Dan: You’re acting like a crazed psychopath.
Roseanne: [snorts] Well, the voices in my head disagree.
Roseanne. “Daughters and Other Strangers.” (1993)
The War Begins
There’s a war going on. And it begins every time a film director is doing his job. If the drums of war are missing, the director isn’t doing his job right. I’m happy to report that this war has finally reached the rehearsals of The Indestructibles, my indy, no-budget, epic sci-fi flick for the web.
Let’s observe the two adversaries as they get into the ring.
On the one side: the writer.The writer creates an idea out of nothing. He creates a world, its characters, their interactions, the plot, the surprises, the beginning, the middle, the ending, the history of what came before, and the hints of what must come later. The writer creates everything. And so the writer thinks he understands his creation and knows what’s best for the film.
But then his opponent steps into the ring, the reigning champion: The dirrrrrectorrrrr!
The director, being a completely different person, takes the writer’s script, which hopefully he likes and is connected to its different layers, and then adds his own interpretation. The director has a perspective the writer doesn’t have and adds more layers, more depth, and hopefully fills in the holes in the writer’s blind spots.
When a good director takes on a good script, his interpretation improves it in a way the writer never could. But to do that he has to stray from the writer’s vision to create something new.
The question is, what happens when the director and the writer are the same person? In previous productions, I’ve never had a problem. When I wrote a script or a play I later directed, I was alone in the ring. When writing the piece I felt like I was king of the world, having no one to tell me my interpretation for the piece is lacking.
But the second I finished the play or the script and put on the director’s hat, the director (me) gave a knockout to the writer (me) and completely ignored anything the writer had to say.
It was a click in the brain. The second I put on my director’s hat, I saw my own script differently, causing me to put different layers than the writer (me) had thought were necessary.
Usually, during a first read with the actors, they would read what the parentheses (the writer’s instructions to the actors, indicating characters’ tone [sadly, haughtily, etc.] and attitude, or even pauses). At that point, I would stop them and tell them that the writer of the script (or play) knows absolutely nothing about film (or theater), and anything that is in parentheses should be completely ignored. The writer’s an idiot, I would say, and I should know.
The Indestructibles – Coming Soon
Case in Point: The Indestructibles
The knockout the director always gives the writer never came. In fact, I (the director) felt pretty good about my (the writer’s) vision. Sure, it bothered me a bit that I agreed with myself, since I knew theoretically it was bad for the process. But since I agreed with myself, I couldn’t find any flaw in my reasoning.
But then, as we slowly progressed towards the shooting, something nagged me (the director), something that told me that I (the writer) was wrong.
Let’s recap what we already know about The Indestructibles. It’s an epic SF film, designed to be filmed with no budget at all and to give almost the full effect of a high-budget Hollywood film. (You want to know how that’s possible? Check out the first film journal.) So the film is limited to one location, three actors (one of which never talks, and another who appears only for two minutes at the end), and is shot in eight long one-shots (thus eliminating the cost of the editor). Sound impossible? Well, there was another element I failed to mention in that first film journal: according to the script, the camera never moves. The camera, in the script, belongs to one of the characters. She puts it down, presses Record, then allows it to record what happens next.
I (the writer) thought I (the director) could actually find a way to do it: shoot a film that gives the equivalent feeling of an SF epic in eight one-shots in one closed location in which the camera never moves. And you know what? I (the director) still think I can. But I (the director) now think I shouldn’t. I finally had enough balls to stand up to myself (the writer) and tell myself what an idiot I think I am.
So a change was made to the script, a change the director wanted and the writer didn’t. The film takes place in the future, after all, which means that the camera has now become a smart video camera that can float. It takes instructions through speech (‘Camera on’ and ‘Camera off’, for example) and has modes in which it can shoot. In ‘personal mode’ it will shoot the person speaking in close-up, as if it’s a one-on-one conversation with whoever’s watching; while in ‘party mode’ or ‘crowd mode’, it will shoot scores of people, constantly turning around to catch more and more people, for example. This allows the director to move the camera during the film, to create action through camera, to add a ‘voice’ to the camera, to free the actors’ movements, and to play more with composition. This should create a much better film than the writer had envisioned.
Three… Two… One… The writer is down! The director wins by a knockout!
Thank goodness for that, because I (the writer) feel so much better now about my (the director’s) film.