Friday, December 9, 2011

Which came first – the script or the audition?

I had the opportunity to sit in on auditions yesterday for one of the short films I’ve written. I found it most instructive for several reasons.

Firstly, some background:

The script is based on improvisations. It is a nice little ghost story.

The auditions were only for members of the youth film school who conducted the improvisations. In other words, the actors were already familiar with the material.

Two directors had previously been attached – the first, along with his producing partner, withdrew when they remembered they had two funded shorts already in production; the second director ended up getting offers on another continent. Both sets of circumstances outside of my control.

The third (and final!) director – Paul Komadina - had recently approached me to write a short for him (which we will still do) and in those discussions this project came up. We have never worked together though we did go through an online Skype course with an American consultant last year after both being shortlisted for a screenwriting award. Yes, he also writes.

With a new director comes script changes. Also working out storytelling sensibilities and something I bang on about a fair bit, tone.

So we had discussed changes but for the purposes of the audition the two scenes chosen were left unchanged. Mainly because any alterations will be minor (they are the first two scenes of the film and it’s the ending Paul has a deliciously wicked plan for) and the timeframe for the actors to learn new pages would have been pretty tight.

I should also mention, as part of this process, the two male characters felt the writer’s malevolent backspace key and are no more (sorry guys, I was under instructions!).

For the audition Paul asked the actors to learn all four roles. They were auditioned in pairs running the actual scenes then swapping, taking a minute or so to “reset” and come back in. This was done for three pairings.

In effect, for me, it was a mini-workshop knowing that script changes needed to be made. I could see the characters and scenes come to life with differing interpretations from the actors – what worked, what may need to be rethought in the writing, new ways to play those two scenes and what that may mean for subsequent scenes.

Paul’s re-directs were interesting as well, opening up possibilities but also getting an insight into what he’s thinking as we start the process of working out the writer-director relationship. Things like asking an actor to play a scene a certain way that deliberately contradicted what the text suggested was fascinating to observe. Again, especially for tone.

Everything was filmed and it was all very relaxed as the actors were encouraged to try different things and, in many ways, play with the material. I had obviously worked with them before during the improvisation and workshopping phase but they were seeing Paul for the first time. The feedback was that they were impressed, particularly with the clarity of the re-directs.

I have now finished the next draft moving towards Paul’s ideas for the story. That still requires work but it was great to be able to witness the auditions and use them as a jumping off point for the changes required.

It also means things are getting closer to production which is exciting!

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