Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Form of Rewriting - The Edit

It’s an interesting process being involved in the making of a film. As a screenwriter you’re usually the first person on board – the one with an idea that eventually becomes a screenplay. All that work, the hours upon hours of writing and rewriting. If you’re lucky enough a whole bunch of people will turn your script into moving images. Your involvement then is largely reduced to standing around on set (if you’re invited) and staying out of the way.

Then there’s this mysterious thing called post-production where the film takes shape in darkened editing suites somewhere. Why mysterious? I suspect screenwriters are contractually forbidden to set foot in such places but this is where the final “rewrite” occurs totally out of your hands. So you wait to see what it is that your words have wrought. And wait… and wait.

It’s not unusual then that this has been the case with the two short films I have written for Filmbites. A flurry of activity in the early-to-mid stages of the process (which started back in May 2011) – improvisations, drafts, workshopping, rewrites, eventually auditions, read throughs, rehearsals then more rewrites; until the shoots this year where I was an interested bystander; to the inevitable waiting as the film is assembled.

The first of the two, Coffee To Go, was shot back in February. I visited the set on both shooting days for a few hours and had some very minor input. Afterwards, when I asked how the editing was going, I was told it looked great! To which my standard reply was, “Yes, but does the story work?” You see, as a writer I’d rather have an average looking film with a story that works rather than a fantastic looking film where the story doesn’t play. So I was a little nervous.

The months went by. No word other than it looks really good. Hmmmm, okay. I decide not to worry about it as I have no idea what the location of the secret, underground editing bunker is nor have the military skills to neutralise all the anti-screenwriter security measures.

Then the director who knows how much I loathe, detest, hate, despise (I don’t want to undersell this point) Voiceovers where the words tell us exactly what we can see onscreen (yes, I’m looking at you Underbelly franchise), decides to play a little prank on me. Posts on my facebook timeline that he has a cut of the film but could I write a 30 second voiceover to tell us what the main character is feeling or some such nonsense. Let’s just say he knew his target well as I bit and bit hard, my head exploding as I declined to do any such hackery. Well played, Sir!

Fast forward to a few days ago and I have now seen a couple of cuts courtesy of the producer. Firstly, what a marvellous device iPads are. Secondly, cafes that play loud music suck. Couldn’t hear a lick of dialogue but then, I didn’t need to, I wrote it!

The thing is it does look good. The performances are good. The producer was happy with how the themes played out, particularly with the ending. All good stuff. But here’s where we get to editing as a form of rewriting. In the preferred cut scenes were out of sequence compared to the script. It took me a couple of views to get my head around this – mainly due to the fact that I had a bad head cold but also because it was a pretty tightly constructed script.

I was asked what I thought (for which I was grateful) and suddenly I’m into problem solving mode on something that looks like my script… but isn’t quite. It was an odd sensation but I made my suggestions including dropping lines (ye gads!) and adding a small scene I knew had been shot but wasn’t in the script. I’m deliberately not going into specifics other than to say it was like doing a polish but off the cut rather than tweaking the script. Usual things though – establishment of the main character, whose story is it and making sure the narrative is thematically consistent. The adjustment of scene order had, for me, muddled some of these things a little.

Whether my suggested changes are incorporated is not up to me but notes were taken so I’m hopeful. At least I was asked which may be unusual for the screenwriter to be involved at this late stage. Ultimately it’s about making the best possible film. I discussed with the producer what the strategy would be once the film is completed and was heartened to hear of a possible crowdfunding initiative to support festival submissions (for all three of the Professional Partnership Programme shorts) and the sort of festivals that would be targeted for this specific short.

Now we wait some more until the edit is finalised, all the other components like music, grading etc are done and the film is locked. Speed on the premiere screening!

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