Saturday, 5 May 2012

Taking notes

An essential part of refining a film is taking notes, especially if you are both writer and director.
Authoring a film so completely can potentially make you blind or even hostile to suggestions of change.
From script through to edit you have to be open to notes, whilst holding on very tightly to what you believe is the core of the film.
Its a difficult balancing act.
On the one hand you have to be flexible, so you can improve the film, but you also have to be protective so you're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The key thing is to take notes from people who you know are only trying to do whats best for the film.
Ive had plenty of past experience of people trying to imprint their own personal agenda or taste onto my work, and it can be a destructive process.
More often that not, you find the script veering too far away what excited you in the first place, and the project usually stalls or becomes compromised.

With The Man Inside I was very fortunate to work with writer Danny Stack, who helped develop and hone early drafts of the script.
Danny is a believer of pushing the writer to get to the heart of the characters and the story.  It was a great experience.
I often found that by justifying to Danny strongly about a particular point would reveal that it was not coming across well enough in the script.
Danny delicately acted like a guide for a sniper who didn't have the target fully in his sights.  Focusing and aligning, and ultimately strengthening what I wanted to do.
You can read from Danny here.

As the script got nearer to production Jason Arnopp came onboard as script editor.
Jason was fantastic at pointing to areas where the script would become sluggish, or if there were questions an audience would have.
I can think of two very key moments that Jason pointed to in the film that, had he not pointed them out, would have been very major issues and would have definitely weakened the film.
Being a wealth of ideas, Jason also suggested an idea that had not occurred to me.
Such an influential and crucial idea that I can actually remember the exact place I was when he came up with it. (Birmingham!)
This one idea affected the motivations of at least three characters and affects the emotional wallop of the film very profoundly.

The process of refinement continued even during filming, with the actors feeling how their characters would behave and bringing added richness to every scene.
One scene in particular wasn't working in rehearsal.
it was an issue that Jason had previously flagged, and as we rehearsed it became apparent that it needed to change.
Peter Mullan, an award winning director himself, suggested I write his character out of the scene as he was "in the way".
I was aghast.  Lose Peter Mullan from a scene!  It seemed like lunacy.
But... I thought about it and I rehearsed the scene with Peter watching off set.
We rehearsed the new version and it rocked.  It felt so right.
I looked over at Peter and he had his thumb raised.
That tells you everything you need to know about everyone that worked to help me make the film.  It was always about the film.  Not about them.

With filming over and editing done, I presented the film.
Caroline Stern, one of our producers, and a big supporter since she had first read the script, suggested a bunch of changes.
Initially I was quite worried.  Having come so far with the film and now clutching hard onto the film in its finished form, I was very anxious.
Instead, what I was presented with were probably the most sensitively written and thoughtful pages of notes I've ever read.
I didn't know Caroline that well, but it was clear she knew the film inside out and cared about it.
I worked through her notes, and had to concede that it had improved the film.
Of course, in places I had to stick to my guns on a few points, just as I had with Danny and Jason and many other people along the way, but thats natural.
Again, its a balancing act.
People on the outside can spot the weaknesses due to their objectivity, but only I know the world of the Man Inside so completely, so there will always be things I know "under the hood" that someone else wont realise.  Its balancing those two together.

Ultimately, I am grateful for the work of many people who helped shape the film, even in small ways. But when I watch the film, there are some key moments and important developments that I will always be grateful to Danny, Jason and Caroline for.

My advice for filmmakers is to always be open to notes.
Its great to use friends and colleagues to help improve the script, because you know you can trust them, but you also have to take a leap of faith with people you don't know, because they will judge your work more objectively than anyone.

1 comment:

wordyliving said...

Thanks for sharing this, it's very good to see how much team work a movie actually is! I think it's always lucky to have people work for the sake of results and not entirely for themselves, you were really lucky!
- andrea