With the Toronto Screenwriting Conference this weekend, which I’ll be attending this year (Steph here!), it seemed only appropriate to talk about writing for production. And since the script for “Little Miss Jihad” came out of a class named exactly that back at York University, an even more fitting reason!
The script. Without it, there is no film. There is no TV show. No web series. It’s been described as a blueprint, but that’s a rather overly-practical and incomplete definition. A script embodies more than just directions and dialogue. It seeks to do justice to that initial spark of imagination.
Inspiration, if you will.
Not everybody can write. This is more a statement, than a judgement. Writing is like any other craft. You have to work at it. And you have to have taste if you want to succeed commerically. Sure, everybody thinks they have taste… but how do you know? You don’t. All you have is general consensus.
THE FIRST STEP to writing for production is making sure all your collaborators are seeing the same film. If things are confusing, or the logic doesn’t track, these are usually the first things to pay attention to. Everything else… is personal taste. But if more than two or three people point out the same thing, there is usually something behind that note.
Having said that, the feedback process is an incredibly difficult one. There have been many times throughout the past few months were I couldn’t see the forest from the trees. Is this working? Or isn’t it? How do I know that’s not your personal opinion? But a legitimate story or structural concern?
The truth is… you don’t really know. All you can do… is do your best. Stay true to the heart of your story. Take what you need. Toss the rest. I’ve followed this mantra for a long time now. Knowing which notes to take… depends on experience, and a lot of gut instinct. And of course, if you’re fortunate to be working with a story editor who you respect and trust, their guidance can often steer you away from hitting those trees.
But there is no science to writing. As much as you can bottle structure, story, theme, dialogue, and character, everybody has their own voice– their own poetry of imagination. Seek out like-minded individuals. Seek out individuals who are polar opposites of you. Only then, can you get a diverse and happy range of opinions and tastes. Personally, this is the only way that I like to operate. Collaboration. Listening.
Listening to others doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It doesn’t mean you don’t know what you want. It means that you’re wise enough to consider the other possibilities. And only then, can your work have a chance to reach its greatest audience.
THE SECOND STEP to writing for production is considering… well, production! How many locations and sets appear in the script? Number of characters? Are your scenes set at night, or during the day? What about special effects and stunts?
When you’re producing a film, you quickly realize that every choice you made in your script? It has a dollar amount. That prop? Is going to cost you $100/day. Child actors? Immediately, you can’t have long shoot days– for the kids– but that doesn’t necessarily apply to the crew. 😉
Once you’ve culled down your script as much as you can, while still preserving the essence and intention of your scenes, you’re left with your production draft. This is what your Production Manager and Assistant Director takes away to figure out your set days, schedule, call times, etc…
As you can see, it all builds outward from the script. If the foundation isn’t solid, the building will fall.
We hope it doesn’t fall!
THE THIRD THING about writing for production… is letting go. After you’ve spent months or years working on an idea, you now have to realize that you’ve done your best, and what happens on set is within, and without, your control. Filmmaking is a series of compromises, but the best thing you can do, is arm yourself with the best possible script, cast, and crew.
In little over a week, “Little Miss Jihad” goes into production. Soon… all those words? Those images? Flickers of emotion and intention? They will be reality.
And there is nothing more exciting than that.