would provide lines for the actors to read. 

Our short film focused on one of the main characters, Don, who lost his job in radio and foolishly tried to create a program on community television, thinking that was a way to build an audience and eventually lead to a real (i.e. paying) job. Because his television program was a parody of commercial television weather reports, our short film was titled “The Weather Report.”

Remember that for later.

I assumed that the script was now “done” despite being somewhat choppy. All that was left was to add some camera directions (close-up vs medium shot, static shot vs pan vs zooming, etc.) and scene transitions, transforming the screenplay into a shooting script. Kind of like what I had mistakingly done in my first 240+ page draft.

Silly me.

“We need story boarding!” my director informed me. Say what? 

O.K. I had run across this concept in all those books I read about screenwriting, but was that really needed for a short independent film? After all, I had filmed and edited TV programs for several years for the community access TV station. Pretty much a point and shoot affair as far as the videography was concerned. Story boarding looked like a lot of work. 

Let me explain.

We divided the script into numbered scenes, with a different scene for each time/location. There were scenes such as: 

Within a scene, each character’s chunk of dialogue was numbered. Here is a section of the script. Notice there is a number before each character’s name:

Storyboarding was drawing a sketch of each camera shot. It did not need to be super detailed but it documented the director’s intended camera angle, the frame content, background, etc. Each sketch is numbered to match the dialogue to which it pertains. Therefore, there is a storyboard for #67 (Rain’s dialog) and for #68 Sherry’s dialog), etc.

What makes storyboarding so labor intensive is that a single piece of dialogue can (and usually does) involve multiple shots with a separate sketch for each.

Consider the dialog labeled “67. Rain” in the above script sample. There might be the close up of Don whispering in Rain’s ear; then a medium shot of Rain’s reaction while she says: “I don’t care what they did in Russia!”; then long shot of Rain and Don and LSMFT while she finishes her speech with “There is no way I am going to strip on television!”; and finally a close-up of LSMFT’s reaction.

Sketches would be needed for each of these four proposed shots and they would be labeled 67A, 67B, 67C and 67D.

Notice in the above script sample that there is a scene 25.5. Guess what that’s all about! It’s a new scene added between scenes 25 and 26 after the script was locked in (i.e. copies handed out to everyone and other materials having been produced that use the original numbering system, materials such as shooting schedules and shot lists.) 

Because of the new scene 25.5 there is new dialogue falling between the original pieces of dialogue numbered 68 (at the end of scene 25) and 69 (at the beginning of scene 26). Confused? It does get chaotic, although one does not want to completely renumber everything in a script due to last minute insertions and deletions. That would be even more confusing.

Did I just mention shot lists? I think I did. A shot list is the organizing tool for the actual filming (or videography; but then aren’t we still dialing numbers using phones that have no dials?)

A shot list tells everyone (director, crew and cast) what is being filmed and when. Here is a partial shot list from one day’s filming. 

Each number on the left matches a dialogue/storyboard number. They are not in script sequence, they are in a sequence convenient to the filming constraints (setting, availability of actors, director’s whim, etc.).  

The line labeled “M” indicated pickup shots for creating a montage which had not been storyboarded in any detail.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we writers think that what we have produced is the be-all and end-all of the movie’s story (both on the screen and behind it). There is a whole lot more that goes on as the original script limps its way to becoming a movie.

We made script changes, sometimes a word or two and sometimes whole new scenes and characters over the two-year period from the major filming in August 2013 until the final editing in July and August of 2015.

When we were putting the final touches to the film’s credits, I asked the director to list all of the writers who had contributed to the script. It wasn’t just me. There were major changes made by the director, by editing requirements and by several “script doctors.” 

He said “No, it’s your story. Others suggesting changes here and there is normal. They don’t get writing credits. That's how it's done in Hollywood.”

That was an eye opener. My film was only nine minutes long and while it was my first half-baked attempt at a short screenplay and frankly kind of a mess, imagine what a typical Hollywood screenplay must go through!

Oh, remember what I told you to remember? The title of this short film? I called it “The Weather Report.” During final phases of editing, a Google search revealed that “The Weather Report” was overused. Therefor, the title was changed to  “Don Circles the Drain.” 

Should I ever raise the money to produce the full-length version of this film I think I will rename it “OMG, I’m Outta Here!”

Next up: Casting

Note: The author of this blog is writing and editing novels and will resume normal blog entries next year.

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