Saturday, 20 December 2008

BIG MISTAKE - A Case Study in development.

I thought it might be useful to put together a case study of the new short film BIG MISTAKE, to demonstrate how a short film evolves and just how crucial the development process is.
Many filmmakers, myself included, have fallen into the trap of shooting without honing the script into the best script it can possibly be, and sometimes the temptation is to make a film for the sake of doing it, without finding the best script to make in the first place.

The first place to start is the idea, and how it works as a film. For this short I wanted a character based drama with a compelling and surprising concept at its heart.
After looking through a lot of scripts, that didn't quite fit what I had in mind, I returned to an idea I had a year ago that sprung from a friend who had sent an indiscreet text message to a friend in error.
I wrote the first draft of the short film, and called it HELLO. you can read it here: HELLO
You will notice that the central idea is very underdeveloped and the strength of the central concept is buried under a directionless structure with no real character dynamics.
I asked Jason Arnopp to script edit for me, and we talked and threw ideas around, and ultimately he helped me refine and improve the script into what i originally had intended. throughout this one month process he gently pushed me to keep improving and heightening the drama. He could see how there needed to be a lot at stake for the drama to pay off, and also how the structure needed to be like a joke, with a build up that really made the punchline very powerful. the final script can be viewed here: BIG MISTAKE
One fascinating point is the use of profanity. When I wrote HELLO, you will see it littered with curses, but Jason suggested I take them all out. I was initially resistant, as I thought it was 'authentic'. But when i took out all the profanity it made no difference at all! A useful note.

So. With the script all done, I auditioned for the 3 main roles. Lee, Clayton and Natalie.
I saw at least 6 people for each part. I really cannot emphasise how important casting is.
See as many as is practical, but also see variants of the character. Don't be blinkered by a 'type'. For example, I saw pretty and sweet blonde girls for Natalie, but when Keshia Watson read for Natalie, I suddenly saw how the drama would increase because Clayton was also black. Plus, Keshia just rocked the moment she opened her mouth.

With the parts cast I visited my locations. Took photos and established the geography of where the action would take place.
Again, I really recommend knowing your location. it will be almost a character and will add to the story.
The canal represented somewhere with constant noise of water. troubled water that eventually flows into a calm water. I wanted to use this metaphor for the story. Going from a jerky and disjointed feel to a calmer feel.
Similarly, the buildings look run down and decayed, which represents Lee's relationship. Small things, i agree. But it all helps to paint a picture.

Next up, was rehearsal.
ALWAYS rehearse. you will discover things in the words that you never realised. You and the actors will find ideas and sometimes issues that the written page cannot accurately convey.
Both you and the actors will also get to know each other better and it's essential to discover how people play together.
Check out a filmed rehearsal for the film here: REHEARSAL

And then shoot it!

But. Don't discount development when shooting either. Things occur on the day. ideas can spark off an event, or a word or even the weather! be open to it, and allow yourself to be flexible.
For example. We shot Keshia crying as a proper visual take, even though the script said we would only ever hear her. I figured we should try it as we were going to get her to cry anyway. And you know what? We ended up using it, because it was so good.

I hope this has been useful for anyone who has never been through this process.
As I have said. Development and making your script the best possible script it can be, is absolutely vital.


Lara said...

Good post, Dan. What were your timescales?

Dan Turner said...

It was all very fast Lara.
It started late September/early October and the script was knocked into shape during that month.
Then we cast mid October and rehearsed end of October.
The shoot was first week of November and then the edit was complete within 2 weeks.
So a fast turnaround of about 6-8 weeks from concept to delivery.

The majority of that time was script work.

Lara said...

I think sometimes that's a good way to work.