Saturday, April 30, 2005

On the Hypocrisy of this blog and building boats

We rehearsed yesterday and it went well. It's funny because as I write and rewrite and shoot pieces of this script I learn more about it. I think I figured out a huge problem with it yesterday while we were rehearsing. It happened because as I heard the actors speak the words it started to fire sparks in my head (figuratively speaking - I don't want to make anyone feel self-conscious.)

It's funny because stage plays usually (or I should say, traditionally) work this way. There are several weeks (months) of rehearsal during which time the playwright (that's not a misspelling) can work on and rewrite the play. Films, typically, do not work this way.

And through this I am going to explain away the hypocrisy of this blog where I talk about spending all this time on your script and THEN shooting and here I am writing a film AS I SHOOT. True there are more than enough STUDIO films which seem to follow this process, but it really shouldn't be done this way. On the other hand - if you can do it, it will teach you a hell of a lot about writing. I can do it because in a very real way we're just screwing around. We're not spending any money on this and we're not really expecting much out of it - we're just doing it because it's fun and it's GREAT practice between projects. So you should still spend the extra time on your script. And yet...

And yet it's funny, because you can write and write and write and spend years at it and have every character motivation NAILED and the story flows and you just can't get over what a damn genius you are - but when an actor picks up your script and starts reading the words - you can lose your erection in the blink of an eye. Everything can change. He might have an inflection in his voice or there might be something about his character that adds - or subtracts - from your script - or the way two actors relate to each other that utterly destroys it. I'm not talking about bad actors - I'm talking about GOOD actors (because good actors will always bring something to a role that you never considered.) But if you can go back and change the script - rewrite with his (by the way I'm using a non-gender specific "he") voice in your head and rehearse again and rewrite again and over and over until you nail it - then great. It will be better in the long run - in fact that's the way to do it. In fact, a lot of stage plays have the opportunity to do this. But films very rarely get much rehearsal time and rewriting tends to happen in a panic during the shoot with reshoots and editing and a whole mess of stuff going on.

Which brings me to the whole "Playwright" vs. "Screenwriter," thing. The word "playwright" which means generally someone who writes plays, is akin to shipwright or wheelwright - in other words a craftsman who constructs something. Because after all, a play is a construction - a combination of character, motivation, story, conflict, comedy, setting, crescendo, scenes, acts. The Playwright does not simple sit and write a play - a play is constructed, at least it's supposed to be, in the same way a ship is constructed from different materials parts and - here's the most important part - a play works or doesn't work in the same way that a ship either floats or doesn't float.

A screenplay is really no different, yet those who pen screenplays are labeled as "Screenwriters." It's really an age old devaluation of the writer in the film pantheon and I don't want to get hung up on it. But what I do want to do is suggest that as you write - model yourself after that shipbuilder (or playwright.) Think of each piece of your script, each scene, each act, as an indispensable part of the whole. The masts, the keel, the hull, the sails that help your film to float. Not only does each piece need to built with skill and care, but they must be built so that the finished product is a seamless whole.

And it's funny because as I write this film - shooting little pieces here and there as we can (the order of which primarily being based on who is available when and what locations we can get) I'm learning more about writing than I ever thought I would. It's a great, if humbling exercise.

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