Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Unattainable - Part 1 - That's Not What Productions Are Made for

The script for our feature is based on a novel; more precisely, a book of aphorisms.

Aphorisms have a long and distinguished place in literature, going back to the Ancients. Wiki describes them as "an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic( concise) and memorable form."

This original script had a few key, diverse characters who muse on life, and centered around a main female character who is a  writer. We will call her Justine.

Justine has two important men in her life; her ex-husband, who we will call Kevin, and her long-time lover, who we will call Harry. By the end of the story, she has found a third man in her life, a theater director.

She loves them all in one form or another, and each fills a place in her life. Together with some fellow writer and artist friends, she explores on the nature of love and relationships and why we do - and need to do -what we do.

All of this is beautifully laid out in the book. Presenting this on screen is slightly more difficult.

When I first read the script, I was intrigued by the wit and depth of insight. Many of the scenes were two or more characters presenting their struggles through these musings. The play had been originally scheduled for 18 days, at a modest budget (budget numbers always being confidential, even without an NDA). While it seemed a challenging schedule given the script pages covered, I thought we could accomplish it, as scenes with two to three characters talking, no stunts, etc. tend to be rather easy to film.

My first hint that this would not be the case was my first almost 3 hour meeting at a coffee shop with the director, A bright, organized, prepared woman with an incredible visual sense and background, she revealed her visual references. While there would be the literal action of the scenes, there would be sub-text, presented through voice-overs that were more "temporal," to use the words of my amazing script supervisor.

Every draft of the script improved the movie exponentially. Following Murphy's Law that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, every improvement made the script more difficult to shoot. Additionally, the producers and director had hired an experienced Director of Photography with an ability to bring exactly this type of movie to life, but also wanting and needing the proper time to get the beautiful shots I have since seen in dailies.

Additionally, constant changes right up until beginning of shooting make the schedule a moving target; never a good thing for production.

Here is an irony I have learned from years of making movies. Boring scripts are easy to shoot. As someone who has budgeted 34 scripts in the past year, the easiest for me is when there are few characters in few locations mostly talking. For the line producer breaking down a script, two characters talking for 6 pages in one location - preferably something simple like a park bench or their apartment - means a quick breakdown, budget and turnaround of both.

It also makes for a movie most people will sleep through.

The nightmare in breaking down a script is many short scenes in many locations. You are adding many more sheets, and scheduling becomes difficult because of company moves and the difficulty shooting out performers.

This makes for a fast-paced movie people that will keep people sitting up in their seats.

So, there's the rub. Boring script; easy for production. Challenging, engaging script; challenging for production.

All this got me thinking of the quote from John Augustus Shedd that a DP friend of mine keeps in her room: "A ship is safe when it is in harbor, but that is not what ships are built for." It's the challenge we are always presented with, whether we realize it or not.

On this film, we are definitely not in harbor.

N.B. Because production has kept me insanely busy, I have not been keeping up the blog as I had hoped. With luck, I will catch you all up over this holiday break.

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